Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro: How Fit Do You Need to Be?

Greetings Zephyr Adventurers:

My name is Meesha, and in July 2012, I had the pleasure of going on Zephyr’s Kilimanjaro Trek and Safari in Tanzania.  For the benefit of those considering the trip, I thought I’d pass along a few words about my experience.

I am 48, and prior to this hiking trip, my hiking resume consisted of a 7-mile hike at the Delaware Water Gap in Pennsylvania circa 1996, and the Classic Inca Trail hike in 2009 with Zephyr Adventures.  I planned to train seriously for at least 6 months prior to the Tanzania trek.  As luck would have it, early on during training I injured my left foot (again) and was forced to stay off of it.   Thankfully, my foot recovered to the degree that my doctor was comfortable giving me clearance for the hike. I knew I wasn’t fit, but I decided to go. 

I was excited about our first hike in Tanzania.  However, my excitement waned as it quickly became apparent that my fitness level was not sufficient for the hike.  Victor, our fabulous local head guide, approached me, and I was fearful that he was about to tell me that I couldn’t go any further. To my great surprise and relief, he talked to me about how I was feeling and got a feel for my situation. Moments later, he took my water bottles and my day pack and told me that I could go at my own pace.  And that is exactly what I did.  I went very slowly and methodically, and appreciated companionship of the two local guides who patiently hiked with me. The second day, I made my daypack lighter, picked up a smaller bottle of water, and simply kept going.  I was never pressured to go faster than what was comfortable for me.  

The rest of the group was in very good shape (oldest person was 69).  They could all hike at about the same speed, and I was always the last person to reach the camp.  But, I was always accompanied with at least two of the wonderful local guides and occasionally our fabulous Zephyr guide, Erika, would purposely slow down and share the hike with me.  I attempted to reach the summit, but after hiking to about 16,000 feet I decided to return to base camp.  I was showing many signs of altitude sickness and I decided to not push my body.  I didn’t make it to the top, I got to see and feel the magnificence of being above the cloud. The rest of the group was able to keep going despite similar symptoms, and they all made it to the top (Hurray).

Before the trip, my friend who hiked to the summit last year told me that the trek was long, dusty, cold, and that I may experience altitude sickness….well it was all of those things, but that is what made it an adventure.   I can’t wait to go on that next adventure that will put me outside of my comfort zone, challenge me, and allow me to see such beautiful land, people, and wild animals.  I see that Zephyr has thrown a new challenge out there; hiking the Hadrian Wall.  Some day, when I have trained for at least 6 months without injuring any body parts, I hope to take on that challenge.

My friends tell me that I am very brave to have gone on this trip.  I, on the contrary, do not believe there was anything brave about what I did.  Courage is not what you need to go on this trip.  Preferably you need to be very physically fit, but more importantly you need to be resilient, open minded, and open to new experiences. If you have these attributes, Zephyr will guarantee you a fabulous adventure.  

Congratulations to Meesha for reaching her highest altitude ever and, more importantly, for considering her climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro a success even though she didn’t make it to the top. That is what it is – a success. We agree with Meesha that willpower and a positive attitude are two of the key elements to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, so don’t be afraid to give it a try. At the same time, we recommend you DO spend the time in advance to get in shape. You will enjoy the trip more and have a safer experience.

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