Chris on mountain with oxygen cylinder

How we keep you safe on Kilimanjaro

While we encourage you to take an active part in ensuring your own safety on Kilimanjaro, it's our job at the end of the day to keep you safe. In this post we discuss all the measures we have in place to keep everyone on one of our climbs safe and healthy.

Safety is everything on Kilimanjaro. It simply has to be, because the mountain soars to an icy peak 5,895 m (19,341 ft) above sea level where the air is very thin. It's therefore vital that climbers take their Kilimanjaro preparation seriously. But even more important than your efforts to ensure you have a safe climb are the efforts of your tour operator. You only want to climb Africa's highest mountain in the company of a crew that has the right qualifications, experience, equipment and attitude.

But first, we just want to briefly introduce you to the risks associated with climbing Kilimanjaro so that you understand the importance of the various safety measures that all responsible Kilimanjaro tour operators have in place.

Understanding the risks

Occasionally, we come across folks who mistakenly think that climbing Kilimanjaro will be pretty easy. They reason it can't be that hard because you don't need any mountaineering equipment or experience. Oh how wrong they are! For most of us, climbing Kilimanjaro is the easily the hardest thing we'll ever do. And there are some very real dangers if you enter the harsh environment of the upper mountain ill-prepared.

The three areas that could most easily land you in trouble are:

1. Harsh weather

One of the primary risks faced by those trekking up Kilimanjaro is overexposure to the harsh weather conditions of the upper mountain. Temperatures regularly drop below freezing point, the wind can be extremely fierce, and there's often snow and ice at the summit.

Kilimanjaro clouds glacier summit

Even though Kilimanjaro is near the Equator, the summit is so high that it has an arctic climate

While your trekking clothing is largely up to you (although some operators, like Follow Alice, offer you the choice of renting essential items like down jackets), the quality of the tents you sleep in are, at the very least, up to your climb operator. You want to ensure your operator provides four-season tents that will offer you proper protection from the elements.

Some operators also provide four-season sleeping bags and insulated sleeping mats, like we do, to ensure climbers are warm enough at night. We also provide you with hot water bottles if you want them, for that extra-snuggly bedtime experience.

Finn in Follow Alice jacket at Uhuru Peak on Kilimanjaro

One of our climbers, Finn, is keeping warm at Uhuru Peak in his rented red-and-black Follow Alice jacket

2. Altitude sickness

Altitude sickness – or acute mountain sickness (AMS) – is an illness that develops when the body fails to adapt sufficiently well to the reduced oxygen in the air. In its mildest form, it causes unpleasant symptoms like headaches, nausea and sleeplessness. In its most serious form, it can cause death. This is why it must be taken very seriously, both by you as the climber, but especially by your trek guides. They are the ones who need to know:

  • The symptoms of altitude sickness (you want them to detect it early)
  • How to monitor and test climbers for altitude sickness
  • How to treat mild AMS
  • How to proceed in cases of serious AMS

To be able to address the potential dangers of altitude sickness, every climb group needs to consist of enough experienced and qualified guides as well as have the right safety, medical and evacuation equipment. We discuss our guides and our equipment in detail further on.

Porters on Kilimanjaro

Mt Kilimanjaro is nearly 1.5 km higher than the Matterhorn!

3. Unclean water and poor nutrition

Finally, two lesser dangers are drinking unclean water and not eating enough nutritious food. You need a tour operator with a good water purification system in place. You also need a cook who knows what's required to fuel you for all the climbing you do on the mountain – and then ensures the company provides the supplies necessary to cook those meals at the required quantities. Inadequate meals are one of the quickest ways to ensure an unhappy climbing group!

Again, we discuss in detail how we keep you safe on the mountain in terms of meals and drinking water further on in this post.

River-with-boulders-on-Kilimanjaro

Water collected from the slopes of the mountain must be properly purified

The overall point we wish to make here is that Kilimanjaro can be dangerous if your mountain crew is inexperienced, ill-prepared or inclined to cut corners. So when you research Kilimanjaro tour operators, you want to find out how they approach the dangers and challenges posed by the mountain.

