Safety

5,895m Above Sea Level

Kilimanjaro is classified as an extremely high altitude zone reaching a sheer 5,895m above sea level - from the foothills to the summit – moulded by three volcanic cones reputed for high elevation, low temperatures and sporadic high winds.

The higher the altitude, the lower the pressure

High altitude is classified as 2,400m above sea level, very high from 3,658m and extremely high from 5,500m – and the higher the altitude – the lower the atmospheric pressure.

Compared to sea level, Kilimanjaro boasts a challenging environment.

At sea level the air pressure equates to ten metres of water pressing down - due to the weight of the air above. As the altitude increases the air becomes less dense and the pressure decreases lowering oxygen molecules.

As you ascend, the volume of oxygen per breath reduces - at 3,600m you breathe in two-thirds less oxygen than at sea level.

Climbing high altitudes requires slower movements and deeper more frequent breaths in rhythm with your movements, to maintain sufficient oxygen circulation.

Tips for high altitudes

Whether this is your first climb in high altitudes or whether you are an experienced trekker, it pays to be cautious and prepare yourself.

  • Hydrating yourself is the best way to adjust to higher altitudes
  • Avoid or reduce your alcohol intake – the effects are stronger and cause dehydration
  • Indulge in a nutrient rich carbohydrate diet
  • Take it slow and reduce your physical activity
  • Dress warmly and prepare for the sun
  • Have the right equipment
  • Rest and acclimatise

Climbing extremely high altitudes is a challenging feat, educate yourself on high altitude environments, listen to your body and take the necessary precautions, by listening to your guide, to ensure your climb is safe and enjoyable.

You would also need an exceptional level of determination. However strong you are you will feel like giving up sometime during the last 600 metres of the ascent to the summit. You need to be very determined to make it, but if you are, you probably will!

Potential climbers need to fully understand the challenge they are considering, as this should not be considered as a ‘walk in the park’, but rather a demanding trek on a mountain that will have various phases; from the initial trekking to altitude, to gaining acclimatisation and preparing to summit, through to the ultimate summit push and then the descent. During a complete trek on Mount Kilimanjaro a climber will go through a range of emotions and situations, which should not be underestimated, that will challenge their reason for being there. As long as climbers fully appreciate what they are looking to undertake, and are mentally as well as physically prepared, then reaching the summit should be achievable for all climbers.

Ascend Kilimanjaro escorted by world-class mountaineers, athletes and adventure specialists - experience the exhilaration of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro here.

Understanding Acute Mountain Sickness

Do you have any concerns regarding altitude sickness? You can familiarise yourself with the facts here.

Some key things to remember:

Acute Mountain Sickness is a common condition when climbing
No specific factors such as age, sex or physical condition can be used to predict susceptibility to altitude sickness
Most people can go up to 2500m without significant discomfort

What causes Altitude Sickness?

When at sea level – oxygen levels comprises of approximately 21% and barometric pressure averages at about 1 bar (1000 mbar)
As you move into higher altitudes the oxygen concentration remains the same. Due to the decrease in pressure, the number of oxygen molecules per breath is reduced. At 3500 metres the barometric pressure is about 630 mbar (weather depending). There will be approximately 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath. To supply adequate amounts of oxygen to your body, your breathing rate (even while resting) will and should increase

Extra breathing increases the amount of oxygen in the blood (though not to sea level volumes). The body must adjust itself to coping with less oxygen (this is called acclimatization). When the body fails to undergo this process it may lead to a dangerous condition known as AMS, or acute mountain sickness.

Various degrees of Altitude Sickness and preventative measures to be taken:

1. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
2. Moderate Mountain Sickness (Moderate AMS)
3. Severe Mountain Sickness (Severe AMS)
4. High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)
5. High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)

1. Acute Mountain Sickness

  • AMS is common at high altitudes. AMS is considered to be a neurological problem caused by changes in the central nervous system. It is basically a mild form of High Altitude Cerebral Edema. At elevations over 3000m three quarters of people can expect to suffer mild symptoms
  • Altitude sickness is dependent on several factors such as elevation, rate of ascent, and the individual’s susceptibility. Mild altitude sickness is common during the normal acclimatization process. The discomfort that accompanies this adaptation should be considered normal and acceptable
  • Symptoms usually start 12-24 hours after arrival at altitude. Symptoms begin to decrease in severity on approximately the third day
  • Symptoms include: headache, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, nausea, disturbed sleep and a general feeling of malaise
  • Symptoms tend to be bad at night when the respiratory drive is decreased. As the body acclimatizes, mild altitude sickness will not interfere with normal activity (symptoms should subside within 2-4 days). When the symptoms are mild (and only a nuisance), ascent can continue at a moderate rate
  • Honest communication regarding any symptoms of altitude sickness to the expedition leader / lead guide is essential to your well-being and safety
  • The only cure to AMS is acclimatization or descent. Symptoms of mild AMS can be alleviated with Ibuprofen.

