Mount Kilimanjaro - Altitude Sickness

Also referred to as “Altitude Sickness” and as this name indicates, the illnesses is commonly encountered at exceptional high altitudes, such as the summit area of Mount Kilimanjaro. AMS, once apparent, can be most effectively treated by immediately taking the affected person to a lower altitude. Often a drop as little as 500m will be sufficient.

The symptoms of AMS include in the order normally experienced; headaches, nausea, anorexia, exhaustion, lassitude, rapid pulse, insomnia, swelling of the hands and feet and reduced urine output. Climbers can take precautions to at least minimise the severity of the illness, by maintaining a slow steady pace from day one, include an extra day of acclimatisation at a high altitude and by drinking at least 3-4 liters of water every day.

Preventative medicine is also available and you should consult your physician for specialist advice. Fluid build-up may cause a condition known as edema, which can affect the lungs (pulmonary), preventing effective oxygen exchange, or effect the brain (cerebral) which will result in the swelling of the brain tissue. The latter can be lethal if not treated immediately or if symptoms are ignored. Probably 70% of all people climbing Kilimanjaro will suffer to some extent from AMS. You should familiarise yourself with this condition and take preventative care.

Hypothermia or exposure is the lowering of the body’s core temperature. Once again prevention is the best cause of action. The correct equipment and clothing is critical in the prevention of Hypothermia. Do not allow your clothing to get wet from either rain or perspiration. Click here for more information on the proper layering of clothing to prevent hypothermia. The treatment of hypothermia is relatively simple. Get the victim into a sheltered area as quickly as possible, remove all wet clothing and place the victim inside two or three sleeping bags, preferably with another person to help heat the victim.
Sun related injuries

About 55% of the earths protective atmosphere is below an altitude of 5000m. Far less ultraviolet light is being filtered out, making the sun’s rays much more powerful, which could result in severe sun burning of the skin. It is strongly recommended to use a 20+ sun protection cream at lower altitudes, and a total block cream above an altitude of 3000m. It is also important to wear dark sun glasses preferably with side panels above 4000m in daytime and essential when walking through snow or ice. Snow blindness can be very painful, and will require your eyes to be bandaged for at least 24 hours.
Feet problems

Poor fitting, new or little used boots will result in blistering feet. Even if boots are only slightly to small, your toes will get bruised , particularly on your descend. It is it therefore also important to keep your toe nails short for the climb. Developing blister should be treated immediately as soon as the “hot spot” is felt. Remove the boot and cover the area with a zinc oxide tape or something similar.

Machame, nicknamed the ‘Whiskey’ route, is by far the most popular route and probably the most beautiful route to start your ascent to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Located on the southern side of the mountain in lush, fertile rainforest, you will head towards Shira Plateau and then circle along the southern circuit halfway around Kilimanjaro; from here you will have great views from all angles. Although this is considered one of the better routes for acclimatization, as you will have a steady altitude increase every day, it is also one of the more challenging choices, due to hiking steeper routes for longer distances.

It is recommended that this route is done in no less than 6 days/5 nights but for better altitude acclimatization it is often done in 7 days/6 nights. You will approach the summit from the east and make your descent along the Mweka trail. Due to hiking high and sleeping low, the Machame route has one of the highest summit success rates of all the Kilimanjaro routes.

Also known as the ‘Coca Cola’ route due to the tea huts where Coke can be bought along the way. The Marangu route is the oldest of the routes and has one of the most established trails. Considered one of the easier routes, it is still challenging with a short, beautiful but steep and demanding trek to Uhuru Peak (5895m). It is one of the most heavily used routes and in the rainy season can be very well trodden and muddy in some places. This is not the most technical route to climb and there are no tough scrambles or rocky steps to negotiate until the final summit night. The trail heading to Gillman’s Point must be followed ‘pole pole’ (slowly in Kiswahili) and in a zigzag trail due to the steep ascent to the summit. The ascent and descent are done on the same path and due to this can become very crowded and has the least scenic variety. It is the only route with sleeping huts (preferred in rainy seasons) offering dormitory accommodation. The Marangu route can get fully booked in the high season; it is therefore advisable to book this route in advance.

Approaching Kilimanjaro from the north side (the only route starting on this side of the mountain), close to the Kenyan border, Rongai offers views of Masai land where wildlife including Buffalo, Elephant and Monkeys can be spotted, along with East Africa’s stunning birdlife. The Rongai route, although becoming an increasingly popular route, is still the quietest option.

Due to the long drive taken to get to the gate on day one it‘s the least frequently used route. Considered a moderately difficult route, it has excellent success rates. This is the best choice especially during rainy seasons as the north side receives less precipitation, letting you make your ascent in drier more pleasant conditions. You will make a gentle ascent through several different climate zones and make your descent on the south side along the Marangu route, so you get the best of both sides of the mountain.

Lemosho route is one of the longest and most scenic routes of Mount Kilimanjaro. It is one of the best routes for acclimatization due to the length of the climb; it also has a high success rate of climbers making it to the Rooftop of Africa. It is our favorite route due to a great balance of low traffic and scenic views. The route approaches Mount Kilimanjaro from the west, beginning with a long drive from Moshi to Londorossi Gate. From there, the first two days are spent trekking through rainforest to Shira Ridge.

This route offers variety as it meets up with 2 of the other routes on the mountain. The first is Shira route, now a drive able road used for emergency vehicles, the Lemosho route passes this road and crosses the Shira Plateau on the way to the summit. On the forth day it meets up with the Machame route around Lava Tower, the hike goes down to Barranco valley and we ascend to the Great Barranco wall. Lemosho is considered one of the most beautiful routes Mount Kilimanjaro has to offer, there may even be opportunities to spot some wildlife in the forest zone and Shira Plateau, if you’re lucky. The descent is made via the Mweka route. It’s a good acclimatization route and offers a better chance at summiting as you take more days at a slower pace.

The Umbwe route is considered to be the most difficult route due to its relatively extreme nature. Umbwe route starts off from the east of the mountain. It goes through a very steep terrain! For that reason, there are generally less people than all the other routes – This route gains around 1,000 meter for the first two days and thus, not that friendly for altitude mountain sickness and thus, we wouldn’t recommend it for newbies. However, the trail joins the famous Machame and Lemosho route at Barranco Camp and proceed to the summit via Barafu and Stella Point.

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