Climb Mount Kilimanjaro as a Solo Traveler

categories: africa travel

I don’t know exactly when “Climb Mount Kilimanjaro” made it onto my bucket list. However, I am aware of the moment I committed to crossing it off the list. I was dating someone so fearful of life he would only eat the same dish for dinner and considered me insane to suggest doing laundry on a day other than Tuesday. Always being the freedom-loving, travel-obsessed type, ending the relationship was liberating. I craved to do something to commemorate the change. I would trek a mountain.

climb-mount-kilimanjaro-as-a-solo-traveler

The Risks

By the standards of mountaineering, Kilimanjaro at 19,341 feet is considered ‘very high altitude’, meaning the chances of attitude sickness (vomiting, headaches, fluid accumulation) or death (approximately 1 to 10 annually depending on who you ask) increases with every 1,000 feet. With treks under a week and no technical climbing knowledge needed, it is the most assessable of the Seven Summits climbs. There are only three ways to end a Kilimanjaro trek – successfully summiting, being dragged off the mountain or volunteering to end your trek.

Preparation

My training for my Kilimanjaro trek proved to be time consuming and determination-testing. To minimize the chances of altitude sickness, I focused on elevating my cardiovascular fitness. That meant months of swimming, running 10K races and walking around my home in a not-too-attractive oxygen depriving mask. I also bought Diamox, an altitude sickness medication that causes frequent urination and every over-the-counter medication I could find at my neighborhood pharmacy.

My training proved to be the most stable of the preparatory actions. My family’s reactions were varied, from disbelief to full support. My friends’ expression of panic indicated that my trek will be solo.

In November 2012, I found myself on a flight to Kilimanjaro airport via Amsterdam to undertake my ‘foolhardy’ attempt. How this would end was anyone’s guess.

As a solo trekker I was given my own guide plus two porters, a cook, and a waiter. I had decided to take the Marangu route. The only route of the six with sleeping huts instead of tents, it is arguably the most luxurious. My belongings (weighing 35 pounds; weight limits are enforced) were either in my daypack or my duffel bag which the porters carried between camps.

Kilimanjaro

starting out for the day at Hormobo

On the Mountain

The Marangu route has four climate zones – rainforest, moorland, alpine desert and ice cap at the summit. Typically the trek takes four days, stopping at the Mandara, Horombo and Kibo camps respectively. I elected for an acclimatization day at Horombo to increase my chances of summiting.

In trekking alone and without a social network, I met people quickly. One such person was a South African woman who I would spend most of my non-treking time with. She also became my hut roommate (each approximately 300 square feet hut at Mandara and Horombo sleeps four) and Diamox-fueled midnight-search-for-the-outhouse partner. When not sleeping or going to the bathroom we talked about our lives, each of us making disclosures only likely on a mountain in East Africa.

Kilimanjaro

sunrise at Mandara camp on yet another trip to outhouse

Otherwise, the treks proved to be physically demanding but not enough to immobilize me the next day. I had no problems with altitude except for the usual shortness of breath. The most physically demanding stretch of trekking was between Mandara and Horombo camps. However, that belief may have been influenced my experiencing a sudden drop in body temperature on that trail. I recovered only after I ingested some water laced with glucose, food and donned an extra jacket I had in my day pack. I believe packing that extra jacket saved my trek.

Summit to Uhuru Peak

The night before my summit attempt, safely in the co-head sleeping dorm that is Kibo Hut, I gave myself a highly-charged motivational speech. I was caught between wanting to take a long nap and wanting to trek to the summit and “get it over with”. My new mantra of “Let’s Do It” in lulled me to sleep. My rest was short however. Shortly before 12 midnight my guide woke me up. It was time to get dressed (4 layers for me plus headlamp) and start the summit.

Kilimanjaro

dawn at the peak

There are two summit markers on the Marangu route, Gilman’s Point (5 hours trek from Kibo Hut) and Uhuru Peak (1 and 1/2 hours trek from Gilman’s Point). The first hours proved to be unremarkable except for the fatigue of trekking into thinner air. I watched the backs of my guide’s boots, the only thing visible with my headlamp. Occasionally, I would look up to see the outline of a hill. I just need to get over that hill I would tell myself. Each time I seemed to scale a hill, another appeared. I stopped looking up.

At exactly 5 o’clock I reached Gilman’s point. This is a significant achievement and a turn-back point for some. Not me. We keep on. Now on snow, my guide led me through tunnels, alleyways and ledges. Fueled by the promise of making it, I made less rest stops. At exactly 6:30 AM I summited Kilimanjaro. I had done it!

Kilimanjaro

me at summit, tired but happy

Insights

Action annihilates apathy. Humans have been attempting to summit mountain peaks for centuries. I realized in my trek that the reason for the attempts is the sense of achievement of conquering something that was previously unconquerable. I scared myself and survived. I pushed my self-imposed limits and succeeded. I scared myself and survived. Today, my confidence heightened, I yearn to undertake another limit-breaking feat. Most of all, I relish in not knowing exactly what my next meal will be and doing laundry on a lazy Sunday morning.

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by Elle Marie Campbell

Elle Marie Campbell is an avid traveler and fitness enthusiast who constantly seizes any opportunity to merge the two passions.



16 Responses to “Climb Mount Kilimanjaro as a Solo Traveler”

Verrill Lagueux

Says:

Hello!!Climb Mount Kilimanjaro as a solo traveler is adventure you can relax your mind of what you have a problem in your work..Thanks for this blog that you share..

Tom Mc Connell

Says:

great description of your trek which company did you trek with
Tom

Elle Marie Campbell

Says:

Tom,
I went with a local company, Zara Tours. It is much more cost effective to book directly with them.

Kelsey

Says:

I am hoping to trek Kilimanjaro solo this summer so thank you for providing some great insight!

chris2x

Says:

have a great trip!

Nasser

Says:

Elle! Great job! Thank you for the sharing! I have a question please,,, when you hiked solo, Is the assistant guide is a must? Would he fallow you? How solo is it exactly in Kili?

Kamy

Says:

hardly a solo trek with 5 people alongside to serve you!!!!!!

chris2x

Says:

sounds like my idea of solo travel 😉

Viktoria

Says:

Thank you so much for this post! I want to do this in 2-3 months.. via Zara Tours.. is there anyone there you recommend dealing with?

Thank you . and kudos for solo female travelers!!! 🙂

JA

Says:

HEY! I am looking into doing this exact same thing. Solo. Thanks for your comments…I will definitely check out Zara Tours.

Gabi

Says:

I am so glad I found this! Looking to do this solo and very excited to see you did it!

Tamara

Says:

Great article. How did you find a guide, cook etc? I’m hoping to do a solo trek too 🙂

Tricky

Says:

No offense but I began reading this believing you soloed Mount Kilimanjaro. Then i got a few money’s into reading and noticed you wrote you went with a guide. I hope you realize that this isn’t soloing at all? Solo means alone. You were not alone. Well done all the same though

Pawel

Says:

“Solo climb”, because a guide and porters are not people. What a joke.

giedre

Says:

that is not solo tracking! haha

Adrian

Says:

This is joke. Solo trek with Guide, two porters, cook and waiter. You waisting people time writing such a things.

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