Health & Safety on Kilimanjaro
Physical preparation for Kilimanjaro
Once you have made the decision to climb Kilimanjaro there are some things that you can do beforehand to assist in ensuring you have a safe and successful climb.
- Train at altitude or at least test your abilities at altitude: The very best way to prepare for climbing to high altitude is to climb to high altitude. Although this is difficult for most people, remember that the higher the altitude and the longer the hikes, the better. Whether it be to hike 2,000 feet to the top of the local hill or climbing larger mountains further afield; just being out hiking up hill is the best. This also allows you to get used to your backpack and boots.
- Talk to your Doctor or Physician about the state of your own health, perhaps do a health check and if over the age of 60 ensure you get the full support and approval from your Doctor or Specialist
- Fully disclose any past or present health issues with us, as well as any allergies or current medications.
- Train your body: Running and biking are also very good and at least take you outdoors so you can test your equipment. Stair masters and climbing machines at the gym will work if outdoor hiking isn’t an option. Try not to go for short hard blasts of exercise but long sustained workouts instead. An adequate training regime is to maintain 80% of your max heart rate (220 minus your age) for an hour, three to four days a week.
- Train your mind: Remember high altitude mountain climbing requires acclimatization and a strong mind is as important as a strong body.
Safety when on the mountain
Kilimanjaro is a non-technical climb but goes to very high altitude so safety measures need to be taken very seriously. It is important to climb Kilimanjaro with an experienced leader and crew who are rigorously trained in high altitude issues, bring the necessary medical equipment, and have the skills to monitor their clients on a daily basis as well as having the backing of an experienced team on the ground who can handle all types of evacuations.
African Environments Trip Leaders are the most experienced on the mountain, our reputation after 30 years of running expeditions is what sets us apart from the rest of companies. All Trip Leaders are certified Wilderness First Responders and their high mountaineering training goes far beyond the normal scope of just this wilderness specific first aid. Our leaders are trained to identify and carefully monitor developing high altitude issues and discuss them with you continually. They understand the importance of gathering all your health data when evaluating potential altitude sickness not just relying on single factors such as the daily collected pulse oximeter data. For additional security we carry a Gamow bag which is a hypo baric chamber and oxygen on all ascents to aid in safe and expedient evacuation to lower altitude, day or night even in adverse weather conditions.
On every African Environments Kilimanjaro climb we provide the following safety equipment:
A Gamow bag is an inflatable pressure bag large enough to accommodate a person inside. It is a hyperbaric chamber used for the treatment of Acute Mountain Sickness. By increasing air pressure around the patient, the bag simulates descent of as much as 7,000 feet, thus relieving AMS symptoms. The bags are expensive, costing over $2000 therefore deterring many companies from including them as their safety equipment. At African Environments these are standard for all climbs.
On the expedition, the Gamow bag will be demonstrated to the group during each climb and have each trip member get in it for a short trial period so they know what it is like. This is important since it reduces a high degree of stress if a climber actually needs to use it on the mountain.
Pulse Oximeter and twice daily report
A pulse oximeter is a non-invasive sensor device that is placed on the fingertip to monitor a person’s Oxygen saturation. Every morning and evening, each trip member uses the oximeter and the leader records the reading on a report. This allows our leaders to track everyone’s O2 history and help them identify the climbers who may be falling behind in acclimatization.
Each expedition departs with a 3 Litre canister of compressed pure oxygen that is administered in emergency situations only.
VHF radios, cell phone and HF radio or satellite phones
Our leaders are in daily contact with our base in Arusha and give updates on each trip member’s progress up the mountain.
Wilderness First Responders training and beyond
Our leaders undergo extensive training to provide the safest Kilimanjaro climbs. Every year we operate an annual Wilderness First Responder (WFR) and Wilderness First Aid (WFA) training in Arusha, Tanzania. This certification is critical for all professional guides (and we consider it mandatory for our Kilimanjaro guides). The WFR course is well known internationally and often regarded as the world standard in outdoor medical care. We fly in experienced instructors to run this course to exacting standards and re-certify our guides every other year. We teach them together to make the course more rigorous and include 3 additional days of specialized scenario training on the mountain. At least once every year our guides are asked to help another company evacuate one of their client’s off the mountain because they don’t have the training or expertise to handle the emergency.
Our leaders closely monitor each climber’s health as they make their ascent. Our leaders are trained to detect early signs of altitude sickness and are well versed in protocols for emergency evacuation. Our goal is to make you as safe as possible so you can relax and enjoy the climb experience.
The Western Breach
The Western Breach route is an alternative approach to Uhuru Peak for those wishing a quieter expedition. The Western Breach is actually a gap in the summit wall on the western side of Kibo that was caused by lava flow hundreds of thousands of years ago. The route is challenging with an ascent of 2800’, first hiking on switchbacks over frozen scree (similar to gravel), then up through a rocky staircase of large boulders that will require you to use your hands as you climb. Once you reach Kilimanjaro’s Summit Plateau, you head to the spectacular Crater Camp (18,500’) adjacent to the magnificent Furtwangler Glacier. From this camp, there is an optional hike to the inner crater and ash pit.
The Western Breach was closed in 2006 when a rockslide resulted in several fatalities. Climbing consultants examined the route extensively for two years and re-opened it after altering the route to stay out of the potential line of rock fall. Since then climbers have climbed the Western Breach without incident although some lesser experience companies and guides claim that it is unsafe and avoid it. That being said, Kilimanjaro is an old, crumbling volcano and rocks will fall on all routes; there have been rock fall fatalities even on the Marangu Route which is often considered the ‘easiest’. Climbers are required to wear helmets when climbing the Western Breach and it is recommended to start the climb very early in the morning to reduce the risk of rock-fall as the sun has not yet risen therefore potentially loosening rocks held together with ice.
African Environments is confident in our Western Breach expeditions and consider the Crater Camp one of the most beautiful views on Kilimanjaro, we fiercely recommend that it is not missed off an itinerary.