Qualifications and experience of guides

One of the main ingredients of a safe Kilimanjaro climb are experienced, well-trained and qualified guides. Guides are responsible for the safety of the entire climb group. The lead trek guide is the person with overall responsibility, and so he or she needs to be an experienced guide, a leader, and someone who is very organised, sensible, responsible and trustworthy.

Chris doing first aid

Follow Alice lead guide Chris doing a refresher course at the Sentinel Outdoor Institute

Sentinel Outdoor Institute

 

Sentinel Outdoor Institute logo

 

The Sentinel Outdoor Institute offers training courses that include Wilderness First Aid (WFA) and Wilderness First Responders (WFR). This is where our Kilimanjaro guides go for their initial training as well as their biennial refresher training.

Wilderness First Responders

Our guides are all qualified Wilderness First Responders, which is the highest training you can have on Kilimanjaro.

Sentinel Outdoor Institute

Wilderness First Aiders

Our Kilimanjaro guides are also trained as Wilderness First Aiders.

Impressive experience

Each of our lead guides has summited Kilimanjaro over 200 times! So you can rest assured they know the in's and out's of the mountains seriously well!  

All of our trek guides have summited Kilimanjaro at least 200 times!

Selfie-Kilimanjaro-summit-day

Your guide is your best friend on Kilimanjaro – there to believe in you, encourage you, monitor your health, and join in your selfies!

Meet our lead guides, Chris and Robert

There are no middle men at Follow Alice. We sell and run our own Kilimanjaro climbs. This means we have intimate knowledge of every aspect and detail that is needed for a successful trip, from planning to execution.

Chris Sichalwe has been climbing Kilimanjaro since 1999 and is the director of Follow Alice Tours (T) Ltd. He has been to the summit over 300 times and has guided thousands of clients to a successful summit!

When Chris is your lead guide, you know you're in very capable hands. He's cool as a cucumber – never gets rattled. You've also got a great storyteller with you, and someone with a fantastic sense of humour.

Chris Sichalwe hiking on Kilimanjaro

Chris climbing his favourite mountain in his favourite hat

Robert Sichalwe is our other director at Follow Alice Tours (T) Ltd and one of our excellent lead trek guides. He's very warm and welcoming, and shows genuine interest in people's lives. He's a real family man.

Robert – or Bobu as we like to call him – loves a good chat and is well versed in current affairs. He also loves photography, soccer and pizza. And he's a truly great encourager – something so important when you're tackling Africa's highest mountain and feeling the strain!

And yes, Robert has the same surname as Chris, because they're brothers!

Robert Sichalwe

Robert (in black shirt) practising his bandaging skills

We don't outsource any aspect of our Kilimanjaro operation – our lead guides, Chris and Robert, are the directors of Follow Alice Tours (T) Ltd.

Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project

KPAP.jpg

We’re proud to be able to say that we're a partner of the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP). We received a perfect score from KPAP, and are pleased to earn this acknowledgement of our good and equitable treatment of porters. Porters are the backbone of every Kilimanjaro climb, and we wish to treat them with respect and pay them well. 

We encourage you to choose a Kilimanjaro tour operator who is a member of KPAP, as that way you know you're climbing with a company that treats its staff well.

Two porters laden with goods climb up through the alpine desert band of Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro porters work so darn hard and deserve respect and equitable treatment by all

Pre-climb safety measures

Before your group climbs Kilimanjaro – before you even hop on a plane to Tanzania – we have a few steps in place to ensure everything runs smoothly and safely. Specifically:

1. Health and safety form

Before the climb, we ask you to fill in our health and safety form to collect information on matters such as allergies, dietary requirements, insurance details, and any pre-existing medical conditions.

