When coming to Tanzania and think of climbing mount Kilimanjaro then first consider about precautions and things which will make your trip success.
One of the precautions to consider is how to avoid problems. One of the problems which might occur is High Altitude Sickness (HAS) or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). How ever if you have proper information about HAS/AMS then you will climb Mount Kilimanjaro successful and with comfort. Mountain climbing guides on Mount Kilimanjaro and Meru know well about AMS. All mountain guides are well trained and most of them have experience of 5 to 20 years trekking mount Kilimanjaro. So When hiking up Kilimanjaro tell the Mountain guide how do you feel and also follow advise.
High Altitude Sickness (HAS)/Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
What is Altitude Sickness?
At sea level, the concentration of oxygen is about 21% and the barometric pressure averages 760 mmHg. As altitude increases, oxygen concentration remains the same but the number of oxygen molecules per breath is reduced due to lower barometric pressure. In order to increase oxygen levels in the blood, your body responds by breathing faster. Although oxygen levels increase, sea level concentrations cannot be reached. The body must adjust to having less oxygen. This adjustment is called acclimatization. At elevations above 5,500 meters, acclimatization is not possible and the body begins to deteriorate.
There are many ways to acclimatize; one is before start Kilimanjaro trekking. While around slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, a Tourist can take day hike to some altitude high level and some walking around. High Altitude sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) can affect mountain climbers, hikers, skiers, or travelers who ascend too rapidly to high altitude, typically above 8000 feet or 2400 meters. The risk is higher for persons who normally reside at or near sea level. Anyone is at risk, no matter what age or level of fitness.
The reduction in atmospheric pressure and a lower oxygen concentration at high altitude are the cause of the illness, which can affect lungs, nervous system, muscles and heart. Symptoms can range from mild to life threatening.
Mild symptoms (most cases):
Be close to Mountain climbing guide and tell him how you feel.He may recognise of of the symptoms and know what to do.
- Difficult in sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and/or vomiting, fatigue
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Rapid pulse
- Shortness of breath with exertion.
- Severe symptoms (can cause death if not treated early)
- Continuous cough with shortness of breath at rest,
- Chest tightness or congestion, coughing up blood
- Bluish color of skin,
- Inability to walk in straight line or to walk at all,
- Deceased consciousness
- Gray or pale completion;in these cases there is edema in the lungs (HAPE or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) or in the brain (HACE or High Altitude Cerebral Edema).
The risk and severity of AMS is higher as the rate of ascent is increased, the higher altitude attained and higher levels of exertion. It takes about 8 hours to develop, which is why skiers usually don’t suffer too much. At altitude below 3000 metres, about 20% of the people develop symptoms, but above 3500 metres most people will experience at least some symptoms, while at altitudes below 5000 metres, virtually everybody will suffer symptoms, especially if enough time is not taken for acclimatization.
Considering the altitudes of the peaks of Mount Meru (4667 metres) and Mount Kilimanjaro (5895 metres) and the short time span generally taken in climbing these mountains, most climbers will develop some form as AMS ,if they do a rapid ascent without sufficient acclimatisation. For Marangu route you can climb for 5 days successful to the top, because Marangu route is easier and gentle. How ever it depends how fit you are and 6 days is recommend so that yourself enough time while climbing Kilimanjaro. Other routes mostly need 6 days or more like Machame, Rongai, and Umbwe; while Lemosho and Shira need 7 days or more for Kilimanjaro trekking expeditions.
How to prevent (serious) AMS:
Climb Kilimanjaro in a period of year (months) in which weather is friendly. Clearest and warmest conditions are from December to February, but also dry (and colder) from July-September. Acclimatization is the exercise done to become used to the weather and high altitude. Acclimatization helps to avoid altitude sickness.
When climbing above 300 metres , sleeping elevation should not increase more than 300 metres per night and spend a second night at same elevation for every 1000 metres. That is why we recommend to take an extra day for acclimatization so that your Kilimanjaro climbing holiday goes and finishes with success. Recognize early symptoms of AMS, so you can return if needed. Experienced guides will monitor you and warn you in time. All guides are experienced and have taken many Kilimanjaro trekking adventure trips to the Kilimanjaro snow.
Go slowly! This is special warning for extra fit climbers who have a tendency to go too fast and increase their risk for AMS. Please take advise of Guides and surely you will be safe and success in your Kilimanjaro trekking expedition. Mount Kilimanjaro National park authority always have principles of maintaining group of 6 or less and at least 3 guides to take care of every Tourist climber. Mostly these guides are local born at base slopes of mount Kilimanjaro, well educated and trained. They have local knowledge useful for Tourists and adventures.
Drink as much water as you can, and enough water is provided by Travel Agencies/Kilimanjaro climbing outfitter. Acclimatisation and the exertion of the climb caused fluid loss. You will need to drink 3-5 litres per day! Monitor your urine color (should be clear). Don’t over exert yourself when you first get up to altitude, but light activity is better than sleeping because respiration decreases during sleep, making AMS symptoms worse.
Avoid smoking, alcohol and tranquilizers as they further decrease the respiratory drive during sleeping-resulting in worsening symptoms. Eat a high carbohydrate diet (more than 70% of calories from carbohydrate).Oral rehydration salts and energy bars are recommended. Ask the Travel agency or Kilimanjaro trekking for Menu daily time table and demand what you need.
Strongly consider the use of Acetazolamide (Diamox) to speed acclimatisation with a factor 3-4.This drug was introduced in the mid 1990’s; it makes the blood more acid and stimulates the frequency of respiration. Side effects: increase of urine output, tingling of fingers and lips. Mild drowsiness and a possible allergic reaction as it is sulfa based.If considering taking the drug, try it before the trip. The most recent advice for the dosage: 250 mg in the morning (whole tablet), 125 mg in evening (1/2 tablet).Start the day before or the day of the ascent and continue 3-4 days, as normally acclimatization takes 3 days. People suffering from cardiac or severe pulmonary diseases and pregnant women should avoid high altitudes.
How to treat AMS:
Below are tips which help to avoid or treat altitude sickness (AMS) during hiking kilimanjaro.
- The Mountain Guide will help you descend to lower altitude and you may recover soon. That is why we say tell the Guide how you feel.
- The principle is to descend to lower altitude as rapidly and safely as possible. Usually there are Emergency Mountain Rangers who are standby for taking rescue of any ill person. Mountain rangers work hand in hand with your guides.
- Oxygen and drug as Acetazolamide, Nifedipine and Dexamethasone can be used in more severe cases but need good medical supervision (not always available!).
- For severe cases as HAPE and HACE-hospitalisation is required,but facilities such as mechanical ventilation are usually not available. This refers to such devices as the Gamor Bag-standard equipment on mountains like Everest. With the ever increasing amount of climbers on Tanzania’s peaks (1000’s per year) one would hope for some investment in improvement of medical facilities on these mountains
- Take precautions and follow advice so that you avoid this sickness. Wish you well planning and Kilimanjaro trekking expedition and climbing adventure successful.
Emergency Oxygen Bottle supplement is available.
All our climbing Kilimanjaro packages have summit oxygen for emergency needs. Supplement oxygen will treat Acute mountain sickness and now the tourists can walk alone and descend. Introduction of oxygen bottle in all kilimanjaro trekking routes is improvement so that tourists increase confidence when they book kilimanjaro climb trip with us. All climbing mount kilimanjaro guides are trained and know well how and when to use emergency oxygen bottle. This extra comfort service is free, and you will enjoy whole kilimanjaro hike trip.