Feb 152016

Kilimanjaro_W_3may12_rex_bMt. Kilimanjaro is famous for being the home of Africa’s highest point, and being the tallest free-standing peak in the world. It’s estimated that 50,000 people come every year to climb it.

It is also repeatedly quoted that less than 50% of climbers make it to the peak. But do statistics suggest that it is becoming increasingly easier for people to succeed?

Before we go into the history of climbing Kilimanjaro, let’s first discuss Kilimanjaro itself. What most people don’t know about the mountain is that it isn’t simply ‘a mountain.’ It is classified as a stratovolcano; the mountain is actually three separate volcanic cones.


Geologists believe that Kilimanjaro actually began life as a volcano now known as Shira, which erupted about 2.5 million years ago. At the time, it was likely about 17,000 ft tall, but has collapsed and eroded over the ages to a mere 13,140 ft, making it the shortest of the three cones.  Much later, approximately 1 million years ago, Kibo and Mawenzi erupted, now standing at 19,341 ft and 16,893 ft, respectively. These two volcanoes were separated by what is now known as the Saddle Plateau, located at 14,400 ft. Aside from being the tallest of the three, Kibo is also the largest, over 15 miles wide at the Saddle Plateau altitude. It’s also noteworthy that, while Shira and Mawenzi are extinct, Kibo is technically dormant, meaning that it still has the potential to erupt.

The earliest known written record of Kilimanjaro comes from Ptolemy, an Alexandrian mathematician, astronomer, and most importantly in this case, cartographer around 100 AD. He wrote of sailor’s reports of a “Moon Mountain” with references to the Nile, which may indicate Kilimanjaro or any of several other African mountains. Whether or not Ptolemy was, in fact, speaking of Kilimanjaro, nothing more was recorded about the mountain for over 1,700 years. In 1848, a German missionary named Johannes Rebmann became the first European to officially report the existence of Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately, his reports were considered unreliable by the Royal Geographical Society, and confirmation of Rebmann’s claims were not made until 1861.

Karl_Klaus_von_der_Decken_(1833-1865)AfrikaForscherAlmost no time passed before explorers began making attempts at the peak. Prussian officer Baron Karl Klaus von der Decken made an attempt in 1861, along with a crew of fifty porters, but bad weather foiled his plans. He made it to only 8,200 ft. He tried again a year later and made it to 14,000 ft before turning back – this time due to heavy snow. Hungarian Count Sámuel Teleki and Austrian Lieutenant Ludwig von Höhnel were a bit more successful in 1887; Teleki and his crew of 300 porters made it to 17,400 ft before stopping the expedition due to ear aches.


Numerous others tried and failed to reach the coveted peak until 1889. German geology professor Hans Meyer made his third attempt at the summit of Kibo, with the assistance of Ludwig Purtscheller, an Austrian mountaineer. They established several camps stocked with food and supplies ahead of time to prevent to allow for multiple attempts without making a full retreat. Finally, on October 6, 1889, the pair reached Kibo’s summit and were the first to confirm that it had a crater.

So why did it take several trained, experienced explorers, with the support of large mountain crews multiple tries to reach the peak of Kilimanjaro?

The simple answer – snow and ice. In Meyer and Purtscheller’s day, there was a layer of ice over the top of the mountain, so thick that they had to spend quite a bit of time carving footholds in it just so they could proceed. These days, the ice has retreated, allowing for reliable routes to the different peaks of the three volcanic cones. One can climb to the top without ever stepping on snow.

But while snow and ice no longer are significant obstacles in the ascent of Kilimanjaro, the more modern barrier is altitude sickness. Because the early explorers had to battle the grueling terrain, they were encumbered, making slow progress on their ascent. They spent many days gradually gaining altitude and becoming acclimatized. Conversely, altitude sickness is the main reason for unsuccessful summits today.


Today’s well maintained routes can be done in as little as 5 days (which we strongly discourage). The original route that Hans Meyer took for the first summit closely resembles the Marangu route being used now. It was also the route that was first used to guide commercial expeditions. For a long time, it was the only route available. But Marangu is not a well planned path. Even today it has a paltry success rate of 27% when done over 5 days.

