Is it safe to climb Kilimanjaro?
Is it safe to climb Kilimanjaro? We get asked this question a lot – and rightly so! Being serious about climbing Kilimanjaro means you have to be serious about Kilimanjaro safety. In this article we are going to cover the best practice Mount Kilimanjaro safety measures to ensure that your climb is as safe and stress free as possible. It is a hard climb and should not be underestimated. Every year, around 1,000 people are evacuated from the mountain. Approximately 10 deaths are reported. Without doing the necessary research and choosing a qualified Kilimanjaro tour operator, therefore, you are putting yourself in serious danger.
So keeping your safety in mind, what can you expect and what should you focus on while preparing for your summit? Here are a few key factors to consider:
- Altitude sickness
- Experienced Kilimanjaro guides
- The right equipment for Kilimanjaro safety
- Choosing a qualified tour operator
We cover each of these in depth below. Please remember that the purpose of this article is not to scare you, but to keep you well informed. At Follow Alice our priority is your safety. We want you to know how to climb Kilimanjaro and how to do it in the safest way possible. It is safe to climb Kilimanjaro, but only when you are educated on the risks. Its a challenge, but thats what its all about right!?
Safety on Kilimanjaro is key
Remember, while on your Kilimanjaro climb, your safety is of upmost importance. While climbing the highest peak in Africa may not be the most technically challenging, there are a few factors to consider and accept as part of your Kilimanjaro preparation.
Remember that while on your Kilimanjaro climb, your safety is of upmost importance.
You are in a remote location
Even with a team of qualified Kilimanjaro crew, it is important to know that while you are on the mountain, you are in a remote location so if anything happens and you are injured, there is no nearby hospital just around the corner. Your mountain crew should be trained to react in such situations, which is where the importance of a well trained mountain crew should not be compromised on.
There is extreme and unpredictable weather
Temperatures can plummet to below freezing and the weather can change almost instantly. It can get very cold on the mountain and the right equipment and clothing for this is vital. We put together a Kilimanjaro packing list to prepare for this.
Perhaps the highest contributing factor to safety on the mountain is altitude sickness. Remember that Kilimanjaro is 6000m above sea level and is the highest mountain in Africa.
Put simply, safety on Kilimanjaro is so important because it’s a hard climb. Standing at 5,895 meters (19,341 feet), Kilimanjaro is classified as an extreme altitude mountain trek. If you’ve ever wondered what it is like to climb Kilimanjaro, it’s good to highlight that you definitely don’t need to be an athlete to climb Kilimanjaro, but doing the necessary mental and physical training is essential to a safe and successful summit.
Anyone with the right amount of determination can climb Kilimanjaro
In fact, the oldest person to summit was 88 years old and the youngest was 7 years old. Kyle Maynard, who has no arms and legs due to a condition called congenital amputation, crawled unassisted to the top of Kilimanjaro in 2012. Nonetheless, it is still a hard climb. It’s fair to say that climbing Kilimanjaro is not akin to climbing Everest or K2. However it is still to be approached with upmost care. The consequence of climbing too high, or too quickly, is altitude sickness.
Altitude sickness, or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), is a negative health effect of high altitude. The percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere at sea level is about 21%. As you climb higher up the mountain the percentage remains the same but the number of oxygen molecules per breath is reduced. At 12,000 feet (3,600 m) there are roughly 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath. The body therefore finds it hard to adapt and function as normal with less oxygen.
Altitude sickness is caused by a failure of the body to adapt quickly enough to these lower levels of oxygen. Often climbers make the mistake of going too high (altitude) too quickly (rate of ascent). You will often hear the term “Pole pole” while on your climb. This is the Swahili phrase for “slowly slowly” and should be your motto for this incredible journey. There is no rush. Take your time and enjoy the beauty that surrounds you!
It is perfectly normal to get symptoms of mild altitude sickness
Having said that, it is perfectly normal to get altitude sickness. In fact, at over 3,000 metres more than 75% of climbers will experience at least some form of mild AMS. It is therefore more than likely that you will experience some form of altitude sickness when climbing Kilimanjaro. Age, sex or physical fitness have no effect on your likelihood of getting altitude sickness. Just because you haven’t had it before doesn’t mean you won’t develop it on another trip. It is essential you are clued up.
