Kilimanjaro safety and health
At Kilimanjaro, health and safety is our top priority and it should be yours too. This means having the right gear and clothing, climbing with experienced and responsible guides, eating good food, and choosing a route that allows for proper acclimatization.
Is it safe to climb Kilimanjaro?
Kilimanjaro is a tough climb and should never be underestimated. And yet many people underestimate it! Not only do about 50% of climbers actually reach the summit, but about a thousand people are evacuated from the mountain every year. And about 10 deaths were reported. You are putting yourself at risk if you do not do the necessary research and preparation. You are also playing with fire if you do not choose a qualified Kilimanjaro tour operator as your climbing partner.
Below are the key factors to consider when it comes to Kilimanjaro safety and health
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, the percentage stays the same, but the number of oxygen molecules per breath decreases. At 3,600 meters (12,000 feet), there are roughly 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath. It is therefore difficult for the body to adapt and function normally with less oxygen.
Altitude sickness is caused by the body not being able to acclimatize (adapt) quickly enough to this lower oxygen level. A common mistake climbers make is going too high (altitude) too fast (rate of ascent).
Don't rush to the top
You often hear the term “pole, pole” while climbing Kilimanjaro. This is Swahili for “slowly, slowly” and should be the motto of this incredible journey. No need to hurry. Take your time and enjoy the beauty that surrounds you!
Do fit people get altitude sickness?
It may surprise you, but age, sex and physical fitness have no effect on your likelihood of getting altitude sickness. And just because you haven’t had it before doesn’t mean you won’t develop it on another trip. So everyone should prepare for it.
It is important to choose a good route
Not all Kilimanjaro routes are created equal. Some offer better acclimatization than others. In particular, the Lemosho route, the Northern Circuit and the Machame route offer excellent acclimatization opportunities. Because of this, these routes have the highest summit success rates. And this is the main reason why you climb the mountain!
Other routes tend to lead to more altitude sickness than others, given their poor (or poorer) acclimatization profiles. The Umbwe route and the Marangu route, for example, have low summit success rates because they require hikers to climb the mountain very quickly. A relatively large percentage of those who climb these routes do not acclimatize properly and develop AMS.
The Shira route is also a risky route from an acclimatization point of view. The reason for this is that it has a very high starting point: 3600 m. Most other routes start at around 1600m to 2300m. That makes a big difference. If you start from such a high altitude, you risk developing altitude sickness already at the beginning of your trip.
It's good to "climb high, sleep low"
At Mountain Climbers Tz, we follow the “climb high, sleep low” principle to best adapt to high altitude. This means hiking to a high altitude and then going back down the mountain at night to a lower altitude to allow your body to adjust.
Certain routes allow this, namely Lemosho, Northern Circuit and Machame. This is the main reason we prefer these routes over others: we love to see our climbers standing and smiling at the summit!
The Rongai, Umbwe and Marangu routes do not offer the opportunity to climb high and sleep low. This is partly why they don’t enjoy as high a summit success rate as some others.
Experienced Kilimanjaro guides
It is extremely important to climb Kilimanjaro only with an experienced guide and mountain staff. The people you climb with are your support network on the mountain. If they don’t know how to act in an emergency, your life is in danger.
At Mountain Climbers Tz, we make sure our drivers have the right training, experience and knowledge to keep you safe. All of our Kilimanjaro guides have extensive experience in the prevention, detection and treatment of altitude sickness. Follow Alice Kilimanjaro, the guides are also Wilderness First Responders (WFR) certified. Therefore, they have the skills necessary to make critical medical and evacuation decisions on the ground.
The right equipment for Kilimanjaro safety
Once you start climbing, the only resources available are the ones you and your team bring with you. Kilimanjaro team has basic equipment to monitor you during the climb. They will check you several times a day to make sure you are adjusting well. Below is a list and explanation of the various equipment that your mountain crew will bring to the mountain for your safety.
A pulse oximeter
The oximeter is placed on a climber’s fingertip. The oximeter uses two beams of light that shine into the small blood vessels and capillaries of the finger. The sensor reflects the amount of oxygen in the blood. This simple device collects the necessary information within seconds of being placed on your finger.
Bottled oxygen is for emergency use only. It never helps those who have not properly adapted to higher altitudes. The most immediate treatment for moderate and severe altitude sickness is to descend. No matter which of the seven Kilimanjaro routes you travel, you can always get off the mountain and get down fast.