As the years passed, more and better routes were established. The new routes on Kilimanjaro are designed to control the flow of visitors and have more reasonable elevation gains from day to day, thus reducing the likelihood for altitude sickness (though AMS is still the biggest risk while climbing Kilimanjaro). The longer routes that are used today, like the 8 day Lemosho and 9 day Northern Circuit, have success rates of over 85%. More and more people are choosing these routes with the education of reputable operators who steer clients away from the 5 day Marangu and 6 day Machame routes. Therefore, the percentage of total climbers who reach the summit is increasing. This is a welcome trend on Kilimanjaro, as it is safer and more fulfilling for everyone involved.


Kilimanjaro has consistently changed over its several million-year history, and it’s not stopping now. Due to global warming, scientists predict that the ice on Kilimanjaro, the remains of ancient glaciers, could be gone by 2060. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that Kibo still has the potential to erupt. While it doesn’t appear that there is anything we can do about these changes, perhaps we should simply be grateful that this picturesque geological marvel is available for us to experience during our lifetime. And chances are, if you climb on a longer route with a professional outfitters like Ultimate Kilimanjaro, you’ll make it to the top –  in just one try.

Feb 182014

Wim Hof (right) led a group of climbers to the peak of Mount Kilimajaro in Tanzania - wearing just their shorts

A group of climbers have scaled Africa’s highest mountain – wearing just their shorts.

Dutch daredevil Wim Hof, known as the ‘iceman’, led a group of 26 people to the summit of the world’s highest free standing mountain – Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

In just 48 hours the group climbed all 5,895m (19, 340ft) without succumbing to hypothermia or altitude sickness – an achievement considered impossible by experts. Clearly, they were in peak condition.

Eleven of the team climbed the mountain dressed just in shorts and without tops – to arrive unhurt at the mountain’s peak, where the temperature is a brutal -20C.

Before the project started, the Dutch Mountaineering and Climbing Federation and expedition medics considered this impossible.

The success rate of reaching Uhuru Peak in a regular mountaineering expedition is 41 per cent.
Hardy: The scantily clad climbers during the long trek to the top
At the summit the amount of oxygen is less than 50 per cent of the amount of oxygen at sea level – usually for a climber going up, it takes five to seven days to acclimatise.

Altitude sickness can occur from 3000m upwards and usually starts with headaches, dizziness and confusion. In extreme cases cerebral edema – brain swelling – and even death may occur.

Whim believes a combination of training focus, breathing and training at low temperatures made it possible for the participants to gain control over altitude sickness.

The participants of this expedition, aged between 29 and 65 years, were without any real mountaineering experience and some suffered conditions such as rheumatism, asthma and chrones disease.

Wim Hof, who sat in an ice bath for one hour 13 minutes to break the world record, said: ‘Until now the world thought that only I was capable to conquer extreme cold and altitude.

‘These heroes have shown that everybody is able to do what I am doing.

Climbers at a pit stop on the way to the snowy summit

‘My method offers people the possibility to influence their mind and body, and in particular their nervous system.

‘In the course of time people forgot how much they are able to do with their own bodies, and they have become dependent of pills and powders.

‘I want to show the world that they do not always need those and can do much more themselves.

‘The general opinion about altitude sickness has always been that it could not be prevented, not even with medication. If people can control this disease on their own, what else could be possible?’

Mr. Hof claims that he can alter his body’s heat using just the power of his mind.

Wim Hof Training Video

Kilimanjaro Climb Video

Article reprinted from Daily Mail Online:


Jul 062013


Ray Lewis, the recently retired 13-time Pro Bowl linebacker and Superbowl Champion, had to pull out of the charity trek up Africa’s tallest mountain due to an injured foot and fever.

Lewis was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro as part of an charity called TackleKili, which supports World Serve International and Pros for Africa.  World Serve International is a non-profit organization aimed at developing locally sustainable drinking water resources, sanitation facilities, education, and economic development throughout eastern Africa.

Before his climb Lewis stated, “Since retiring, I have explored the best direction for my commitment and belief– shared by all generations of the Lewis family – to serve others. When I learned that 4500 children die every day from illness because of a lack of clean water I said ‘Even one child lost is an unbearable loss.’ Through TackleKili everyone can do something – you can join our team and climb with me, follow me, and help inspire me to take another step. Because what I have to accomplish during this climb is nothing compared to what these children face every day just to survive. As part of TackleKili together we can save many lives.”

Besides Lewis and Pitt, other team members on the trip include former Chicago Bear Tommie Harris, celebrity fitness expert Basheerah Ahmad, and actor Kyle Massey.