2. Preparation manuals

We send you our Kilimanjaro preparation manuals to help you mentally and physically prepare yourself for the rigours of the climb. This includes a packing list, an "All you need to know" doc, and a focused Kilimanjaro safety doc.

3. Client WhatsApp chat group

For every Kilimanjaro climb group we set up a WhatsApp chat group. On the group is every climber as well as the trip manager and any local leaders related to your trip (this might also include Kazi, our safari local leader, if you're going on safari in Tanzania after your climb).

This chat group is a great place to start getting excited together, introduce yourself to those you don't know, and ask and answer any questions. It's also very useful if a client needs to let us know about last-minute flight changes or delays.

 

 

4. Zoom chat

Just prior to your departure for Tanzania, we have a chat with you and your climb group via Zoom to ensure you're all on top of everything and know what to expect. This includes explaining our rigorous safety protocols and acclimatisation guidelines to help you (1) have peace of mind about the adventure ahead, and (2) understand the importance of being transparent about your health with your guides at all times.

Zoom Kilimanjaro prep call

Tash, one of our Kilimanjaro trip managers, hosting a group preparation Zoom call

5. Climb briefing the night before

Once everyone has settled into the hotel in Moshi (or Arusha) the night before the start of the climb, your lead trek guide gives you a group briefing. He'll chat about what to expect, ensure you've packed all the right equipment, the importance of letting him or another guide know of any ailments or niggles you feel while on the mountain, and answer any questions. This is also a good first bonding moment with the whole climb group.

Your lead guide will also guide you in picking a team representative, who will be given a tipping sheet to hold onto during the climb. This comes into play later on when you as a group want to decide what to tip the various members of the climb group. (You can learn more about this topic in Tipping on Kilimanjaro.)

Moshi Tanzania

Most times clients stay in the town of Moshi the night before and the night after their Kilimanjaro climb

Dedicated trip manager

Every Kilimanjaro climb group is assigned a trip manager. His or her job is to communicate with you and ensure everything to do with your trip goes smoothly. Even when you're on the mountain and under the care of your lead trek guide and mountain crew, your trip manager is checking in with the team on the ground to ensure all is going well. We don't outsource any aspect of our operation, so we're all in, on every detail, all of the time!

Note that in the lead up to your trip (and afterwards too), your trip manager is your go-to person for any questions or concerns.

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It's teamwork all the way at Follow Alice!

Tash, one of our experienced trip managers, shares her own Kilimanjaro experience in a video journal here ...

 

Safety measures on the mountain

Here's what you need to know about our guides and our safety measures on the mountain:

  • Every Follow Alice lead guide is a certified Wilderness First Aiders and Wilderness First Responders. The latter qualification is the highest level of certification on Kilimanjaro. It means the guide is (among other things) very good at detecting and assessing the symptoms of altitude sickness. He or she also knows how to treat or manage common mountain-related medical issues and emergencies, including altitude sickness.
Chris on mountain with oxygen cylinder

Lead trek guide Chris looking boss on Kilimanjaro with an oxygen cylinder!

  • Every climber receives daily health checks on the mountain, administered by one of the guides. These checkups involve using a pulse oximeter to monitor your oxygen saturation and pulse rate.
  • One oxygen tank is carried up the mountain for every six climbers (this is plenty, as we explain further on).
Emergency oxygen cylinder

The guides have emergency oxygen they can administer on the mountain if necessary

  • If you display symptoms of severe altitude sickness, one of our guides will administer the Lake Louise Scoring System (LLSS) to determine the severity. They'll then take the established course of action based on your score. If evacuation is deemed necessary, you'll be escorted (or carried) down the mountain.
Follow Alice and other trek guides at a specialised coronavirus prevention training course

Follow Alice and other Kilimanjaro guides at a specialised coronavirus prevention training course

Helicopter evacuation service

The Kilimanjaro helicopter evacuation service is now run by Kili MedAir, a company based in the town of Moshi, which is the nearest town to Kilimanjaro. Airlifting someone off of the mountain is only used in the most extreme cases.

