Kilimanjaro’s altitude is a significant challenge, but climbers do not need to use supplemental oxygen to climb Kilimanjaro or reach the summit. As part of our commitment to safety, we carry supplemental oxygen tanks and oxygen masks on all our climbs.
We do not administer bottled oxygen in an attempt to relieve low oxygen saturation or difficulties breathing to help a climber reach the summit. This can mask the symptoms of a more dangerous condition and can result in altitude-related complications later on.
However, there are some tour operators/companies who advertise the use of a “personal oxygen system” to assist climbers on Kilimanjaro. Besides the fact that you would look more like a hospital patient than a trekker, there are serious reasons why using oxygen in this manner is NOT advised.
The difficulty of Kilimanjaro lies with it’s altitude. As a trek, it is not difficult by hiking standards, if you remove the challenge of high altitude. I guess some people climb Mount Kilimanjaro just to say they did it, regardless of the manner in which it was done. But it is not much of an achievement if you put Mount Kilimanjaro at sea level.
In cases where a climber is experiencing severe symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), we may use an oxygen mask to deliver supplemental oxygen to quickly relieve symptoms to help them safely descend to a lower altitude.
For High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) there is only one cure – descend as quickly as possible. Our team will accompany you on your descent to a lower elevation, and we carry an emergency stretcher for the unlikely event that an injury or medical condition means you can’t walk.
Oxygen can help temporarily, but either not climbing higher (forfeiting the summit attempt) or descent are the only safe options for trekkers with symptoms of AMS, HACE or HAPE.
The only exception to the above is if climbers are using the Western Breach, where descent is very difficult, and evacuation by stretcher impossible. In cases where a trekker presents symptoms, we may give oxygen (and/or dexamethasone) to enable them to safely ascend to the crater rim, followed by a quick descent via Stella Point.
The summit of Kilimanjaro is roughly the same elevation as Everest Base Camp. Climbers on Everest use oxygen in the so-called “death zone”, above 26,000 ft. It’s impossible to acclimatize in the death zone. If you were to use it to help you summit Kilimanjaro then you risk masking the symptoms of altitude sickness, as well as interrupting the natural adaptation process.
Do not go higher than 10,000ft if you have:
For more information see Altitude Sickness on Kilimanjaro.
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