The 7 shades of Kilimanjaro

When you climb Kilimanjaro you need to protect yourself from the sun. That’s as obvious as the nose on your face, but are you truly protecting your nose? What about your ears, your cornea, your nostrils, the underside of your chin?

In a global warming world the sun is more brutal than it has ever been. You must keep up with the latest sun protectors to keep you safe atop Kilimanjaro for the following 3 reasons:

  1. ALTITUDE. The UV radiation at altitude increases 10-12% per 3,300-ft/1,000-m of increased elevation.  So at Uhuru Peak the sun is 60-72% more intense than at sea level.
  2. LATITUDE. The closer you are to the equator, the higher the UV radiation levels. Kilimanjaro is 3.03 degrees south of the equator.
  3. GROUND REFLECTION. UV radiation is reflected by snow. So if you’re hiking in the snow, as often happens above 15,000-ft./4,572-m., it can reflect as much as 80% of UV radiation.

The first rule of skin protection is a no-brainer—stay covered. Hike in long pants, long sleeves and a hat. No sunscreen is going to protect you better than good clothing.

Here are seven other ways to protect your sensitive skin from the sun.

Sunscreen: More the merrier

Your first line of your facial defense is your sunscreen, but SPF doesn’t do you any good unless you’re putting on sunscreen often and in the right places. You will need an SPF of 50 or higher preferably one that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Reapply often and make sure it goes on all unprotected places. You would be surprised how many trekkers get sunburnt ears, nostrils and under chins.

Sunglasses: Primo pair please

Climbing Kilimanjaro is not a day at the beach you need a premium pair of sunglasses that will filter at least 95 percent of the sun’s ultra-violet rays. If you can see your eyes through the lenses of your sunglasses they are too light. You need them tinted and they should have side shields. Snow blindness is common atop Kilimanjaro so protect your cornea with a primo pair of shades.

Find the right lid

Baseball caps don’t make you look dorky, but they don’t do the job of protecting your face and ears. Find a sun hat that is wide brimmed providing max coverage, that doesn’t obstruct your vision and won’t blow off in the wind. The brim must stay firm in that wind. Some of the newer models are made with light fabrics containing a 50 plus UVF factor. If the hat you find also packs easily for travel, buy it, but bring along a ball cap for that beer back in Moshi after you bag the summit.

Shield that schnoz

What is your most vulnerable body part while in a sun field? Your nose. It sticks out and is often the first to fry so you need special protection. Nose sun protection has come a long way and is now almost fashionable. Nose cone straps that fit onto your glasses with a hook are lightweight, can be adjusted to fit your proboscis and are made with comfortable leather. Before you place it on your nose coat your schnozzle with a heavy layer of sun cream and you’re good to go.

Kissable lips

Kilimanjaro is hard on lips as the combo of wind, sun and snow glare can chap you quickly. Find the best lip balm available and bring multiple sticks. They are light and pack easily. Use often and smear liberally. You will want a big painless celebratory kiss atop Kilimanjaro so protect those lips.

In the Buff

Perhaps the most versatile sun protector is your buff. It can serve as a scarf, a neck gaiter, a dust screen and ear cover. Get the newer models that have UV protection. Buffs are pliable and often more effective than sunscreen.

When the sun goes down

Just because the sun has gone down that doesn’t mean you’re not protecting your skin. Aloe Vera is the best after sun lotion you can find. After washing all the sun cream off your face liberally apply Aloe Vera and let its hydrating, peel prevention powers take hold. Drinking copious amounts of water after eight hours of slogging through sun fields is also good for your skin.

Here comes the sun

Most adventure travelers love the sun and that’s not all bad. We need the sun; it warms us and makes us feel alive. But let’s not throw caution to the sun and get burned. If we don’t take sun protection as seriously as the waterproof boots on our feet and hydration packs on our backs, a bad sunburn can ruin your trek and potentially cause serious health problems down the road.



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