Thinking of hiking Africa’s highest peak in Winter?
Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is undoubtedly a challenge and one which many avid hikers have attempted or wish to attempt at some point. It’s useful however to know when the best time is to take on this imposing, free-standing mountain. If you’re keen to trek between June and August, be sure to come prepared as the mountain experiences heavy snowfall on the slopes at that time which makes for a completely different climbing experience.
There are two distinct trekking seasons which constitute the best time to climb Kilimanjaro. They are January-March and June-October. January-March is generally colder than June-October and there is a higher probability of encountering snow on the summit. For some, this might be seen as a negative, but the benefit of a snow-laden hike is that the slopes are often quieter.
Therefore, if a little snow doesn’t put you off experiencing something truly spectacular, then we recommend reading about Tanzania budget travel and buying or renting crampons before embarking on your Kili expedition. This is solely for personal safety and to have a more enjoyable climb. It’s important to note that there are no options for obtaining crampons in Tanzania so you have to bring these along before climbing as there have been trekkers in the past who were forced to turn back because of inadequate climbing gear.
What are Crampons?
Crampons are any “traction devices that are attached to footwear to improve mobility on ice during ice climbing”. Basically, crampons are soccer cleats on steroids, those spiky things strapped to the bottom of mountaineer’s boots and armed with a dozen metal teeth that cling to ice and snow when walking or climbing.
Though the word “crampon” and their application might stir some fear in those with little to no mountaineering experience, crampons simply help to navigate any slippery terrain, no matter how technical a climber you are – safety on unpredictable mountains will always be the first priority for any tour operator.
Mount Kilimanjaro hikes require no technical climbing skills. That are no ropes, harnesses or specialised climbing experience necessary, however a good level of fitness is required.
Mount Kilimanjaro is considered to be one of the highest non-technical hikes in the world, but this does not mean it should be underestimated. At 19,341 feet (5895m), Kili’s summit requires great effort. And when there are heavy snowfall years, trekkers find that crampons assist greatly with traction on the ascent, and, more importantly, the descent.
How Do I Use Crampons?
Crampons are fairly straightforward. Some are quick-strap cinches that fasten around your boot’s toes and heel, while others with more minimal spikes (“microspikes”) that merely act as additional traction that you stretch onto the sole of your boot. Talk to your local gear shop to find the best option for your climbing needs.
Not all Crampons are created equal. Most only fit on semi or fully-stiff boots, not casual, flexible trail shoes. There’s a rating system that you can refer to for crampons (C1-C3) and boots (B0-B3). Basically, the higher the number, the higher the technical mountaineering. Take a look: click here.
NOTE: I did crampon hiking on the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia and loved it!
If you choose to only wear semi-firm hiking shoes (B0), you might consider lighter traction like microspikes. However, under ideal conditions, you can normally reach Kilimanjaro’s summit wearing modest hiking shoes – but we advise also packing a sturdy pair of trekking boots for the final days to give your ankles more support when you tire.
Here’s a short video to get your oriented on how to use crampons for walking up mountains:
But we thought June-August is a great time to climb Kilimanjaro?
True. According to meteorological patterns, the long rains typically occur in Northern Tanzania between March and late May, followed by a dry and cool season from June through to August. These favorable months correspond with summer holidays in the Northern Hemisphere, which results in Kilimanjaro’s high season.
But as the largest freestanding mountain on the planet, Kili creates its own weather patterns in its own time. And like any high-elevation trek, you must be fully prepared – mentally, physically, and where gear is concerned. So, if you are still considering climbing Kilimanjaro but you’re unsure about when to do so, then take a look at the guide from our sister company: consider when choosing to climb the Mt Kili.
What If I don’t have crampons?
If you don’t have crampons, your chances of successfully reaching the summit will be reduced. The final summit day is steep and challenging (even without snow!) and crampons or alternative traction points will assist with each step. And believe us, when trekking at 19,000 feet, any assistance is welcome.
The Essential Details
This is a guest post by Zintle Tsholoba of Overlanding Africa, a division of the Discover Africa Group that I have worked with for years. Overlanding Africa.com is based in Cape Town, and exists to help with the planning and booking of the best quality overlanding and budget travel in Africa. Overlanding Africa has an excellent reputation for being the best of the best, and for telling you exactly how it is. Images supplied.