At Follow Alice we follow the climb high, sleep low principle to best adjust to the high altitude. This means that you hike to a high altitude and then head back down the mountain to a lower altitude to let your body adjust. There are various Kilimanjaro routes that are also very good for acclimatisation. As an example, the Lemosho Route, Northern Circuit and the Machame Route all offer great acclimatisation opportunities, which means that the success rate is higher – which is why you’re there of course!
Experienced Kilimanjaro guides
You can now see that it is absolutely crucial you climb with an experienced guide. Those you climb with are your support network on the mountain. If they do not know how to act in an emergency then you are putting your own life at risk. At Follow Alice we ensure your guides have the experience and knowledge to keep you safe.
All of our Kilimanjaro guides are highly experienced in preventing, detecting, and treating altitude sickness. Follow Alice Kilimanjaro guides are certified Wilderness First Responders (WFR). They have the tools to make critical medical and evacuation decisions on location. Follow Alice guides administer the Lake Louise Scoring System (LLSS). LLSS was designed to evaluate adults for symptoms of acute mountain sickness. The system uses an assessment questionnaire and a scorecard to determine whether an individual has no AMS, mild AMS, or severe AMS.
All of our guides are highly experienced in preventing, detecting, and treating altitude sickness
Meet Follow Alice Tanzania local leader Chris
Follow Alice local leader Chris has been working on the mountain for over 16 years. He has made it to the summit over 300 times and even climbed Kilimanjaro on New Years Eve. He is ranked #6 out of 261 guides on Kilimanjaro by clients. Chris is an incredibly knowledgeable and experienced leader who always puts safety first. Learn more about Chris in this interview.
The right equipment for Kilimanjaro safety
Once you embark on your climb, the only resources available to you are the ones that you and your team carry up with you. Your Kilimanjaro team are equipped with essential equipment to monitor you throughout the climb. They will check you multiple times a day to ensure you are acclimatising well. They are equipped and have access to:
The oximeter is placed on a climber’s fingertip. The oximeter uses two beams of light that shine into small blood vessels and capillaries in your finger. The sensor reflects the amount of oxygen in the blood. This simple piece of equipment gathers the required information within seconds of being applied to your finger.
Bottled oxygen is only for emergency situations and should not be used to assist those who have not adequately acclimatised on their own to climb higher. The most immediate treatment for moderate and serious altitude sickness is descent. With the various routes on Kilimanjaro, it is always possible to descend, and descend quickly. Oxygen is only used when absolutely necessary.
This is carried at all times to evacuate climbers who may need to descend but are unable to walk on their own.
First aid medical kit
This is essential to treat minor scrapes, cuts and blisters.
What if you feel sick on Kilimanjaro?
Speak up – always! This is important. Take note of our advice and keep it in mind when climbing Kilimanjaro. If you experience any symptoms or altitude sickness, tell your guide. Do not feel silly or embarrassed. Some people are afraid to say they are feeling unwell because they do not want to hold up the rest of the group. Your mountain crew is there to support you on this journey and communication is the essential key to a successful summit. Trust your team!
Keep in mind that every member of your group will experience some form of altitude sickness at some point in the climb. Take comfort in the fact that you are a team, and are there to support each other.
It is also good to know that groups can be split to accommodate for differing abilities. This is one of the reasons why we have large mountain crews. Your mountain crew are the back bone of your experience and play a massive role in the success of your summit. Safety on Kilimanjaro should not be understated. You must tell your guide if you are feeling unwell.
What personal equipment is needed for safety on Kilimanjaro?
One of the factors you need to consider when preparing for a safe summit, is the unpredictable weather that you will endure. Keep in mind that although you can climb Kilimanjaro any time of year, some months are better than others. Finding the best time to climb Kilimanjaro can effect the climate that you can expect. Make sure you pack the essential climbing gear to ensure that you are as warm and comfortable as possible.
