How Hard is it to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

Hikers climbing the Barranco Wall on Kilimanjaro

This is one of the most common questions for aspiring hikers looking to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. The short answer is: absolutely not. You do need some grit and determination to summit, but you certainly do not need any previous mountaineering experience to stand atop the roof of Africa at 19,341 feet (5,895 meters). This is not to say that it is easy, but it is definitely one of the most attainable “big mountain” summits.

Big, yet attainable

Kilimanjaro is a big mountain! In fact, it is strongly placed within what is known as the Seven Summits. These summits represent the tallest point of each continent in the world. Not only is Kilimanjaro the tallest point in the African continent, it is also the 4th highest mountain among the Seven Summits.

  1. Everest: 29,029 ft (8,848 m)
  2. Aconcagua: 22,838 ft (6,961 m)
  3. Denali: 20,322 ft (6,194 m)
  4. Kilimanjaro: 19,341 ft (5,895 m)
  5. Elbrus: 18,510 ft (5,642 m)
  6. Mount Vinson: 16,050 ft (4,892 m)
  7. Puncak Jaya: 16,024 ft (4,884 m)

Of the four tallest mountains listed above, Kilimanjaro is BY FAR the most attainable of the list. You probably already know a lot about Mt. Everest since it is also the tallest mountain in the world and in some ways the most dangerous (due to unprepared climbers). For the few souls that want to climb all seven summits someday, Kilimanjaro is always first on the list due to its accessibility and very low skill requirements.

Experience/Skills

Kilimanjaro is the only mountain in the Seven Summits that requires no special skills to climb. A sturdy pair of boots, proper clothing, adequate fitness and some healthy determination is all that is required. Conversely, the other mountains require not only special gear but also strong experience in using the gear.

All of the other summits require climbers to carry and know how to use an ice axe and crampons at the very least. The ice axe is used in case the climber falls and prevents them from sliding dangerously down the mountain (a technique called Self Arrest). Crampons are spikes that go onto specially made (and very uncomfortable!) mountaineering boots to give the climber sufficient traction on ice and steep inclines. NEITHER of these pieces of gear are required for Kilimanjaro.

Most of the other Seven Summits also require climbers to “rope up” to each other and wear a climber’s harness. This insures that if someone falls, they will be saved by others on the team. Most of the other mountains have very deep cracks in the snow called crevasses that require special skills to rescue someone from. Thus, even in guided experiences, all team members must obtain these special skills before they step foot on those mountains.

You will be happy to know that Mount Kilimanjaro does not require any special skills or climbing gear!

Physical Fitness

One of the most common questions for aspiring climbers of Mount Kilimanjaro is how physically fit one needs to be. There are several factors that should be considered to answer this question. However, the short answer is that you need to be fit enough walk/hike uphill for 5-8 hours per day (climbing 1000 meters or 3000 feet) comfortably for several days in a row. Clearly, the more physically fit you are when you arrive, the easier it will be (and the more fun you will have), but this mountain is very forgiving even for those that are not in great physical condition.

The biggest aspect that makes Mount Kilimanjaro the most forgiving mountain within the Seven Summits is that there is very little risk of avalanches, icefall or rock fall on the standard routes. Conversely, nearly all of the Seven Summits have a high risk of these dangers. The danger of icefall and rock fall is greatest when the sun begins to warm the snow and ice on the mountain. What this means for climbers is that they must reach the summit before the sun gets too warm. So, unfortunately, if a climber cannot move quickly enough, the guide will oftentimes turn them back. Indeed the guide will usually announce a required summit time on summit day (i.e. “we must be off the summit by noon”). And if a climber is not in good enough shape to move quickly, they will be turned back for safety reasons.

I’m happy to tell you that this is not a factor for Mount Kilimanjaro! Because of the mountains terrain and the selected common routes, there is very risk of snow, ice or rocks falling on climbers. So climbers may move at their own pace without concern of being turned back because they cannot move fast enough. This is one of the primary reasons behind the high success rate for summiting.

The route you select will partially determine the physical demands, but suffice it to say that most of the trek will be rather simple half-day hikes. The actual summit day will be the most demanding and require a full day hike of about 3,500 ft. of elevation. Thus, it is recommended that each guest prepare for that hardest day of hiking.