Do you Need Oxygen to Climb Kilimanjaro?
We carry emergency oxygen on Kilimanjaro and medical kits on all climbs.
Kilimanjaro’s altitude is a significant challenge, but climbers do not need supplemental oxygen to climb Kilimanjaro or reach the summit. To reach to the summit you use the acclimatization method of walking slowly “pole pole” climb high, sleep low.
The more days you spend on the mountain the better chance of getting to the summit of Kilimanjaro. As part of our commitment to safety, we carry supplemental oxygen tanks and oxygen masks on all our climbs.
Should you use Supplemental Oxygen on Kilimanjaro?
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.
what is point of climbing Kilimanjaro with supplemental oxygen?
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.
Our Guides Administer Oxygen on Kilimanjaro in Emergency Situations Only
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.
What about the Western Breach?
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.
If Climbers on Everest use Oxygen Masks, why not on Kilimanjaro?
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.
Acclimatization is a slow process
The key to acclimatization is a slow ascent:
- Hike slowly, it’s not a race: you’ll hear your guides saying “pole pole” (slowly, slowly)
- Consider one of our longer routes with the best acclimatization protocol
- Stay hydrated. Dehydration puts extra stress on your body and can inhibit adaptation
- Consult your doctor to see if Diamox is right for you.
- Do not use alcohol, sleeping pills or narcotic pain medication
Do not go higher than 10,000ft if you have:
- A sore throat, cold or cough
- A respiratory infection
- High temperature
For more information see Altitude Sickness on Kilimanjaro.