A Kili MedAir helicopter in flight

A Kili MedAir helicopter in flight

Note that while there is another service called Flying Doctors based in Nairobi, Kenya, this isn’t a good option for Kilimanjaro as they require payment before they'll take off. When someone is sick on Kilimanjaro, the best and most efficient way of helping them is to descend the mountain as quickly as possible.

While helicopter evacuation is an option when necessary, by and large, sick or injured climbers are carried off the mountain via stretcher.

Evacuation protocol at Follow Alice

If someone falls ill or is injured and cannot continue on the climb, they are evacuated off the mountain and taken to hospital if necessary. Note that the efficiency with which the evacuation process is carried out is determined by the training, experience and equipment of your tour operator, not the park authority. This is one of the reasons why it's important to choose a good Kilimanjaro tour operator.

When someone is sick or injured on Kilimanjaro, the well-known rule of thumb is ‘descend, descend, descend’. 

Established evacuation procedures

Each Kilimanjaro operator is responsible for evacuating its own clients and personnel. At Follow Alice we have clear protocols in place so that our guides (who are all Wilderness First Responders) know exactly what steps to take, and when.

  1. Firstly, any climber who becomes sick or injured will be assessed and treated by a guide. If evacuation is deemed necessary, the climber is escorted down the mountain – either on foot, or by stretcher – with a guide in attendance. The shortest route to reach the closest access point within Kilimanjaro National Park will be used (see details below). The guide will monitor the patient’s condition throughout the descent.
  2. Having been radioed for assistance, a vehicle will be waiting at the access point to transport the climber back to the hotel or closest hospital.
  3. During this time the guide will also be in contact with the Follow Alice administration team, who will contact the next of kin and keep them updated on their loved one’s condition (if required). If the climber is in hospital, the guide will attend to his or her needs and receive communications to pass on to the family.

Evacuation routes and access points

Below we identify the evacuation route to be used based on an incapacitated climber’s approximate location. We also list the duration of such an evacuation.

  • Mti Mkubwa Camp: Descend via Lemosho route to Lemosho Gate, 1 hr
  • Shira 1 Camp: Descend via Shira route to rescue point, 20 min
  • Moir Hut: Descend via Shira route to rescue pick up point, 1 hr
  • Lava Tower: Descend via Shira route to rescue pick up point, 1.5 hr
  • Barranco Camp: Descend via Umbwe route to Umbwe Gate, 8-10 hr
  • Karanga Camp: Descend via Mweka route to Mweka Gate, 7-9 hr
  • Barafu Camp: Descend via Mweka route to Mweka Gate, 7-9 hr
  • Crater Camp: Descend via Mweka route to Mweka Gate, 9-11 hr
View from Mweka Camp, Kilimanjaro

The view along a section of the Mweka route, one of the favoured evacuation routes on the mountain

Our safety and health equipment

Below is a list of all that's included in your Follow Alice climb fee that has to do with your health and safety, from sanitary ablutions to warm camping equipment, potable water and well-trained staff:

  • High-quality, four-season mountain tents
  • High-quality, four-season sleeping bags 
  • Insulated sleeping mats 
  • Private Follow Alice toilet tent
  • Highly trained and experienced English-speaking guides who are Wilderness First Responders
  • All meals on the mountain, prepared by an experienced Kilimanjaro cook
  • All water (purified) on the mountain
  • Pulse oximeter for daily health checks
  • Emergency oxygen cylinders (for anyone who displays symptoms of AMS)
Orange-Follow-Alice-sleeping-tent-on-Kilimanjaro

One of our four-season sleeping tents – each accommodates two people

Also, we can rent you one of our four-season winter down jackets (which feature our stylish Follow Alice logo on them 🤓 ).

Sal in Follow Alice down jacket

Follow Alice team member Salo modelling our Follow Alice down jacket

Follow Alice Kilimanjaro down jacket

And here we have the back of the jacket, as seen keeping him warm on the mountain!

