How to Prepare for Climbing a Mountain

September 5, 2016 by Tessa Watkins

When I told my friends and family I was planning on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, they reacted with a mixture of shock, disbelief and mild amusement. While I’m not averse to exercise or a gym workout, you are more likely to find me tucking into brunch or enjoying a coffee at the weekend; not lacing up my walking boots for a trek. Yet when the opportunity arose to take on the challenge, I grabbed it with both hands. I have dreamt about scaling Africa’s highest mountain for as long as I can remember. The sense of achievement when you reach the summit and see that golden sun rising slowly over the magnificent landscape must make the hard slog so worthwhile. I signed up immediately, not thinking about what I would need to do to prepare myself before stepping foot on the plane – which, as it turns out, is a fair amount. Here’s how I’m getting ready for my Kilimanjaro attempt in November – fingers crossed I make it to the top!

Me eating cake – an indulgence I'll be shelving in favour of long, hilly walks (image: Tess Watkins)

Me eating cake – an indulgence I’ll be shelving in favour of long, hilly walks

Train

I had somewhat naively assumed that I wouldn’t need to train that much for the trek. Sure, I’d go on a few long walks and do a bit of uphill walking on the treadmill. I go to the gym (sort of) regularly anyway; couldn’t I just ramp up my workouts as the trek inched closer? But while it’s true that you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to successfully reach the summit, you will be walking for six to eight hours every day, for days at a time. What’s more, you will be facing extreme altitudes, so you should be getting your heart rate up during training – so whether it’s swimming, running or cycling, do whatever works for you to get the blood pumping.

Running is a great way to train

Running is a great way to train

Walk everywhere

I am ashamed to say that on some days, walking from my car to my desk is the furthest I will venture. That had to change when I took on this challenge. I also happen to work on the ninth floor, so there were no more excuses for catching the lift. That goes for the end of the day too. A lot of people understandably only think about reaching the top of the mountain and not about trekking back down – but this can often be the most strenuous part of the expedition. Make sure you complete a couple of hilly weekend walks before you go – and while it’s more than acceptable to indulge over a pub lunch, just remember that you need to get up the next day and do it all over again.

Worn-in hiking boots are perhaps the most important thing to pack

Worn-in hiking boots are perhaps the most important thing to pack

Pack well

When it comes to packing, it is very easy to get carried away – at least, if you’re me anyway. It’s important to pack clothing for all types of weather and the key thing to remember is layers, as you are likely to encounter tropical heat, heavy rain and freezing temperatures. Among the most crucial items will be your jacket and your boots. It may sound obvious, but buy your boots a couple of months in advance and wear them every time you go out walking ahead of your trek. And don’t forget the little things! Suncream, a head torch, a good-quality thermal bottle, and those all-important wet wipes should all feature on your packing list.

This Mount Kilimanjaro image is daunting, but I just need to take it one step at a time...

This Mount Kilimanjaro image is daunting, but I just need to take it one step at a time…

Mind over matter

They say mentally preparing yourself for climbing a mountain is the most important thing you can do before your trip. And they’re right. Remember that many people have successfully reached the top, and you are going to be among them. Positivity is key, so think about what helps you achieve that mindset before you set off. Personally, I know a punchy playlist will keep me putting one foot in front of the other. Make it more manageable by breaking it down into chunks. Tell yourself you’re allowed some chocolate if you reach that rock in the near distance. If you feel it suddenly all get to much, take a deep breath, remind yourself why you are doing it and tell yourself you will achieve it.

I plan to worry about nothing, except reaching this sign

I plan to worry about nothing, except reaching this sign

Don’t worry about the ‘what ifs’

I don’t know about you, but I’m an over-thinker and I worry about everything. What if I get altitude sickness? What if my boots give me blisters? What if I can’t make it to the summit? Heck, just writing this blog has worked me into a frenzy! And while saying ‘don’t worry’ to a worrier is about as helpful as a chocolate teapot, this really is some of the best advice going. If you have prepared yourself physically and mentally, there is not much more you can do other than go with the flow and…

Fingers crossed this will be me in November!

Fingers crossed this will be me in November!

…Enjoy it!

It’s easy to get so caught up that you don’t think beyond reaching that summit; every day becomes about achieving the end goal. But this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and you have put a lot of time and effort into getting here. Stop to take photos, observe the breathtaking surroundings, and chat to your team and the guides. When you make it to the top, enjoy it! Take in the sight of that wondrous landscape stretching out before you, and pat yourself on the back for ticking this mammoth challenge off your bucket list.


Has Tess’s training plans inspired you take on a challenge on holiday? Make an appointment with one of our Travel Experts and they can help you pick a peak to suit you!


You might also like:

At the Top of Japan: Climbing Mount Fuji

A Beginner’s Guide to Trekking on your Travels

About Tessa Watkins

Formerly a local news editor and reporter covering court cases and crime stories, I’m obsessed with all things travel. Often found exploring a new city and seeking out the world’s best beaches, there are a plethora of destinations I remain desperate to discover. Tweet me @tess1977