IS CLIMBING KILIMANJARO SAFE?

IS CLIMBING KILIMANJARO SAFE?

Mount Kilimanjaro is a hard climb and should not be underestimated. Standing at 5,895 metres, Kilimanjaro is classified as an extreme altitude mountain trek and being serious about Kilimanjaro means you have to be first serious about Kilimanjaro safety. Every year 1,000 people are evacuated from the mountain and approximately 10 deaths are reported. One should always do the necessary research and choose qualified tour operators to avoid any unfavourable circumstances during the expedition. Please remember that we do not intend on scaring you, but to keep you well informed. We want you to scale the heights of Mount Kilimanjaro and do it in the safest way possible. It is totally safe to climb Kilimanjaro, but only when you are well aware of the risk factors involved. You definitely don’t need to be an athlete to climb Kilimanjaro. Anyone with the right amount of determination, mental fitness and physical training can conquer the summit successfully. The oldest person to climb Kilimanjaro was 88 years old while the youngest was only 7 at the time of the trek.

Records on Mount Kilimanjaro: ( put images )

1.    Fastest

2.    Youngest

3.    Oldest

4.    Specially Abled

5.    Etc.

Altitude Sickness:

AMS – Altitude Mountain Sickness

The pressure of the air that surrounds us drops at higher altitudes resulting in less oxygen availability around. Within seconds of exposure to altitude, ventilation is increased as we try to breathe more to increase oxygen uptake. Altitude sickness or ‘mountain sickness’ is when people ascend quickly to altitudes without getting properly acclimatised to the height. Symptoms of altitude sickness typically begin 6-48 hours after the altitude exposure begins, and include a headache, nausea, lethargy, dizziness and disturbed sleep. To avoid mountain sickness one should take time and climb slowly, particularly if they have not been to altitude before.  All registered guides are trained to combat situations such as mountain sickness, and if you feel even the slightest discomfort during your trek, let your guide know about it. Altitude variations have broadly three categories –

1.    High Altitude – 4,900 – 11,500ft

2.    Very High Altitude- 11,500 – 18,000ft  

3.    Extreme Altitude – 18,000ft and above

Mount Kilimanjaro’s summit stands at 19,340 feet, which comes under extreme altitude category. At extreme altitude, humans can function only for short period of time with acclimatization and so, it’s important to plan your trip keeping in mind the factors that contribute to a successful trek such as acclimatisation to high altitude.

At over 10,000 feet (3,000 m), more than 75% of climbers will experience at least some form of mild AMS.

There are four factors related to AMS:

  • High Altitude
  • Fast Rate of Ascent
  • High Degree of Exertion
  • Dehydration

The main cause of altitude sickness is a quick rate of ascent. Going too high too quickly gives your body very less to adapt to the oxygen deficient atmosphere. A slow rate of ascent enables your body to acclimatize and cope with decreased oxygen level in the atmosphere.

AMS is very common on high altitudes but its id difficult to determine who may be affected by it since there are no definite factors such as age, sex or physical condition. The symptoms usually start 12-24 hours after arrival at altitude and will normally disappear within 48 hours once the person comes back to lower altitude. The symptoms of Mild AMS are:

  • Headache
  • Nausea & Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Disturbed sleep
  • General feeling of malaise 

Mild AMS does not hamper with normal activity and symptoms generally subside as the body acclimatizes. As long as symptoms are mild, ascent can continue at moderate rate. It is very important to communicate any symptoms of illness immediately to others on your trip, specially your guide so that the problem is addressed and dealt with.

The signs and symptoms of Moderate AMS include:

  • Severe headache that is not relieved by medication
  • Nausea and vomiting, increasing weakness and fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Decreased coordination (ataxia)

If a person is experiencing moderate AMS, then they should be immediately provided with advanced medication or a minimum descent of 1000 feet. Descending only a 1000 feet can improve the condition in some, while continuing on to higher altitude while experiencing moderate AMS can lead to death. 

Severe AMS results in an increase in the severity of the aforementioned symptoms including: 

  • Shortness of breath at rest
  • Inability to walk
  • Decreasing mental status
  • Fluid build-up in the lungs

Severe AMS requires immediate descent of around 2,000 feet (600 m) to a lower altitude. There are two serious conditions associated with severe altitude sickness; High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). Both of these happen less frequently, especially to those who are properly acclimatized. But, when they do occur, it is usually in people going too high too fast or going very high and staying there. In both cases the lack of oxygen results in leakage of fluid through the capillary walls into either the lungs or the brain.

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)

HAPE results from fluid build-up in the lungs. This fluid prevents effective oxygen exchange. As the condition becomes more severe, the level of oxygen in the bloodstream decreases, which leads to cyanosis, impaired cerebral function, and death. Symptoms of HAPE include:

  • Shortness of breath at rest
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Persistent cough bringing up white, watery, or frothy fluid
  • Marked fatigue and weakness
  • A feeling of impending suffocation at night
  • Confusion, and irrational behaviour

Confusion, and irrational behaviour are signs that insufficient oxygen is reaching the brain. In cases of HAPE, immediate descent of around 2,000 feet (600 m) is a necessary life-saving measure. Anyone suffering from HAPE must be evacuated to a medical facility for proper follow-up treatment.

High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)

HACE is the result of the swelling of brain tissue from fluid leakage. Symptoms of HACE include:

  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Disorientation
  • Loss of co-ordination
  • Decreasing levels of consciousness
  • Loss of memory
  • Hallucinations & Psychotic behavior
  • Coma

This condition is rapidly fatal unless the afflicted person experiences immediate descent. Anyone suffering from HACE must be evacuated to a medical facility for follow-up treatment.