Food and water

During your time on the mountain, you’ll be provided with locally sourced, healthy and nutritious meals cooked fresh every day by your cook and his assistant. Our menus have been carefully designed to ensure that the food is easy to digest and provides plenty of energy with lots of carbohydrates. Expect fresh veg, fruit, meat, and snacks along the way, as well as clean, purified water throughout. Any special requests regarding your menu? No worries, we cater for all dietary requirements and allergies. We also have porters bring further food supplies to us halfway up the mountain to ensure the food we’re serving is nicely fresh. 

Porters and food on Kilimanjaro, Kilimanjaro safety

Fresh produce waiting for the porters to add it to their bundles

The importance of food to your well-being

We cannot overstate the importance of plentiful, nutritious food to a Kilimanjaro climb. Even when you're not hungry (a common symptom of mild AMS), we encourage you to try eat your meal, as you need the sustenance to fight the cold and complete the long hours of trekking.

As we discuss in Why do prices differ so much between Kilimanjaro tour operators?, some operators try to offer lower climb prices by cutting corners on meals. By this we mean they don't provide quality, nutritious food or enough food (for both climbers and crew).

Climbers in the mess tent eating popcorn on Kilimanjaro

Popcorn and hot drinks in the mess tent after a hard day's trekking

The Follow Alice menu

Those who climb with follow Alice are provided with locally sourced, healthy and nutritious meals cooked fresh every day by our cook Rajabu and his assistant. Our menus have been carefully designed to ensure that the food is easy to digest, and provides plenty of energy with lots of carbohydrates. Think of breakfasts like porridge, yoghurt, fresh fruit, pancakes, eggs, sausages and toast. Lunches like soup, toasted sandwiches and salad. Post-hike snacks like nuts, popcorn, hot chocolate and fresh fruit. And dinners like beef stew, chips, cooked spinach and sliced avo. And yes, we also cater for special diets, no probs.

Kilimanjaro dinner

A hearty dinner on the mountain

Meet Raja, our Follow Alice cook

Rajabu (or just Raja) Mwnaga is our excellent Kilimanjaro cook. He has over six years of experience as a head cook. His job is cooking freshly made and nutritious meals to fuel our climbers and crew. 

Rajabu Follow Alice cook on Kilimanjaro

Rajabu has been serving up hearty and nutritious meals on Kilimanjaro for over six years

The Follow Alice mountain crew

The size of any Kilimanjaro crew depends on how many climbers attend and how much equipment there is to carry. Let’s say there are eight climbers – on a regular climb, that requires a crew of 40.

The exact number of crew will be determined at Londorossi Gate, when everything is weighed. You’ll be introduced to each crew member by name, and you’ll be besties by the end of the adventure!

Below we explain how we work out our crew-to-climbers ratio ...

Lead guide – 1 per trek group

He is the overall trek leader, responsible for your health and safety. He can also be referred to as the expedition leader.

Wilderness training update

Follow Alice lead trek guide Chris (white shirt) doing a Wilderness First Responder refresher course at the Sentinel Outdoor Institute

Assistant guides – 1 for every 2 or 3 climbers

These folks lead you safely and efficiently up the mountain, answer your questions, and monitor your health. They can also be referred to simply as guides.

Cook – one per trek group

He prepares all of your food (breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks and snacks).

Raja Kilimanjaro

Hello again, Raja!

Porters – 3 per climber

These guys and gals carry food, camping equipment and everyone’s personal belongings, set up and strike camp, and take on various other duties.

Helping porters – numbers vary per trek

These folks work as porters but each has an additional duty such as serving as your waiter, washing dishes or servicing the toilet tent.

