Before I climbed Kilimanjaro I would have said that strength really isn’t a factor. Even now, my personal experience says that strength isn’t a factor, but watching my climbing companions I know that simply isn’t true.
They frequently struggled, particularly on the steep ascents and descents. They would often say to me that I would arrive in to camp at the end of the day the way they felt at the beginning of it.
I’m lucky. I’m one of those people that rapidly builds strength, and in just a couple of training sessions I can return back to whatever my previous maximum had been in a lift. Since I get a lot of “I hate you” looks from people when I say that, apparently isn’t true for everyone. But, I’m going to take my one physical genetic gift and run with it. Apparently being strong is my thing!
But, back to Kilimanjaro…
But, having a strong body is also an important part of the equation.
Every day you put on your day pack, which typically has in it:
- About 7 pounds of water
- A bunch of snacks
- A full change of clothes, including full rain gear and numerous layers
- Sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and whatever else you could need for 4-8 hours on the trail
You need to be able to carry that for hours every day, and deal with how the pack shifts your center of gravity.
Then, you need the lower body strength to go up and down the countless hills that get you around the mountain.
Several times the step up was so high that my front leg could barely get up there, so I had to either pull or push myself up. And, the same thing going down.
The guides were always there if you needed a hand, but I have a strong independent streak, and rejected their help. I frequently channeled my 3 1/2 year old niece, “no, Daddy, I do it!”
How do you prepare?
Climb mountains. Spend as much time as you can climbing mountains that have a decent elevation gain.
Most of my training hikes were right around 6 miles in with a 3,000 foot elevation gain. The elevation gain doesn’t need to be that high, but I’m glad it was because very little of what I saw on Kilimanjaro surprised me.
Stairs. Not everyone is lucky enough to live with an entire mountain range virtually outside their door, so stairs are a reasonable substitute.
The downside of stairs is that it gets really boring, you need a long set in order to sufficiently mimic conditions, and the footing on them is a heck of a lot better than you find on a mountain. But, from a pure strength standpoint, they will do since the motion is reasonably close.
When I say stairs, I mean stairs — not a stairmaster or machine. Using a machine, where the ground moves under you, works your body completely different than having to propel your body up an inanimate object. I would actually rather have you do nothing than use a stairmaster.