Whizzing Up Mount Kilimanjaro: “Kilimanjaro Diaries”

Mount Kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimanjaro


Kilimanjaro Diaries
Kilimanjaro Diaries


I once considered climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. That thought lasted for about a minute, and then I remembered that I liked to breathe. (I’m funny that way.) There’s not a lot of oxygen at Kili’s peak of 19,341 feet—the tallest point in Africa. Also, people sometimes die from this climb and I am generally opposed to death, especially my own.

However, after reading Eva Melusine Thieme’s book Kilimanjaro Diaries: Or, How I Spent a Week Dreaming of Toilets, Drinking Crappy Water, and Making Bad Jokes While Having the Time of My Life, I am starting to reconsider.   This highly engaging travelogue makes the climb sound do-able—not easy, certainly, but within the realm of possibility for an ordinary mortal. Thieme presents herself as someone who is not especially fit (although I think she was lying about that), but she made it the top when something like half of  the 35,000 people who attempt to climb the mountain every year fail. Usually, people fail because of altitude sickness—not because of the physical fitness of the hiker.

Those odds sound daunting, but I learned from her book and other research (i.e. googling Kilimanjaro) that spending a few extra days climbing increases the odds of making it to the top dramatically. According to this website, those who take 8 days to climb have an 85% chance of success, whereas those who spend only 5 days have only a 27% chance.

The longer hikes are more successful because people have more time to acclimate to the depleted oxygen levels. Knowing this makes me more inclined to want to try the climb.   Spending more time going up is something I could imagine myself doing. Becoming a super-duper fit human being who can trot up and down a mountain like a goat is considerably less likely, even in my imagination.

If you, like me, are even remotely considering this climb, here are some things I learned from Kilimanjaro Diaries that you might find helpful.

  • Intense preparatory training might be a good idea, but it is not absolutely necessary. Thieme did not do a great deal of training because her philosophy “is to avoid doing unpleasant things in preparation for something unpleasant.. . Some things are better left unknown. If I have to feel exhausted and tired and cold for the duration of the week that I’ll be climbing Kili, so be it. But I don’t feel the need to add any exhaustion and tiredness to my plate right now.” (36)

This seems like a great philosophy to me!

  • While on your 5-8 day climb, you don’t have to worry about the pesky details of life such as where to sleep, what to eat, where to get water, etc.   You hire porters to do that. In fact, if I understand correctly, you HAVE to hire them; you are not allowed to hike up unguided and without porters.   Hikers just have to carry a daypack carrying what they need for a few hours. As Thieme phrased it, “Nowhere else but Africa can you expect to be completely pampered when embarking on a week of hardship!” According to her, the food was plentiful and tasty and there was always enough water, tea and coffee to keep people going.
  • One thing the guides and porters can’t do for you is…how can I put this delicately…use the toilet for you.   Never fear, Thieme has given this topic a great deal of thought and research, and she provides readers A LOT of information on the various issues related to this topic. Many of the most humorous sections of the book are in-depth explorations of all things related to relieving oneself in less than ideal circumstances. I learned, for example, that there is a whole industry devoted to creating devices into which women can urinate. They have names such as “Urinelle” and “Shewee.” Click here http://www.shewee.com/ if you’d like more information on what a shewee is.

Thieme, however, discovered something much better than any Shewee: a private toilet tent. For a reasonable fee, she and the other members of her group hired a porter whose sole purpose was to carry and set up a private powder room for them every evening.   According to Thieme, this was the best investment she ever made.   I won’t explain in detail why, but just remember that something like 35,000 people climb the mountain every year, and there are only a few different trails. Each person hears the call of nature at least once a day. Using the public “long-drop” facilities is thus like walking through a mine field, except the mines are really crappy, if you see what I mean.

Kilimanjaro Diaries is chock full of informative and entertaining details such as these. In addition to the information she provides, Thieme also provides some history and other background information on the Kili climb industry. Perhaps most important, she explains the preparation and the ascent in such a way that it seems achievable, enjoyable, and definitely worth the effort. I would recommend this book for anyone looking for an enjoyable, informative and inspirational read on what it takes to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Kilimanjaro Diaries is sold on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions.

Click here for the amazon link.

Eva Melusine Thieme is a popular blogger.  Check out her blog here:

Why Did You (Not) Write The Book?

Author: DebraB

I am a Professor of English at Concordia University-St. Paul. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My research interests include American literature, contemporary literature, Middle Eastern literature, African literature and feminist theory.

9 thoughts on “Whizzing Up Mount Kilimanjaro: “Kilimanjaro Diaries””

  1. This looks like an interesting read.
    We were actually speaking of NOT doing this particular climb the other day while hiking a modest climb of a 4,000 feet ascent. We were all winded!

  2. Sometimes I see a mountain and think, “I could stand on top of that.” Then the moment passes. Especially when I read about certain realities I failed to considered, like the minefield aspect of Mountains With A Certain Number Of Routes. That’s useful information!

  3. Debra, thank you so much for your wonderful review, I love your take on it! And I do hope that you will now seriously consider doing the climb. It is life-changing, I promise you.

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