Dec 032011

Altitude sickness is the main cause of fatalities on Mount Kilimanjaro. Therefore, many operators have oxygen available to treat climbers who have developed moderate or severe altitude sickness.

Upon request, Ultimate Kilimanjaro will carry oxygen for emergency purposes only, to treat a stricken climber in conjunction with immediate descent.

However, there are some operators who advertise the use of  a “personal oxygen system” to assist climbers on Mount Kilimanjaro. Besides the fact that you would look more like a hospital patient than a mountain trekker, there are serious reasons why using oxygen in this manner is NOT advised.

When you develop symptoms of moderate or severe altitude sickness, it is not because the body is trying to make it unpleasant for you without merit.  It is because the body recognizes that you are unable to function at the current altitude, and does not want you to climb any higher. Your body is telling you– DESCEND NOW.  Not listening to the body is how most people get into trouble on the mountain.

By using supplemental oxygen, you have effectively stopped your body’s attempts at acclimatization by raising the oxygen content of the air you breathe. Using oxygen to climb ignores your body’s clear message to descend. And while your body was unable to acclimatize to the current altitude, you have made things even worse by climbing even higher. It is dangerous situation.

Lastly, what is point of climbing Kilimanjaro with supplemental oxygen? The difficulty of Kilimanjaro lies with its altitude. As a trek, it is not difficult by hiking standards, if you remove the challenge of high altitude.  I guess some people climb Kilimanjaro just to say they did it, regardless of the manner in which it was done. But it is not much of an achievement if you put the mountain at sea level.

The bottom line is that supplemental oxygen is potentially dangerous when used to climb higher, is wholly unnecessary on Kilimanjaro, and is against the spirit and challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro.

Dec 102010

Former tennis star Martina Navratilova was hospitalized after he attempt to climb Kilimanjaro was cut short when she experienced high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), a potentially fatal form of altitude sickness.  HAPE is a dangerous build-up of fluid in the lungs.

Navratilova, 54, was climbing a variation of the 7 day Rongai route as part of a charity climb consisting of 27 team members.  From her blog, it appears that she had complications beginning  on day four, when the group camped at Horombo Huts (3,700 m/12,200 ft).   She was escorted down the mountain and taken to Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre for treatment.  As a precaution, she was flown to Nairobi Hospital for further tests.

The primary treatment for HAPE is descent, and Navratilova is said to be recovering well.> on December 6, 2010 in Arusha, Tanzania.

May 152010

In a climbing group, it is common that one or two people turn around on the mountain due to altitude sickness, exhaustion or a variety of other matters.  We often get asked what happens to the rest of the trekking party – specifically, whether they must also discontinue their climb.  Absolutely not!

Each group will have a lead guide, a number of assistant guides depending on the party size, and lead porters – all of whom are able to escort climbers down.  Therefore, when a person cannot continue their ascent, one of the staff members will accompany this climber while the lead guide takes the group to the next destination.  The remaining party is unaffected and continues their climb as scheduled.summit

May 172009


Yes- the summit of Mount Meru is almost 15,000 feet high.  If you climb Meru, you can, with one day or no days in between, climb Kilimanjaro thereafter with a lower number of days (5 or 6) because you will have had exposure to approximately the highest altitude where you will camp on Kilimanjaro (Kibo Hut and Barafu are about 15,500 feet high).

However, do not be too aggressive on either trek.  To do Meru and a challenging Kilimanjaro climb back to back may put too much stress on your body.  And strenuous activity increases the likelihood of altitude sickness. So while the Meru/Kilimanjaro climb combination can increase the probability of summit success over a lengthy Kilimanjaro climb alone, it can also decrease it.  The success of this schedule depends on how strong of a hiker you are.


Nov 192008


On the latest video, Today show host Ann Curry reports that the team is about 50/50 on whether they will attempt to climb up the Western Breach tomorrow.  She noted that her original itinerary called for a climb to Crater Camp starting at 4:30AM tomorrow, and a summit bid on Friday.

Curry noted that they have a five person group, made up of members of her production team, who have experienced differing degrees of altitude sickness thus far.  They have decided that they will either all continue or all descend.  That being said, it’s almost certain they will NOT climb tomorrow.  The likelihood that one of the five members will have symptoms of altitude sickness in the early morning is high.  On the video, mountaineer Ed Viesturs warns Curry not to ascend if the team has any symptoms and to err on the side of caution, meaning to descend, rather than taking another rest day at Arrow Glacier.

The latest video of Ann on Kilimanjaro: