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Safety on Kilimanjaro

Climbing Kilimanjaro is probably one of the most dangerous things you will ever decide to do. Every year it’s estimated over 1,000 people are evacuated from the mountain and sadly, some never return to their families. So Is it safe to climb Kilimanjaro?  

One of the Seven Summits, Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, and at 19,341 ft, the summit falls into the “extreme altitude” mountaineering category. It’s one of the few mountains of this size that requires no technical skill to reach the summit.

It should not be underestimated. Trekking at altitude in a remote location can be dangerous, and every year it’s estimated over 1,000 people are evacuated from the mountain and sadly, some never return to their families.

Key factors affecting your safety on Kilimanjaro:

  • Altitude sickness and altitude-related complications
  • Remote location
  • Experience and training of your guides
  • The right equipment for dealing with an emergency
  • Robust monitoring and evacuation processes and protocols

How We Work to Keep You Safe on Kilimanjaro

Staying safe on Kilimanjaro starts with understanding the risks and knowing how to mitigate them. We ask all our climbers to fill in a comprehensive medical questionnaire, and in the case of some pre-existing conditions, we may ask for confirmation from your doctor that you are fit to climb. Your guide will need to know any existing medications you are taking (including over the counter) and whether you are taking Diamox to help acclimatization.

Read our guide to Kilimanjaro altitude Sickness: Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment

Guide Training

You need to know that your guide has the proper training to know how to detect the early signs of altitude sickness, and what to do about it. Our guides undergo Wilderness First Responder training, which teaches essential skills for managing medical conditions in remote locations.

We’ve partnered with the Sentinel Outdoor Institute, a high-altitude medical training organization who run in-depth training courses in Tanzania to ensure our guides are kept up to date with emerging medical protocols.

Carrying emergency equipment is useless if your guide doesn’t know how to use it.

A note on guide-to-climber ratio

It’s our mission to ensure a safe and successful summit for everyone. We have a guide to climber ratio of 1 to 2, so for every two climbers, we have one trained mountain guide. This allows for more careful observation and evaluation of the group’s condition.

Daily Health Checks & Monitoring

Communication with your guide is important. If you’re feeling under the weather, have a headache, nausea or any other symptom, you must tell your guide. While hiking, your guide will be keeping a lookout for any early signs of trouble:

  • Are you having difficulty on the trail, stumbling or very tired
  • Are you eating well, or is your appetite diminishing
  • Do you keep stopping to catch your breath, and having difficulty breathing
  • Are you drinking enough water
  • Any signs of erratic behavior or confusion

Daily Health Check

Every day, you’ll have a one-to-one meeting with your guide for a comprehensive health check-up:

  • Using a pulse oximeter to measure your blood oxygen saturation and resting pulse rate, using this data in combination with:
  • Symptom picture, using the Lake Louise Scoring System to determine whether you are showing signs of altitude sickness
  • Self-assessment questions to determine how you are feeling

Constant monitoring prevents a mild case of altitude sickness from escalating into an emergency.

Read more: Pulse Oximeter & Daily Monitoring to Detect Altitude Sickness

Emergency Oxygen & Medical Supplies

Our team carries a comprehensive medical kit, including bottled oxygen, and portable stretcher.

  • We carry supplemental oxygen for emergency use only.
  • The only cure for acute mountain sickness is immediate descent to a lower elevation.
  • In the case of an injury that prevents a climber from descending on foot, we carry a portable stretcher.
  • Oxygen can be administered to alleviate AMS in combination with immediate descent.
  • We carry a first aid medical kit to treat minor injuries

Helicopter Evacuation on Kilimanjaro

In the event of an emergency, we use Kilimanjaro SAR, a search and rescue service that operates out of Moshi. Within 5 minutes of a distress call, a helicopter will be despatched to the nearest landing point and the patient can be airlifted off the mountain and taken to hospital or the High Altitude Medicine Clinic.

Read more: Kilimanjaro Helicopter Rescue

Other Important Safety Aspects on Kilimanjaro

It’s important that you take responsibility for your safety, including:

  • Don’t ignore symptoms. If you have a headache, loss of appetite, nausea or any unusual symptom, tell your guide immediately
  • Don’t try to “push through”. Mild signs of altitude sickness can often be successfully treated without evacuation, but ignoring them can be dangerous
  • Keep an eye on your team-mates. If you see someone struggling or behaving erratically, tell your guide
  • Follow your guide’s instructions at all times.

Equipment & Gear

Trekking on Kilimanjaro takes you through five major climate zones, from the warmth of the low slopes to the bitterly cold, sub-zero temperatures at the summit.

In addition to the medical and emergency equipment, the quality of kit used in camp is also an important consideration. Weather on any mountain can be unpredictable, and keeping safe, warm, and dry at night is imperative to the health of any climber.

  • Rugged tents suitable for changing mountain conditions, that stay dry even in torrential rain
  • Comfortable waterproof dining tent with table and chairs
  • Sanitary toilet facilities

Arriving for a Kilimanjaro climb without proper cold-weather clothing, adequate hiking boots or a sleeping bag appropriate for expedition conditions is asking for trouble. We’ve put together a comprehensive packing list for Kilimanjaro explaining what you need and why.

  • If you haven’t got the right boots, you can easily turn an ankle or injure yourself on the rocky trails
  • Without effective rain gear, you’ll get soaking wet and quickly turn hypothermic
  • If you don’t protect yourself from the sun, you can end up with a nasty case of sunburn or sunstroke
  • Never stay in wet clothes
  • Our Kilimanjaro packing list details everything you need to bring to be properly prepared

Hygiene, food & water safety

There are no showers on Kilimanjaro, and we recommend you bring hand sanitizer and wash your hands frequently, especially before you eat. A combination of being tired from hiking, altitude, and dietary changes can make you more susceptible to traveler’s diarrhea or other ‘stomach bugs’.

During the day:

  • Eat regularly, even if you think you’re not hungry, this keeps your energy levels up
  • Drink plenty of water, dehydration will quickly lead to fatigue and can compromise the acclimatization process

We go to great lengths to ensure your food is prepared safely, to avoid gastrointestinal problems. We boil, filter and purify all drinking water, including the water used to wash food products.

By providing private toilet tents for our climbers, we avoid the unsanitary conditions found in some of the public facilities at the campsites.

Physical Preparation

Safety begins at home, before you arrive in Tanzania.

You should have a good standard of fitness in order to hike over rugged terrain for multiple days. While it’s not technical, the hiking is tough and exhausting. Start your fitness program well ahead of your climb, follow our complete guide to training for Kilimanjaro.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

We take your safety very seriously and don’t believe in leaving anything to chance. Emergencies can and do occur, due to the nature of the remote, high-altitude environment. Climbing Kilimanjaro with an operator who has well-trained guides, robust safety procedures, and good quality equipment reduces the incidence and severity of any issues that arise.

You can prepare yourself by being fit, bringing the right gear, and taking adequate precautions on the trail. Read Countdown to Kili : How to Prepare for your mountain adventure.

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