Approximately 35,000 to 50,000 people attempt to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro every year. Of those only roughly 50% make it. Why is this? There is a variety of reasons people don’t make the summit: injury, exhaustion, insufficient gear. But the main reason people fail is due to altitude sickness.
Altitude sickness is the body’s negative response to the low oxygen environment of Kilimanjaro. Most people will experience some degree of altitude sickness. Some people acclimatize very well while others struggle. It is not entirely dependent on your fitness; there appears to be a genetic component to acclimatization. This is why we always recommend the longest route possible so you have the most time to adapt to the elevation.
Oxygen is not required to climb Kilimanjaro. However, given that altitude sickness is caused by lack of oxygen, using supplemental oxygen on the summit attempt is one way you can give yourself a better chance of reaching Uhuru Peak. Peak Planet is one of the few companies that offers supplemental oxygen, called ALTOX.
How Does It Work?
ALTOX consists of an oxygen tank, a thin hose, a silicone nasal cannula, an elastic band, a pulse dose meter, and a flow indicator. The oxygen is housed in a backpack, with the hose going to the dose meter and then continuing to your nose. It is held in place with the silicone nasal cannula and the elastic band. Once on, it emits a puff of oxygen into your nostrils as you inhale. This helps you breathe oxygenated air as you hike along toward the 19,341-foot summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
The ALTOX package also comes with a second cylinder that is used to practice at lower elevations, so you are familiar with how it feels to hike with it and how it works. Each tank has enough oxygen to last for 7 to 10 hours.
ALTOX is only used for the summit attempt, when the elevation is the highest and when most people feel short of breath. You will carry the oxygen cylinder in its backpack while one of our porters will carry your daypack and walk along side you as you make your final ascent toward the summit.
Note that we do not own the units ourselves. Therefore once a client requests an ALTOX rental, we rent (and thus pay for) the system from a third party before the client arrives. If you have told us that you would like to have ALTOX on your climb, then change your mind, you have up until 30 days before your arrival date to cancel without any fees. However, within 30 days, we will already have paid for the ALTOX system and will have to collect the rental fee from you, even if you decide you do not want it.
We do encourage our clients to rent the system whether or not they believe they need it. As altitude sickness can strike anyone at anytime, having the ALTOX system serves as a back up in case you have altitude challenges at high camp and beyond. Think of it as insurance.
So do you need oxygen to climb Kilimanjaro? No. But it can certainly help. You’ll spend thousands of dollars to get there and the use of oxygen can greatly increase your chance of making the summit. Don’t be part of the 50% that fails to experience the euphoria of standing next to the sign on the Roof of Africa!