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.
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.
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)
- 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
- 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).
- 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.
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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 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
- 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
- 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