The footwear you take to climb Kilimanjaro is very important. Your hiking boots should be warm, water resistant and of proven quality for the climb. You also need to make sure that you wear them in. This will put you in best position for a comfortable and safe climb. The best way to break boots in are to wear them as often as possible before your hiking date. Your boots are well worn in when the inner soles of the boot start to contour the bottom of your foot.
IMPORTANT TO NOTE
We like to stress the importance of keeping your hiking boots in your hand luggage so that should your luggage not arrive, you are still able to climb. At Follow Alice we can assist in the rental of most of the gear you would need except for hiking boots which will need to be worn in by the time you get to Kilimanjaro.
You will also need several pairs of thick and warm walking and climbing socks (at least 2-3). Gaiters can be helpful in wet conditions and to stop scree getting inside your boots. This is especially important in the rainforest terrain.
Sunglasses/suncream/hat – it is essential you protect yourself against the sun on Kilimanjaro. You are trekking to high altitude where the sun intensity is high. UV intensity at just under 6,000m is very high. Visible light can also reflect and intensified by snow. Sunglasses with good UV protection are therefore a must. This can be very damaging to your eyes if you don’t have adequate sunglasses. You will need sweat resistant and high SPF and sunscreen (greater than 30). A good hat is important to protect your face from sun burn and keep your head cool.
Temperatures will be fluctuating throughout your entire Kilimanjaro climb. You will be trekking through four climatic zones. Weather can range from warm and tropical at the base of the mountain to freezing on the summit. It is therefore very important you have the right clothing to be able to layer up and layer down. This includes the right base layers, insulation layers and waterproof layers. Read more about what exactly to pack in our Kilimanjaro packing list. A down jacket is particularly important for your summit. To assist in your safety and overall experience, we rent out suitable down jackets for your climb.
Water on Kilimanjaro is collected from mountain streams by porters during your trek. It is therefore very important for your health and safety that you carry a form of water treatment. Treating your water with iodine purification tablets can taste a bit strange. Furthermore, just drinking water can result in a rapid fall in plasma sodium concentration. This accentuates dehydration. We recommend adding a sports drink or a few spoons of Isostar powder (or similar, which aids water absorption into the blood and body cells), improves flavour and provides an energy boost.
Choosing a qualified tour operator
All the points that we have covered in this article are extremely important for Kilimanjaro safety. Above all, you need to be sure to choose the right Kilimanjaro tour operator. This decision can be the make or break of having a safe and enjoyable climb.
At Follow Alice we therefore prioritise your Kilimanjaro safety above everything else. We aim to treat the initial causes of any sickness rather than waiting for the symptoms to appear. Prevention is key. Having the right knowledge gives you the tools to keep yourself as safe as possible. We like to think of ourselves as value for money operators. At Follow Alice we focus on keeping costs to a minimum without compromising on safety, quality equipment and nutrition. Learn more about why prices differ so much between Kilimanjaro tour operators.
By choosing to climb Kilimanjaro with Follow Alice you are:
- with an operator that understands Kilimanjaro
- equipped to deal with altitude sickness
- in extremely safe hands
- safe with experienced guides
- safe with the right equipment
- climbing with friends
And don’t forget…
It is also a very important fact that you are required to have travel insurance in order to climb Kilimanjaro. If you have any pre-existing medical conditions, it is best to discuss with your doctor about the potential risks of climbing Kilimanjaro.
You should also ensure that any prescribed medication is on your person while you are on the mountain.
Lastly, be sure to have any necessary vaccinations done before your trip to Tanzania. In terms of vaccinations – there are no specific vaccine requirements needed to enter Tanzania. However, be aware that the government of Tanzania requires proof of yellow fever vaccination upon arrival if you are traveling from a country with risk of yellow fever. We suggest you talk to your doctor about getting the following vaccinations: Hepatitis A & B, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Tetanus, Polio, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and Meningococcal Meningitis (Africa/Asia). Please check the Fit For Travel website for more up to date information.
Still have questions about Kilimanjaro safety? Let us know in the comment box below and we’ll get back to you!