Daily Health Checks

Kili Quest’s experienced Guides are certified Wilderness First Responders (WRF) and are highly trained and experienced in preventing, detecting, and treating altitude sickness. Your well-being will be constantly monitored and routine medical check-ups will be conducted to make sure your body is functioning well. Routine checks will be performed twice daily, in the morning and evening.

Pulse Oximeter:

A pulse oximeter is a medical device used to measure oxygen saturation in your body. The oximeter is placed on a climber’s fingertip to determine the level of oxygen in one’s blood and the pulse rate. The Oximeter measures how much oxygen your blood is carrying as a percentage of the maximum it could carry using two beams of light that shine into small blood vessels and capillaries in your finger. The normal blood oxygen levels at sea level are 95-100%. Increasing Altitude lowers the oxygen saturation and poor acclimatization can lead to AMS. Proper acclimatization is needed for normal levels of oxygen saturation in the blood, thus after a nights rest, the saturation increases. On an average, the oxygen saturation percentages are in the ’80s on Kilimanjaro, however, if the oxygen saturation drops below 80%, we monitor that climber very closely. 

Lake Louise Scoring System

Our guides also administer to the Lake Louise Scoring System (LLSS) to help determine any symptoms of Altitude sickness and its severity. LLSS is a set of questions designed to assess adults for symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness. It is expected that the climber in question remains open, active and honest when answering these questions. Do not mask your symptoms and do not try to pretend that you are fine.  Our guides can only treat you if you are willing to get treated.

There can also be a case when you will have to abandon your climb, and in these situations, you should always listen to your Guide. If a guide asks you to descend, then he is not merely providing you with a suggestion but is giving you an order. Trying to convince a guide with words or money will not only put your climb on jeopardy but can also cause havoc on your health. Always respect the decisions of your guide.

Acclimatization Guide:

•    In order to prepare for a high altitude trek, we recommend the following:

•    Pre-acclimatize prior to your trip by using a High Altitude Training System.

•    Climb Slowly. Acclimatization takes time and thus your ascend should be slow. Your guides will make sure you do not pace up your ascend. Taking a day’s rest will also help in acclimatization and will increase your chances of reaching to the top. A study shows that a day’s rest can increase your chances of getting to the top by 30%.

•    Take Slow and deliberate deep breaths.

•    Do not overexert yourself.

•    Climb high, sleep low. Most routes on Kilimanjaro comply with the principle of climbing to a higher altitude during the day and then sleeping at a lower altitude at night.

•    Eat enough food and drink lots of water. Drinking four to five litres of fluid per day is recommended along with a high-calorie diet.

•    Avoid consumption of alcohol, tobacco and other depressant drugs along with sleeping pills as these decrease the respiratory drive during sleep resulting in worsening of altitude sickness.

•    If you notice anything strange about how your body is behaving, talk to your guide and do not go higher until you are normal.

Altitude Medication:

Diamox is an F.D.A. approved medicine used for the prevention and treatment of Acute Mountain Sickness. Diamox acidifies the blood, which causes an increase in respiration, thus accelerating acclimatization. It should be noted that Diamox does not disguise symptoms of altitude sickness, it prevents it.

Some of the side effects of Diamox include tingling or numbness in the fingers, toes and face, taste alterations, excessive urination; and rare blurring of vision. These symptoms go away when the medicine is stopped. The usage of Diamox is the personal choice of the climber. Kili Quest neither advocated nor discourages the use of Diamox.

Mountain Rescue –

Bottled Oxygen:

Our Crew carries bottled oxygen on all our climbs as a precaution and additional safety measure. This emergency supply of oxygen is only to be used in emergency situations and not to assist clients who have not adequately acclimatized on their own to climb higher. It should be noted that the most immediate treatment for moderate and serious altitude sickness is descent.

Although some operators market the use of supplementary personal oxygen systems to eliminate the symptoms of altitude sickness we DO NOT recommend any such usage. If oxygen is administered in this manner, the person will not be able to acclimatize to the increasing altitude and upon the cessation of the use of oxygen, the client will be at an even higher altitude without proper acclimatization. A practice of this kind can be potentially dangerous, wholly unnecessary and against our principles.

Portable Stretcher:

Our crew also carries a portable stretcher at all times to assist a climber in case of emergencies. Large, one-wheeled rescue stretchers are available only within a small area of the park and thus if a climber is unable to walk due to severe altitude sickness or a leg injury that compromises his mobility, our portable stretchers are helpful in getting that climber safely to the nearest campsite for further treatment. Our portable stretchers are compact, strong, light-weight and can be used to evacuate an injured/sick climber quickly off the mountain.

Kilimanjaro Search and Rescue:

Kili Quest has also partnered with Kilimanjaro Search and Rescue (SAR), a helicopter aided rescue operations organization which conducts modern and efficient rescue services on Mount Kilimanjaro. Kilimanjaro SAR team has expert pilots, highly trained rescue doctors and emergency flight technicians prepared to act in all kinds of emergency evacuation. The Kilimanjaro SAR also manages a medical clinic that focuses on high altitude related illnesses, mountain medicine and trauma. The clinic is staffed 24 hours a day by physicians, nurses and assistants offering the best possible treatment. Kilimanjaro SAR has a fleet of Airbus AS 350 B# helicopters that await nearby at Moshi Airport. Prompt in rescue, the Kilimanjaro SAR activates its rescue operations within 5 minutes of receiving a distress call.

Please Note:  This service is only available to clients who have their required travel insurance. Your insurance must be covered to trek at high altitude up to 6,000 metres to qualify for Kilimanjaro SAR rescue. Your travel insurance will be verified by Kili Quest staff before the trek.

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