Do take note that reducing symptoms is NOT curing the problem or treating the cause

2. Moderate AMS

  • Symptoms of Moderate AMS includes severe headache (that is not relieved by medication), nausea, vomiting, increasing weakness and fatigue, shortness of breath, and decreased coordination (ataxia).
  • Normal activity is difficult, although a person may still be able to walk on their own.
  • Only descent can reverse the problem. Descending a mere hundred meters may help but a definite improvement can be seen with a descent of 300-500 meters and 24 hours at lower altitude results in significant improvements.
  • It is important to stay at lower altitude until symptoms have subsided. This will mean the person has acclimatized and can begin ascending again

The Moderate AMS test: Do I have AMS?

  • Walk in a straight line, heel to toe. A person with ataxia will be unable to walk in a straight line.
  • This is a clear indication that immediate descent is required. Descent should take place before the ataxia reaches a point where a person can no longer walk on their own.
  • Should this condition develop in spite of careful preparations, our staff will take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of the team member.
  • Our staff are trained in rapid evacuation techniques and will carry the team member to a location of complete safety within hours (from any point on the mountain).
Severe AMS

  • Symptoms includes shortness of breath at rest, inability to walk, decreasing mental status, fluid build-up in the lungs
  • Severe AMS requires immediate descent to lower altitudes of around 1,000 meters.

Danger zone:

There are two severe forms of altitude illness, High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). These forms of AMS happen less frequently, especially to those who are properly acclimatized. When they do occur, it is often because inexperienced people may go too high too fast, or else may go very high and stay there. The lack of oxygen results in leakage of fluid through the capillary walls into either the lungs or the brain.

3. High Altitude Pulmonary Edema

  • HAPE results from fluid build-up in the lungs. The fluid in the lungs prevents effective oxygen exchange.
  • As the condition becomes more severe, the level of oxygen in the bloodstream decreases, and this can lead to cyanosis, impaired cerebral function, and death.
  • Symptoms include shortness of breath (even at rest) and tightness in the chest, marked fatigue and weakness, feeling of impending suffocation at night, persistent cough bringing up white, watery, or frothy fluid.
  • Further symptoms and indications of insufficient oxygen flow to the brain are confusion and irrational behaviour
  • Immediate descent to about 1000m altitude is an imperative life-saving measure. Anyone suffering from HAPE must be evacuated to a medical facility for proper follow-up treatment

4. High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)

  • HACE is the result of swelling of brain tissue from fluid leakage. Symptoms can include headache, loss of coordination (ataxia), weakness, decreasing levels of consciousness, disorientation, loss of memory, hallucinations, psychotic behaviour and coma. It generally occurs after a week or more at high altitude. Severe cases can lead to death if not treated immediately. Immediate descent to 1,000m altitude is a necessary life-saving measure
  • Anyone suffering from HACE must be evacuated to a medical facility for proper follow-up treatment

While some climbers believe and depend on equipment to promote safety. We believe in uncompromising focus and action, executed by highly trained guides who respond using tried and tested procedures to promote your safety.
When researching or booking your climb, your natural instinct is to find a company that puts your safety concerns at ease. Understand that reliance on equipment doesn’t promote your safety or improve your chances of reaching the summit. Your safety should lie in the hands of unhesitant and experienced guides.
Travel Tanzania Guides
Our guides understand and limit reliance on safety equipment. Travel Tanzania Guides are trained to administer:
  • Tried and tested procedures through unhesitant action and implementation
  • Brief pharmacological first aid
  • Swift and immediate rapid descent to safer altitudes
  • Evacuation to facilities offering professional care and specialist supervision
The key to ensuring your safety lies in frequent and accurate communication with your guides and continuous self-care monitoring.
Safety through equipment and facilities
If your concerns are addressed through safety equipment or your mind eased by prolonged treatment at high altitudes – be assured, these do not guarantee your climb and should raise awareness that you may have inexperienced guides leading your climb.
We include standard equipment to assist you with your climb. Should you feel the need to equip yourself with non-standard safety equipment, your request can be met with a supplementary charge.
Non-standard safety equipment and facilities
Hyperbaric Chamber / Gamow Bags or Portable Chambers
This sealed inflatable pressure chamber or bag requires inflation with a portable foot pump and is large enough for you to recline in while receiving treatment simulated at the required altitude. Best used in conditions where immediate rapid descent is not an option and simulation of lower altitude conditions are required to alleviate conditions such as AMS, HACE and HAPE. Inside the air mimics an ideal environment for regular sessions to elevate your Sp02 to the required level and starve the onset of cerebral and pulmonary oedema.
Travel Tanzania advises:
  • Unsuitable for Kilimanjaro topography
  • Imposes unacceptable delays and slows down evacuation
  • Unnecessary as immediate descent is always seen as preferable
  • Time consuming to set up and not airtight - requiring air to be pumped every few minutes
  • Ideal for mountains where immediate rapid descent is not an option – Kilimanjaro can be descended from summit to gate in two hours
If you still find it necessary to equip yourself with a chamber, there is a supplementary charge of USD 240 per climbing group.
Helicopter Evacuation and Flying Doctor Scheme
  • An evacuation and rescue attempt on Kilimanjaro remains within the Tanzania National Park Authority and they currently don’t offer air rescue facilities.
  • We have been engaging and pressing to add a rescue point closer to Barafu at 4,245m elevation, and to promote use of fixed wing aircraft rescue from the crater within the hour - with little effect and optimism.
  • We do not recommend enrolment in the Flying Doctor Scheme for Kilimanjaro until further notice. If you hold an insurance policy that covers the Flying Doctor Rescue Scheme - this will be of no advantage to you.
  • There are three collection points, three-to-five hours by stretcher evacuation from the crater to assist you with collection for further treatment.
Helicopter collection points:
• Horombo Huts - 3,714m
• Barranco Huts – 3,984m
• Shira Huts – reached by ambulance within 75 minutes from Londorossi
Pulse Oximeter

