There are many reasons why someone fails on to summit Kilimanjaro. Let’s look at the most common reasons.
By far, the reason people have to abandon their Kilimanjaro attempt is due to altitude sickness. At high elevations, nearly everyone will experience some symptoms of altitude sickness. Mild levels of altitude sickness include a headache, nausea, lack of appetite, dizziness, and lethargy. This is normal. However, when symptoms worsen to moderate levels of illness, climbers should not go any higher as their bodies are not adapting to the altitude.
The best way to reduce the likelihood of altitude sickness is to simply climb a longer route. Doing so will give your body additional days to acclimatize and in turn increase your success rate. That is why Peak Planet prefers the 7 day Rongai, 7 day Machame, 8 day Lemosho and 9 day Northern Circuit route. Each of these routes adds an extra rest day which statistically increases your probability of success by about 20%.
Other ways of decreasing the chances of altitude sickness are to use ALTOX Personal Oxygen Systems, to pre-acclimatize with a high altitude training system, and to use Diamox on the mountain.
Altitude sickness can be fatal if precautions aren’t taken or symptoms are not recognized. That’s why we use only experienced, medically trained guides. Our guides are trained to recognize and treat altitude sickness.
We state over and over that the single most important decision you make is what operator you climb with. Guides who are inexperienced and insufficiently trained do not put you in an advantageous position to succeed simply because they do not know how to give optimal instructions to their clients. This includes knowing how to deal with elevation, food and water intake, injury prevention, handling adverse weather and pace setting.
As mentioned above, altitude sickness is the main obstacle for a successful climb. Solid, well-trained guides like Peak Planet’s staff know how to prevent and treat altitude sickness. By doing health checks and with careful monitoring of each client, our guides can act immediately if they notice a person may not be acclimatizing. The best guides on the mountain will increase your chances of summiting.
It should be no surprise that climbing to 19,341 feet is not physically easy. Hiking for several days at elevation is very strenuous. Most of the days you will hike between 4-6 hours. The trail is steep in areas and it is over uneven, rocky terrain. It can be hot one day and cold and rainy the next. You will start in the rainforest and hike up through different climate zones like the heather, moorland, alpine desert, and artic.
The summit day is the most difficult. You will wake up at midnight, eat and begin your summit attempt. It will be cold, dark and windy. After several hours of this, the sun will rise as you reach Stella Point and your morale will be lifted. From here you have an additional hour of climbing to get to achieve your goal. Once you reach the top, you’ll take a short break for snacks and a photo shoot. You’ll then begin your descent back down to high camp for a brief stay to eat. From there you’ll descend for several more hours to a much lower elevation camp. It is this long day that can wear on even the most avid hiker. It is a difficult and mentally challenging day.
It takes a good degree of fitness to complete a Kilimanjaro climb. Fitness typically comes from training. We understand that it is not always easy trying to find the time to get to the gym or to go hike. However, to get yourself in satisfactory condition, try to go begin training 12 weeks prior to your climb. Use the Stair Master or elliptical or go for a good 5-8 mile hike at least once a week to start. Add a few more miles each week, so you are hiking around 12 miles fairly consistently. Add a weighted pack as you build your stamina.
Not Eating or Drinking Enough
By being at high elevations, your body is working hard just to function normally. That means it is using a lot of calories and water in the process. It is very important that one continues to eat and drink in good amounts to replenish your body. What usually occurs is that people are OK in the first few days, even when not eating and drinking enough. However, as the oxygen levels begin to deplete, the culmination of the calorie and water deficiency and perhaps lack of sleep begin to take their toll. A climber can become more and more tired as each day passes which in turn also affects their ability to continue acclimatizing.
Your guides will always remind you to drink and eat as much as possible, even if you do not feel hungry. We also believe that bringing an electrolyte powder mix is very helpful for recovery after long days.
Not Being Prepared for Bad Weather
As part of your Kilimanjaro preparations, you should acquire or rent all the necessary gear. Follow our detailed gear list and you will be well suited for any kind of weather.
The top of Kilimanjaro is in an ecological zone known as the arctic zone. In other words, it can be very, very cold. The bottom of Kilimanjaro resides in the rainforest, where precipitation is expected. So warm hats, jackets, pants, and gloves, along with waterproof gear is imperative.
Some Kilimanjaro operators provide subpar tents for their clients. Tents that leak or do not vent properly can make your nights very uncomfortable. And if you do not get good sleep, your recovery is negatively affected. That’s why we provide high-quality Ferrino tents and sleeping pads and rent warm Ferrino sleeping bags. It helps our clients succeed on the mountain.
Injuries and Other Illnesses
During the course of hiking over many days, it is not unusual for some injuries to pop up. A twisted ankle, blisters or swollen joints can end your Kilimanjaro climb if hiking becomes too painful. If you have known physical challenges, it is prudent to take actions to counteract them. For instance, bringing sock liners, extra socks, and a blister kit to stop blisters from forming or getting worse. Using trekking poles to ease the impact on problematic joints. Wearing high boots for better ankle support.
It is also important to maintain good hygiene on the mountain. Always wash your hands (we provide soap and water) or use hand sanitizer after using the toilet or before eating to prevent getting germs.
In the end, people turn back for a variety of reasons. It is a shame to spend so much time and money only to fail. To avoid this scenario, go with a reputable company that has a high success rate and experienced guides. Climb with Peak Planet and you’ll almost certainly make it to the summit.