How can some medical students climb Kilimanjaro?
March 29, 2010 3:15 PM   Subscribe

How can some students climb Kilimanjaro this summer, for a decent price?

A few of my fellow medical students and I will be in Tanzania this summer for medical and service work. After doing that for a month, we'll be on safari for 10 days, including Zanzibar. About 4-8 of us would like to climb Kilimanjaro after the safari. How can we do this for a good price? Our trip is already going to cost about $5000 without the climb, so I think we'd like to stay under $1500 if possible. I'm not sure we can do the trip if it isn't all-inclusive because we're bringing medical supplies with us from the U.S.
posted by senseigmg to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
About's surprisingly good page on this appears to suggest that you'll have to adjust your resources.
posted by rhizome at 3:37 PM on March 29, 2010

I just did some research on this for a project (an East African safari travel agency is adding Kili climbs to its offerings; I wrote some copy for the website), and while you may find an outfitter who'll do this for you for under $1500.00 per climber, you are unlikely to be climbing responsibly. With certain fixed costs per climb (park fees, food, transport), outfitters only have two ways to shave costs: labor costs (porters and guides) and time spent on the mountain. To achieve the first, an outfitter may hire fewer porters than is safe (and required by the park). To achieve the second, an outfitter may discourage a party from spending an extra acclimatization day on the mountain, which directly impacts success rates on summit day (and can be a serious health risk).

In addition to reviewing's informative site, be sure to consult with the Kilimanjaro Porter's Association for tipping guidelines and advice about what to look for in an outfitter (as well as a list of KPAP partner companies). During my research I found to be a thorough and reliable resource.

Finally, maybe Mt Meru, instead?

And finally, finally: the agent responsible for safari/Zanzibar trip should be able to offer advice here, too (and given what you're spending so far, should be happy to help).
posted by notyou at 6:02 PM on March 29, 2010

I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

It is going to be tough for you to stick to your budget and get all inclusive. When we climbed, we supplied our own mountaineering gear, clothing, personal articles (water bottles, etc), and boots. We climbed with one guide and two porters. One of the porters wore plastic sandals the entire trip up, the other porter wore a pair of ratty tennis shoes. Our guide wore a pair of utterly thrashed hiking boots that he had to stuff newspaper in to make stay on his feet. They supplied the tents and sleeping bags, which were adequate. We would have been quite uncomfortable if my Dad and his friends hadn't had the foresight to bring extra down gear to keep us warm.

At the tail end of the trip everyone involved asked us to give them whatever gear we'd be willing to spare, from the porters to the guide to the travel agency. I don't get the sense that many other than the luxury tours have much in the way of good climbing gear.

Given that you're thinking about this ahead of time, what about contacting the service organization you're planning to go to work with and asking about the possibility of shipping your gear ahead of time via sea container? When we lived in Africa, most of the big church organizations irregularly would get sea containers that they would fill with items for shipment to Africa. Sure, it is slow, and there can be issues with loss, but it is a good cheap way for you to have extra gear with you.

One of the problems with paying the economy price for a guide is that you may get a less experienced guide. Our guide, who we thought was really exceptional (sorry, no contact details- lost to the mists of time), told us that he thought that the guide was the one to determine if the customers would be successful in the climb, setting the pace, making sure his charges ate and rested well, and choosing the route.

I realize this isn't what you'd like to hear, but you really shouldn't pay less than $1300-$1500 per person. You'll be able to find tour companies that charge less, but remember, choosing a responsible outfit may be the difference between having a successful, safe, fun ascent, and being injured/killed/totally in misery on the climb.

Another issue to be aware of are your porters. We lived in Africa for a time, and heard lots of stories about the porters on Kilimanjaro. I understand some has been done since we climbed (in the 90s) in terms of assuring porters a minimum fee, but many porters, particularly with the economy Kilimanjaro climbs, are paid a pittance. It used to be that unless you specifically negotiated about this before your climb, they weren't paid at all, and instead depended on the clients' generosity at the end of the climb for a tip for their ENTIRE salary. Please do whatever you have to do to make sure the porters who really have the most arduous tasks receive appropriate compensation.

A bit of unsolicited advice: I climbed Kili with no problems as a fairly sedentary twelve year old (at least, I hadn't done half of the training my Dad wanted us to do). The 70 y/o man with us on the trip made it, as did my Dad. The incredibly fit 30 y/o guy who spent 6 months training for the climb became badly ill with altitude sickness and had to abandon the attempt on the second day.

My take is that people who rush trying to attempt Kilimanjaro (e.g., fitting it in between the end of their safari and their flight home) generally fail. The way to successfully climb Kilimanjaro in my opinion is to take it slow and steady. You'll feel tempted to zoom up the trail, to show off your youth and vigor, just have a slow, easy pace.

Also, if you do decide to make the attempt, do a lot of research on the route you agree to take. We climbed a route that in the 90s, was fairly uncommon for tour trips- the Shira Route via the Western Breach. We had the mountain to ourselves, it seemed to me. We saw perhaps two other parties on our trip up. Our descent was via one of the most infamous tourist routes, and the path was littered with vomit and litter. We passed groups every ten minutes, all of whom looked miserable.

Feel free to contact me if you'd like more information. My data is a little old (I'm 29 now) but I still have some good friends and contacts in the region.

Good luck!
posted by RachelSmith at 6:28 PM on March 29, 2010

I climbed 2 August's ago, and you might be keen to see my question about climbing on a volunteer's budget, and some of my contributions post climb. I'm sitting in Arusha right now, actually.

while you may find an outfitter who'll do this for you for under $1500.00 per climber, you are unlikely to be climbing responsibly.

This. Unless you yourselves are experienced climbers (I was, when I climbed), you should not be paying less than $1,500. I climbed for under that amount, but my guide got AMS 200 meters below the volcano's ridge, and I ended up making the summit solo. Not advisable but at no point was I unsafe. There is the strong possibility when you are budget climbing that something could go wrong and you will have basically yourself to take care of it. There is a somewhat unspoken culture of look-out-for-one's-own-self that grows stronger as the elevation you are at grows, and unless you've experienced it first hand, you have no idea how life-or-death such a situation can be.

That said, I'd still recommend the outfit I went with. They weren't luxury, but they did a good job of checking my gear the day before the climb, providing the gear I needed to supplement, providing solid, well-balanced meals and plenty of tea and water, and setting me up with a good possibility of making the summit. I wouldn't recommend my exact guide, but if you want to mefi-mail me I can give you more info on what exactly to ask for. Basically they are a local crew and your best bet of still doing the climb relatively *safe,* but not in any means as luxurious as the other parties you'll be climbing with.

As for routes, Machame was beautiful but definitely crowded (avoid Marungu, as the most crowded route I can't imagine what that might be like). I'd shoot for Rongai if I climbed it again.

And yeah - climb in gear that you can give away to your porters post-climb, and be sure to tip them all individually (i.e. don't give it to the guide for him to disburse).
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:11 AM on March 30, 2010

Oh, and kili pro-tip. I found a chart in a previous Kili question (try the tags) to a schedule of when there will be full moons over the mountain. Timing my summit to be on a full-moon night was a really worthwhile effort - made the summit climb brilliantly illuminated rather than pitch-black. Weather could still get you here, but you're usually above most of the bad stuff on summit night.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:15 AM on March 30, 2010

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