My husband and I reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro at exactly 11.57pm on February 19 th , 2017. It took us six days to reach the top at 5895 meters and one day to come back down to sea level; it was the hardest, most satisfying and humbling experience of my life. I definitely couldn’t have achieved such a feat without listening to my body first and nourishing it with endless snacks and the perfect balance of fats, carbohydrates and protein. Several of the seasoned mountaineers recommend that the mountain is the last place you want to be thinking of going on a diet and continuous snacking and eating is key to your success. I remember telling our guides how I wanted to limit my food intake so as not put on weight during my climb, but they explained that sustenance and hydration were the optimal ways to combat AMS Altitude Mountain Sickness. Thankfully the only symptoms I suffered from was a mild ongoing headache and slight nausea.
What type of food to expect on the mountain:
One of the marvels of hiking Kilimanjaro is the skill and ease with which the cooks can whip up a variety of tasty and healthy meals with their use of very simple equipment and limited ingredients, while taking our dietary needs in full consideration the entire time. Our guides would phone in for fresh produce every other day or if we had any special requests and it would take the porters up to a day to drop off the food items depending on the campsite we were going to be at the following day.
We always started the day at 6.am with Hasan, the assistant to the cook and the only other person allowed to handle the food, knocking on the entrance of our tent chanting: “Mama, mama, mama coffee” We woke up every day to breathtaking views and the warm aroma of black Kilimanjaro coffee that kick- started our brain and body for the upcoming hike. Next step was fuelling our bodies and it came in the form of a filling porridge either oatmeal or African finger millet, which has a natural reddish brown hue; I thought it was chocolate oatmeal when I first tried it. I fell in love with it so much, I brought a stash back home with me. Eggs was another important staple on the breakfast table and they were fried, boiled or scrambled and served with sausage or bacon, there was fruit, usually small African bananas and I made sure to pack a few as snacks for the hike. Finally, for carbs and fat, we were encouraged to fill up on toast, jam and butter or even better peanut butter for that extra energy boost.
Our hiking packs were filled with 3 liters of water, which was gathered by the porters every day from the streams on the mountain then filtered and purified for drinking.
We hiked continuously for 16km the first day of the climb and our lunch consisted of sitting on a tree log with a small white cardboard box, on our lap, packed with a cold, spiced, grilled chicken leg, a boiled egg, vanilla muffin, plain biscuits, a small banana and a mixed fruit juice box. We enjoyed that same box on the way down from the summit, but we were sitting on huge stones surrounded by scree and rubble. All the other times, we enjoyed lunch in a mess tent starting off with a hot soup of some kind either chicken, vegetable or leek; it was also considered a form of hydration, which we took full advantage of and had several bowls of it. I was surprised to discover that our cook was well versed with a diverse mix of cuisines; it’s not everyday that you have chicken cacciatore or corn soft shell tacos with pork, salsa and guacamole on a mountain top in Africa.
This was usually served right before dinnertime or after we used to arrive from a strenuous 7-hour hike and we were expected to rest up, eat and energize. Tea was two plates of popcorn, a plate of roasted peanuts and an array of hot drinks such as the chocolate malt drink Milo, which was the optimal way to fill up your stomach with warmth.
Snacks & Dinner
Dinner was very similar to our lunch with a piping hot pot of soup served before the meal. I had lost my appetite the night before our summit due to the altitude and fear but the guides insisted that I force myself to finish an extra helping of potatoes and load up on the protein.
Stopping for snacks every few hours during the hike was imperative, especially during the last stretch towards the summit. At 5,200 meters we were given a packet of white glucose powder to help us with our energy levels and I made sure to pack lots of cookies, gummy bears and energy gels; it’s what kept us going till the very end.