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There’s always a learning curve that comes with traveling to a new destination and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is no different.  Not every article you read will give you the information you REALLY need, the embarrassing, unexpected surprises you might experience while traveling.  I learned plenty of those lessons on the mountain and now I’m sharing them with you, dear readers!  Here are 8 tidbits of information I learned while climbing Kilimanjaro.

1. Menstruation is Pretty Much Guaranteed

Ladies, don’t forget those Diva cups and tampons.  Studies show that high altitude can have an affect on your menstrual cycle though none have been done at altitudes as high as Kilimanjaro.  Our group of 22 women had a disproportionate amount of hikers experiencing spotting or heavier-than-normal bleeding.  Even I experienced spotting on the mountain and with my PCOS I only get a period about once a year.  The guides may discuss this issue with you the day before your climb but it’s best to bring your toiletries from home because the selection in Moshi and Arusha is limited.

2. It Gets a Little Gassy Up There

Not only does the altitude affect a woman’s menstrual cycle but all hikers, male and female, will probably experience a little extra flatulence on the mountain.  In fact it’s so prevalent that it even has a name: HAFE which stands for High Altitude Flatus Expulsion.  HAFE can cause you to feel a little more bloated than usual but fear not, the symptoms go away as soon as you start descending the mountain.  Until then just don’t bend over too quickly, at least not when someone is standing behind you.

3. The Guides Are Liars

Only another hour to go.  The next camp is just over this ridge.  We’re about halfway through today’s hike.  This is the last big hill and then it’s all downhill for the rest of the day.  Hurry up, ladies, there’s beer at the next camp.  LIES. ALL LIES.  Those guides will say anything to motivate you to move your ass up that mountain.  Take my advice and don’t even bother asking “Are we there yet?”, at least not as often as I did.  And if you do take your guide’s answer and add an hour to it.  At least.

thigns no one tells you about climbing kilimanjaro
Caspar is the best liar but I wouldn’t haven’t made it without him

4. You Can Charge Your Electronics!

I brought a crappy little solar charger on Kilimanjaro to charge my various electronics.  After all, who’s got proper electricity on the tallest mountain in Africa?  Unfortunately it didn’t keep everything charged and my phone and one camera eventually died, leaving me with one small point-and-shoot to get me through the last day of hiking.

It wasn’t until we were at the main gate again that my guide mentioned that I could have charged my electronics in the sign-in stations at most of the camps.  There is a fee that ranges from $3-10 but it’s worth it if you find your batteries zapped of energy from a cold night.  Save a little money and ask your guide bring your phone in, hikers always pay more than the guides and porters.

5. Bring a Little Extra Protection

For your summit certificate, that is.  I had a folder with my itinerary papers in them but the Kilimanjaro summit certificate is legal size and the top stuck out.  I had to be especially careful on the rest of my trip to ensure it didn’t get damaged.  Be sure to bring a legal size (or larger) folder to keep your summit certificate safe!

things no one tells you about climbing kilimanjaro

6. Your Neck Will Hurt

When climbing Mount Kilimanjaro you will experience pain in muscles you never thought you had.  But one of the places I didn’t expect was in my neck.  It’s natural of course, from looking down at the ground for hours, making sure your feet step in the right places.  Kilimanjaro doesn’t always have a view to look at!

You’ll especially feel some aching after summit night, when the only thing you’re focused on are the boots of the person in front of you.  Combat the neck pain by doing a few exercises in the mornings before you head out on the trail.

7. Your Toes Will Get Numb

I’m not an experienced hiker so when I started to lose feeling in my toes while climbing Kilimanjaro I panicked a bit.  It turns out that many hikers experience numbness in the toes, especially the big toes.  It’s caused by the impact of your toes hitting the inside of your boot while hiking the steep downward trails.  Unfortunately the downward hiking can also cause you to lose some toenails too (I lost two) so try to lace your boots a little tighter around the ankle to prevent both injuries.  It was about a month before the feeling returned to my toes.

8. Emergency Rescue Isn’t Comfortable

If you experience altitude sickness, an injured leg or any other emergency on the mountain then be prepared for a seriously uncomfortable evacuation.  There are a few one-wheeled “stretchers” placed along the trail but they can’t go everywhere on the mountain.

So what does that mean?  It means a couple of guides and porters are going to be carrying you over rocks or dragging you on a tarp until you get to the metal “stretcher” that will be your ride down the mountain.  But don’t expect them to move slowly or avoid every little rock.  Their job is to get you down the mountain as quickly as possible, even if you have a case of explosive diarrhea.  So take your time, hike carefully and don’t try to push yourself too hard.

things no one tells you about climbing kilimanjaro
The Kilimanjaro ambulance

Plan on hiking Mount Kilimanjaro?  You might find these other articles helpful!

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