The truth is every single year, climbers die on Mount Kilimanjaro. Due to its extreme altitude, climbing Kilimanjaro can be quite dangerous if one is not properly monitored and treated. At Peak Planet, we are focused on safety. We understand that first and foremost, it is our main responsibility to keep all of our clients out of harm’s way.
We have many layers of safety built into our operations to minimize the risks on Kilimanjaro.
Peak Planet implements the following safety practices:
No other climbing company provides such a comprehensive safety program.
Altitude sickness is caused by the failure of the body to adapt quickly enough to the reduced level of oxygen in the air as one gains altitude. Altitude sickness generally develops at elevations higher than 8,000 feet and when the rate of ascent exceeds 1,000 feet per day. The elevation gains on some days during your Kilimanjaro trek fall into this category. Therefore it is likely that you will experience some form of mild altitude sickness on Mount Kilimanjaro.
There are many different symptoms but the most common are headaches, sleep disturbance, fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness. These symptoms can be considered normal for climbing Kilimanjaro. However, complications can develop on Kilimanjaro, and everyone attempting to climb the mountain must be aware of the risks involved.
The symptoms of altitude sickness generally appear within hours of moving to higher altitudes and vary depending on the severity of your condition.
Mild forms of altitude sickness are best treated by rest, maintaining fluid intake, and by a painkiller such as paracetamol. Mild symptoms which have lasted for 24 hours or more can be treated with Diamox which aids acclimatization. Some people take Diamox before the climb as prescribed by their doctor. The use of Diamox in this manner is a personal decision. We as a company think it is better to listen to your body and give it a chance to acclimatize naturally before resorting to the use of Diamox. Serious cases of altitude sickness can only be treated by immediate descent.
Severe cases of acute mountain sickness can cause more intense symptoms, affecting your heart, lungs, muscles, and nervous system. Serious altitude sickness very rarely develops for climbers. However, these conditions can lead rapidly to death unless immediate descent is made.
High altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) is an advanced form of altitude sickness caused by fluid build up in the lungs. This is caused when some blood vessels in the lungs become constricted due to altitude, and the blood pressure in the vessels results in a high-pressure leak of fluid into the lungs. Pulmonary edema is characterized by crackling noises from the chest and the coughing up of pink sputum.
High altitude cerebral edema (HACE) is an advanced form of altitude sickness caused by fluid leakage from the brain. The cause is possibly due to an increase in cerebral blood flow due to increased permeability of cerebral endothelium at high altitude. Cerebral edema is recognized by severe headaches combined with a severe loss of balance, dizziness and confusion.
We avoid altitude sickness by maximizing acclimatization.
We operate primarily on Kilimanjaro’s best routes – including those with favorable acclimatization profiles. Due to the length and the nature of these routes, the incidence of serious altitude sickness for our clients is very low. Additionally, we have established three primary steps to help our clients achieve successful acclimatization on the mountain:
Our guides have extensive experience in the field. They climb Kilimanjaro around 20 times per year and have been leading climbs for many years. Therefore they have literally handled thousands of clients and are experts in altitude related illnesses. Peak Planet guides are skilled at preventing, detecting and treating altitude sickness.
Every single guide is certified as a Wilderness First Responder – the Western industry standard for professional guides. Wilderness First Responders take comprehensive and practical coursework in medical training, leadership, and critical thinking. Therefore, Our guides have knowledge of the essential principles and the required skills to assess and manage medical problems in isolated and extreme environments.
During the low season, extensive multi-day training courses are held off site to reevaluate and refresh their knowledge of first aid and rescue. These courses reassure that our guides are well prepared for any situation they encounter.
For your safety, our guides will use a pulse oximeter to regularly check clients’ oxygen saturation levels during the climb. Oxygen saturation is a measure of how much oxygen is in your blood. A person’s oxygen saturation at sea level is usually around 94-98%. At altitude, oxygen saturation is lower. However, it is an indication of how well a person is acclimatizing. Monitoring one’s pulse and oxygen saturation twice per day gives our guides additional insight into a client’s health.
It is quite common for climbers to have a mild form of altitude sickness. However, our guides can recognize the symptoms of more serious altitude sickness and know how and when to treat a climber. If necessary, our guides will organize an immediate descent, which is by far the quickest and best treatment. Most often an ill climber will recover very well just by descending a few thousand feet, witth no further treatment needed. We will use a portable stretcher in cases where the climber is unable to walk on their own. We also carry emergency oxygen and medical kits on all climbs.
Peak Planet is one of only a few Kilimanjaro operators that offer ALTOX Personal Oxygen Systems. ALTOX is designed to aid climbers on their ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro. It can eliminate most if not all of the symptoms of altitude illness, in the process it can greatly improving your chances of a successful summit and making it a far more pleasurable experience.
We are partnered with IFREMMONT, a European-based High Altitude Medical Training Organization. IFREMMONT is a highly respected organization that has been training guides in the Alps since 2005. They are the most qualified high-altitude medical doctors in the world. Our medical training and safety protocols are based on IFREMMONT’s established guidelines for first aid and mountain medicine. Our guides learn how to treat the specific illnesses that can come from high-altitude conditions and how to handle all types of emergencies on the mountain, including rescue and evacuation.
AMREF Flying Doctors was established in 1957 by three surgeons – Sir Michael Wood, Archibald McIndoe and Thomas Rees and has been involved in a number of health care projects in East Africa.They created AMREF in response to the combined effects of poverty, tropical disease, and a lack of adequate health services in East Africa, their collective vision was born in the foothills of Mt Kilimanjaro.
Our clients are covered by AMREF Flying Doctors evacuation insurance, provided the client obtained the required travel insurance to participate in the trek. In rare situations where evacuation on foot or stretcher is insufficient, our staff will dispatch a medical helicopter to transport the stricken climber to a hospital in Nairobi. In some instances, climbers are taken to South Africa if the injuries or illness dictates a hospital facility that has a more advanced team of doctors.
Using Garmin’s inReach Explorer, we can locate our trekking parties and communicate with our guides in real time using a satellite network. One handheld device is carried by a guide for every group we have on the mountain so we know exactly where our clients are at all times.
This is practical information that we obtain for day to day reporting but the real value comes when we coordinate rescue and evacuation with other staff, the park service or AMREF Flying Doctors. This device can be used to initiate a rescue by signaling for help on all parts of the mountain. We are one of the few operators who have this capability.
Peak Planet is well prepared to manage crises on Kilimanjaro. In cases where emergency evacuation is required, an affected person is escorted on foot or carried upon a stretcher. The descent is made to the highest access point that the national park rescue vehicle or helicopter can reach – either Shira Plateau, below Mandara Hut or Rongai Gate. The rescue vehicle or helicopter will transport the sick or injured client off the mountain to either another rescue vehicle or directly to a hospital via helicopter depending on the extent of the injury or sickness.
During the rescue, the client is accompanied by one of the guides and looked after carefully. Depending on where the client went, the morning after the rescue, the guide will meet the client again. At this time there is a telephone communication from executive staff to ensure that the correct medical care is being offered and the client’s wishes are being taken care of. This guide is then available to help the client in any way, whether they need to go to the doctor or do a short walk around town.