Follow-Alice-Group-Team-Photo-Kilimanjaro

Every Kilimanjaro climb is only made possible by the efforts of a large team of guides, porters and the cook working together

The importance of having enough guides on each climb

Some budget Kilimanjaro tour operators try to cut costs by having fewer guides on each climb. This is a risky move. For starters, you don't want a guide to have to monitor the health and progress of too many climbers. A guide who is stretched thin is less available to you (for answering questions, encouraging you, and so on), and also less likely to pick up on any subtle signs of altitude sickness. We like to have one guide for every two or three climbers.

Florence-smiling-and-giving-thumbs-up-on-Kilimanjaro

Florence is one of our excellent Kilimanjaro guides

Too few guides can also leave your group in a precarious position should someone need to be evacuated off the mountain. You need enough guides so that the one who descends the mountain with the sick or injured climber doesn't leave a gaping hole in the team – in other words, doesn't leave the remaining climbers without sufficient guidance and oversight.

Avoiding the spread of Covid-19

The coronavirus and its emerging variants pose another new safety concern for Kilimanjaro tour operators and climbers. Accordingly, all of our Tanzania lead staff have undergone specialised Covid-19 prevention training. And we follow all of the new standard operating procedures set out by the Tanzanian authorities in terms of Covid-19 prevention. These measures include:

  • Temperature checks
  • Mask wearing (not on the mountain, as breathing is already too difficult at high altitude)
  • Social distancing (especially on the mountain, when face masks can’t be worn)
  • Regular hand sanitisation
Chris, Bobu and Kazi with coronavirus certificates

Chris, Bobu and Kazi (our safari guide) with their coronavirus prevention training certificates

Follow Alice climbers can be confident that we take all necessary precautions to protect the health of our staff and clients. Our cook and his assistants wear protective face masks when preparing your food. And we implement social distancing wherever possible – an easy thing to do when actually trekking through the wide open spaces of the mountain!

Putting on a splint

Another shot of Chris in action at the Sentinel Outdoor Institute

Please take a gander at our Trustpilot score and reviews if you’d like to see what past clients who have travelled with us during the pandemic have to say. And please read the blog post below should you wish to know about PR testing and more in Tanzania.You can learn more in Can I climb Kilimanjaro during the coronavirus pandemic?

Choosing a safe Kilimanjaro route

There are seven routes up Kilimanjaro, each with different pros and cons. Importantly, some allow for better acclimatisation than others, and so improve your chances of not developing altitude sickness. We recommend reading our post on the seven Kilimanjaro routes in which we identify for you the routes that offer the best acclimatisation and so offer a safer climb.

Carlos on Lemosho route on Kilimanjaro

The Lemosho is one of our two favourite routes as it offers really good acclimatisation

A note about travel insurance ...

Insurance is not included in the trip price. That said, travel insurance is a mandatory requirement for climbing Kilimanjaro with Follow Alice. It’s essential you choose a policy that covers you for “hiking up to 6,000 m above sea level”. We recommend the travel insurance offered by World Nomads. To learn more, please read Travel Insurance.

The summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Kibo cone

The summit of Kilimanjaro is 5,895 m above sea level, so you need insurance that covers you for trekking to that height

Chat to us if you have any questions

As always, we welcome you to reach out to us with any questions or concerns you may have. We're here to help!

Jess and Chris

We're sure you'll agree, we're an extremely approachable bunch of folks!

 

 

 

Contact

+44 20 3289 2088

+1 (785) 859-4930

info@followalice.com

Chat to us

 

Follow Alice Ltd.

207 Regent Street

London, W1B 3HH

United Kingdom

 

Follow Alice Tours (T) LTD

P.O Box 1923, Moshi

Tanzania, East Africa

 

Follow Alice Tours (T) LTD is registered in Tanzania and holds all the necessary licences to run Kilimanjaro climbs and safaris.

 

Our Credentials

Follow Alice is rated 5/5 stars across all major platforms

We are an approved partner company with the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project

 

 

International Mountain Explorers Connection – IMEC – Partner for Responsible Travel Program.

 

Copyright Follow Alice LTD. 2021, registration number 10374382 (England & Wales)