The Summit ascent – tips to making it to the top.
Your summit attempt is really the big day. You will finally know whether you will walk on the roof of Africa, or at least be able to say that you tried. Of course, you want to make it to the summit. Here are a few things that you can do to give you the best chances of making the summit on your first attempt.
Get as much sleep as you can
Even though you will be starting very early you must make the most of the time you have in base camp and get as much sleep as you can. If you’ve been eating and drinking properly, you’ll probably be up a few times during the night as it is.
Eat and drink as much as you can – snack and drink at every opportunity
It is nearly impossible to eat or drink too much at this stage. Summit day will be a 14 to 15 hour trek, and it will not be easy going. You can expect to burn more than 4000 calories on summit day alone, so eat well. You’ll be hiking for some 15 hours, virtually non-stop. Bring snacks, and a lot of them! Remember to put some of them in your pockets, preferably in warm places, that you have easy access to so that you can nibble while you walk without having to stop every time to get something out of your rucksack. Bring what you like best, but we have found that some of the best options are candy bars/chocolate, cookies/biscuits, crisps, energy bars, hard candy/boiled sweets, nuts/dried fruit, and trail mix. Nuts are great at altitude as they don’t freeze, whereas energy and candy bars, particularly chocolate ones, tend to freeze about 5000 metres, and drink at least twice as much water as you think you should even when you are not thirsty or hungry.
The risks of dehydration are very high at altitude and they also mirror the symptoms of AMS, so our mantra is to drink a minimum of 3 litres every single day of the climb to keep you fully hydrated. These fluids can be made up of hot drinks with your meals plus a minimum of 2 litres fluid whilst you are actually trekking. Sounds easy doesn’t it, but you need to be self-disciplined and self-aware to actually do it when you are tired and think you are not thirsty.
Also, for summit night you will need to carry water in a wide mouthed nalgene bottle as above 5000 metres everything freezes! You may be surprised to learn that water freezes from the top down, so firstly insulate your nalgene bottle by stuffing it inside a spare pair of socks and then pack it upside down in your rucksack. If you are using a platypus then make sure that the pipe is insulated or keep it tucked inside your clothes and jacket and just pull the mouthpiece out when you need to take a drink, then blow the water back down the tube before you put the mouthpiece back. Platypus users will also need to carry a litre of fluid in a wide mouthed nalgene bottle as a precautionary measure.
We cannot stress enough. The attempt on the summit is exhausting, and you have to fuel the climb if you expect to make it. Eat like a 5 year old at Christmas and enjoy all those extra calories!
Keep an even body temperature
Making sure you are neither too hot nor too cold will conserve your energy for when you really need it. You should be slightly cooler than is comfortable when you first set off. ‘Be bold, start cold’ as we say. We advise you to remove your over jacket or down jacket when you set off, then immediately put it back on when you make a ‘maintenance stop’. This will keep you more comfortable, and make sure you aren’t expending energy sweating that you could be using to climb to the summit!
Make the most of short stops
During the attempt on the summit, we will have quite a few short ‘maintenance stops’. These are not rest stops, and you shouldn’t rest. Plan what you will need to do at your next stop while you hike. At the very least, you will need to put on something warm as soon as you stop, have something to eat and drink, and make sure your kit is in good order. If you have been drinking as much as you should be, you will probably need the loo, as well.
Slow and steady – but not too slow
Our guides will set a pace that takes the needs of your entire group into account, and you should try to maintain it if at all possible. Try to go too fast and you will put yourself at extra risk of altitude sickness. Going too slow will mean that you have little time for anything but hiking and sleeping. Just keep plodding along with your guide, and you will get there at just the right time.