I'm going to recommend a few things that you pretty much must do to complete this climb if you're a new climber like me. First off, you absolutely need to pack at least 3 huge bottles of water. That's the weight that I found tolerable in my backpack, but honestly 4 would have been better. Next, pack a ton of energy bars. Every time we stopped, which was nearly ever half hour or so, I ate at least one. I only packed 10 and the climb is 6 hours up and 4 hours down and since it's a straight up hike/climb - the most intense physical exertion I've experienced - I needed way more. So energy bars are a must. I'd recommend packing something closer to 20 bars or so, no word of a lie you will thank yourself.
Next, for equipment, a climbing stick is a must. So are gloves with the tips cut off, I used gardening gloves which were perfect. use a lightweight backpack, and try to find shoes that aren't too heavy but have excellent grip, that is completely essential to stay safe. You might want to make sure they don't touch your toes, because on the way down when you're on a steep angle it may bother you. Also, absolutely invest in gators, those covers for your boots. I didn't and on the way down when you're 'skiing' through sandy ash it gets in your boots. Bring your own headlamp, I recommend the ones that are super bright, don't cheap out. The climb starts at 11pm so you're in pitch black. (the stars will amaze you)
Because of the sweating that the hill section especially, start out with a lightweight T-shirt, and lightweight pants (I'd recommend elastic bottom track pants, just to keep the brush in the hill section from bugging your legs). Pack extra layers - a hooded sweatshirt is great, plus a medium weight jacket for near the summit because it gets a bit chilly with the wind. I brought a Maasai blanket as well which was great when we stopped for the hour break near the top and our group used it to snuggle under together.
A couple of comments on the climb - don't do anything else that day!! we made the mistake of hiking to a waterfall nearby and visitng lake natron, and then I didn't sleep for the 3 hour nap we had, yikes! Do yourself a favor and rest all day. Also, do leg stretches like crazy before and AFTER your climb. I really hurt my knees from the descent, and stretches could have really helped.
People said this mountain isn't good for those who are afraid of heights - not sure I agree. I'm afraid of heights, but I think unless someone already struggles with vertigo you won't suddenly get it on this, and it isn't a 'straight down' drop, it's angled. And in the morning when you descend, you'll be able to see everything in front of you and you never feel like you're falling headfirst, especially if you go down on your bum and hands for the first steepest part of the descent. But, to be fair, there are some iffy moments. I did have to scale up across this 45* 'wall' of lava with hardened bits rock in it... It was dark at the time, but I glanced down sideways with my headlamp and the wall disappeared into the darkness. There was definitely a risk of slipping down it, but I find that following in the footsteps of the guides gives a sense of peace.
Pace yourself especially in the beginning don't go all out, and I recommend if you have a big group bring two guides with you so the slow people can go at their own pace. I was the slow one of our group and I wouldn't have been able to keep up without my guide. I'd fall behind hand catch up at each 'official' rest stop. The mountain has 3 kinds of 'sections'... the foothills (where the most intense cardio and sweating happens), steep ash gullies that you can still hike up (where the worst leg burn happens because you still have to rely on your legs and walking stick only and for every one step up you slide back a bit in the ash: don't give up in this section, it will be very tempting!), and the steepest section that you have to 'scramble' up with your hands and feet (where your upper body will be happy to help out your legs, and you can kind of zigzag slightly up the bigger rocks to give your legs mini breaks).
I personally had to break frequently to let myself recharge. Don't be ashamed about having to take longer or more frequent breaks. I completely recommend doing a lot of cycling or other hamstring exercised before attempting this climb. I never work out those muscles and I paid for it dearly with severe led legs that made me almost quit.
Just before the scrambling section, your guides should give you an hour break on this big ledge which is the last and only ledge you can actually lie down on before the top (in the previous breaks you just kind of sit on little ledges). Just before reaching this ledge was the most intense part of the climb for me personally because of the hours without a decent long rest. I almost didn't make it to that ledge. I highly recommend you keep that ledge in your mind as your goal, because one you make it to that, the scrambling won't feel as difficult as all the other leg and cardio work you've been doing.
There is a major signpost for when you're getting close to the top during the scramble - you'll pass between two vertical walls of rock, and it will look like you're at the summit but not quite, you'll have to veer right and head up a section you can't zigzag up you have to straight up (50*) scramble, so it will be psychologically difficult if you're not aware of it. Now you know :) You'll also start to smell sulfur.
Hope all that advice helps. Making the summit makes all the pain worth it. Just don't be too hard on yourself if you need to stop entirely when it isn't scheduled, and always listen to your guides. Make sure your heart and legs are prepped for this. And when you get to the crater rim, don't forget to go up to the higher ridge that seems slightly detached from the crater off to the right - my friend did it and got some great shots of the rest of us slackers. Hearing the lava flowing around in the crater and watching the sun rise, oh baby you're in for a treat!
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