Thinking of conquering the highest peak of Africa? Without any doubt, it’s a great idea. Of course, it requires proper preparation, knowing when is the best time of year to climb Kilimanjaro, and finding a reliable operator to make your trip smooth and safe. You might already know that it takes seven days on average to reach the top of the great Kili. And while they say that climbing the highest mountain on the African continent is technically a walk-up, the summit night is definitely the toughest part of the entire journey. Why do climbers start covering the very last batch of the trail in the middle of the night? Why is it the most complicated part? Stay with us to find out the answers to these questions and read some useful tips on how to make your summit night easy as a pie.
What is summit night?
Summit night is the final part of the climb, when hikers reach Uhuru Peak. It’s sometimes called summit day, and that’s also right: the climb begins at night and ends when the sun is already long up. To be more accurate, it starts at midnight and finishes late in the afternoon. Over this time, groups of hikers trek up to the peak and then cover about half of the way back down the mountain.
Why climb Kilimanjaro at night?
Scaling Kilimanjaro at night might seem strange from the first sight, however, there are some sound reasons to do so. Reason number one is elevation: the higher you get, the harder it is to sleep because low levels of oxygen make it difficult to breathe. So why waste time lying awake in bed? Secondly, it’s highly essential to spend the least possible amount of time at high altitudes.
Next, as we have already mentioned, there’s a lot to cover on that day. No matter which camp functions as the base camp for your summit ascent, you need to do a long climb and then make a long descent. You might wonder why it’s important to make such a long descent, and we’ve got the answer. There are hikers a day behind you who’ll camp where you stay just before you reach the peak, so you won’t be able to come back to this place after scaling the peak. Instead, you’ll have to go down to a lower camp.
Finally, setting off for the summit at midnight will reward you with the most incredible sunrise in your life. Seeing the sun come up from the tallest mountain of Africa is absolutely incredible, without any doubt.
Why is the summit night so tough?
There are several factors that make the summit night the most grueling part of the whole Kilimanjaro adventure.
- It’s the coldest part of the trek, often with icy wind.
- Climbing in the dark can be stressful.
- You set off after a two-hour, restless sleep.
- The summit night is the steepest part of the trek.
- It’s hard to breathe at such a high altitude. In addition, you might experience symptoms of altitude sickness — headache, nausea and dizziness.
How does everything go?
To better understand how the summit night goes, here is the schedule the team at Follow Alice stick to.
- 11 pm: Hikers get up, have a hot drink, dress and pack their stuff.
- Midnight: Hikers hit the trek up to the summit of the iconic Kilimanjaro.
- At sunrise: The group stops at Stella Point to delight in the unbelievable beauty of sunrise.
- Around half an hour later: Climbers reach Uhuru Peak.
- 15 min later: They start the descent.
A couple of useful tips for summit night
Obviously, you need to approach the summit night as seriously as you can. Proper preparation will help you make those last steps to conquer the Roof of Africa. To multiply your chances of successfully summiting Kilimanjaro, follow these tips:
1. Have a substantial meal the night before
It goes without saying that you’ll need a lot of energy to cover the hardest piece of the track. Although high elevation is very likely to make you lose appetite and feel sick, try to have a nourishing dinner the night before your summit attempt.
2. Take a good rest
As you already know, hikers need to get up at 11 pm to start summiting, so they go to bed at around 7 pm. It may be hard to fall asleep at such an early hour, however, don’t worry if you can’t sleep — at least, relax and have quality rest.
3. Dress warmly
It’s freezing cold up there, so make sure your outfit is appropriate for the arctic zone. To prevent your body from losing warmth, wear layers. Include thermal underwear, a fleece jacket, a waterproof, breathable jacket with hood, waterproof hiking pants, fleece pants, warm socks and an insulated down or synthetic jacket. It’s equally important to keep your hands warm, so it’s recommendable to put on inner gloves, thermal gloves and ski mittens. Finally, don’t forget about a warm hat to cover your head and a balaclava to protect your mouth, nose, cheeks against frostbite.
4. Don’t hurry
Go slowly — it will reduce chances of experiencing symptoms of altitude sickness. Actually, guides know what the best pace is, and your task is to maintain the pace they set.
5. Use stops effectively
During the summit climb groups of hikers have the so-called maintenance stops. Keep in mind that these are not rest stops: you need to effectively utilize this time to make sure that you are ready for the next steps. It’s important to plan ahead what you need to do, for example, adjust your clothing or have a snack.
6. Protect your eyes and skin from the sun rays
Remember that UV rays are especially aggressive at high altitudes, so don’t forget to protect your eyes and skin against their harmful impact. Also, remember to apply some sunscreen lip balm on your lips — they are very sensitive and you may get a burn.
7. Take care of spare batteries for your head torch
As the first hours of the summit climb are done in the dark, you’ll need a head torch to guide you along the trail. Remember that low temperatures are the number one enemy of batteries, so it’s crucial to keep your spare batteries warm. For this, it’s a good idea to sleep with them in the last four hours before the final part of the climb.