Uhuru Style: How to Dress for the Top of Africa’s Highest Mountain
The following post is written by Ben Veres. There’s not too many places in the world that are both on the equator and as cold as a Chicago winter (-40 Fahrenheit to be exact). The snow-capped peak of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania lies just 200 miles south of the Equator and is a destination for avid hikers and climbers around the world. The peak reaches a dizzying 19,341ft making it the highest point in Africa and the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. Most people climb the mountain in about five to seven days and spend about 1 month preparing.
Like any great undertaking, dressing for success is key. Packing for Kilimanjaro is not the standard “my flight is in 3 hours and I have to pack up my entire dorm room” type of pack however. The mountain has rainforests, deserts, volcanic valleys, steep rock faces, and glaciers. Temperatures on the climb range from 50 and sunny to -40 and hailing. Your best chances of survival and reaching the glorious Uhuru peak is layering. By packing a range of jackets and materials, you can be prepared for anything the mountain throws at you.
For the balmy rainforests that range from 4,000ft to 10,000ft you’ll want a cotton shirt that breathes well, some light hiking shorts, and a rain jacket in your day pack just in case it rains (they’re called rainforests for a reason!). Although some people insist on a sturdy pair of boots all the way up the mountain, a pair of Nike Free running shoes can definitely get you through the rainforest during dry season. Rainforest Survival: there’s no such thing as too much bug spray and keep your tent zipped up!
For the deserts and rocky valleys that make up the climb from the tree line at 10,000ft to base camp at 15,000ft you’ll want to toss on a light sweater and pants. Definitely keep a hat and some thin gloves in your day pack in case the clouds roll in early or the wind picks up. The air gets thinner and colder as you go up, so it’s definitely important to keep your core warm. You’ll want to put on some serious hiking boots at this point – especially for Barranco Wall. Definitely toss on some sunglasses (you can find hiking specific glasses like glacier lenses or just rock some Persols if you want to be fashionable on the mountain).
Desert Survival: It is so dusty! You’ll have dust in your teeth – be sure to attach your gaiters well. Also if you’ve been cursed with pale Irish skin, apply lots of sunblock, it doesn’t have to be hot for you to burn.
So you’re at base camp, the air is pretty thin at 15,000ft, but you’ve acclimatized by now and the only thing standing between you and the peak is a grueling seven hour climb through the dark. You’ll wake up at midnight and climb through the night to meet the sun as it rises above the clouds at 18,000ft. The climb is slow and winding. The terrain is mainly loose rocks and silt so be prepared for some slips. It will be pitch black but the glow of the city Arusha below and the Milky Way above are certainly worth it. The wind exposure is vicious and the wind chill sits at -40. So how do you dress for such an occasion?
The key is to prepare before you go to bed. Here’s a grocery list of what to have prepared because it is too cold, too dark, and you will be too tired to pack at midnight. -headlamp and extra batteries. You’ll only be able to see the feet of your guide in front of you, but that’s better than nothing. Batteries will die quickly in the cold so pack extra!
-Two pairs of socks and boots. Two pairs of socks will keep your toes warm for about an hour – either way you’re in for a long night of frozen toes.
- 3 layers of pants. You’ll want long-johns, sweatpants, and then wind pants on top of that. The walk is slow so don’t worry about being constricted.
- So many core layers! Long sleeve shirt, short sleeve on top of that, thick sweater, thin rain jacket, and thick parka. The more hoods you can wear, the better.
- Prepare to lose some fingers. Your fingers will get very cold very quickly. You can’t use your hiking poles because you have to keep your hands in your pockets. Pack hand warmers, thin gloves, and thick winter gloves.
- You’ll need serious eye protection from the glaciers and keep your sunblock in a warm place (no one wants to apply cold sunblock)
- Make a playlist and pack some chocolate for the long climb!
Reaching Uhuru Peak at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro is an incredible journey, but one that requires perseverance and proper planning – so make sure you dress for success!
As the people of Tanzania say, “Poa kachizi kama ndizi!” (Be cool like a banana in the fridge).
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