Used to check blood oxygen saturation during your climb, this small plastic clamp fits snugly over your finger producing two light wavelengths into your finger. Your haemoglobin absorbs the wavelength lights, measuring oxygen levels and saturation from your blood translated through a reading. The reading offers a reliable approximation of the instantaneous oxygen levels in your blood and shows how your body’s adapting to reduced oxygen levels.

Travel Tanzania advises:
  • Use of the pulse oximeter along a qualified physiologist to interpret your reading, as false interpretations are dangerous and misleading and can hinder your summit chances.
  • Supervision of qualified persons and experienced guides who are able to recognise your danger symptoms
  • Poor conditions can trigger an emergency response and inflate your Sp02 levels at relatively low altitudes
  • Death is possible even if you have a relatively high Sp02 reading from altitude related complications
If you still find it necessary to equip yourself with a pulse oximeter, there is a supplementary charge of USD 45 per climbing group.
Portable Defibrillator
This is a self-contained device useful in treating varying forms of cardiac disorders, and is simple and easy to operate prompted by voice guides.
Travel Tanzania advises:
  • If you suffer from a serious cardiac disorder and decide to continue your climb to the summit then we highly recommend this
  • If you request addition of this equipment to your climb you will be required to agree and sign an indemnity to guard and protect our staff against consequences
If you still find it necessary to equip yourself with a portable defibrillator, there is a supplementary charge of USD 90 per climbing group.
Standard climbing equipment
Our standard equipment assists your climb and complements treatment while assisting a rapid descent when required.
Expired Pressure Retention Masks
Used for treatment of HAPE, you are required to breathe air through a one-way inlet valve while exhaling air through a resistance valve which forcers breathing through exhalation - increasing air volume to your lungs.
Travel Tanzania advises:
  • Breathing through the mask is helpful in preventing alveolar collapse and back pressure serves in forcing liquid out of the alveoli
  • Helpful in raising your Sp02 levels
  • Beneficial stall-for-time measure until required altitude is acquired through descent
Supplemental Emergency Oxygen
Issued to your support team for emergency use with rapid descent only - supplemental oxygen cannot be used to assist your ascent to the summit.
Travel Tanzania advises:
  • Rapid descent is our preferable course of action and emergency oxygen is given with rapid descent only
  • You can expect the best as our aluminium canisters and regulators are the same ones issued and supplied to the US State Department
Once oxygen has been administered, it’s no longer safe for you to ascend as the 99% oxygen supplement de-activates your body’s haemoglobin production triggers and increases the amount of oxygen your body needs. Your climb is equipped with all standard safety equipment while non-standard options are available if you feel the need to have these on your climb.
Your safety is our priority when climbing Kilimanjaro
Kilimanjaro is oxygen starved and challenging environment and no amount of equipment or prolonged treatment can prevent or change these conditions.
By understanding that reliance on your equipment doesn’t promote safety or guarantee your climb, and that your safety lies in the hands of tried and tested procedures carried out by experienced guides – you can put your mind at ease knowing your safety is our number one priority while climbing Kilimanjaro.
Climb Kilimanjaro guided by highly trained guides whose focus on safety and unhesitant actions improve your chances of reaching the summit.