Mountain Sickness and Medications
About Altitude Sickness
If you are planning to climb Mount Kilimanjaro you will sooner or later hear about altitude sickness.
For those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of altitude illness, here are answers to the most common questions regarding mountain sickness.
The definition of altitude
High Altitude: 1500 – 3500 m (5000 – 11500 ft)
Very High Altitude: 3500 – 5500 m (11500 – 18000 ft)
Extreme Altitude: above 5500 m (18000 ft)
What is altitude sickness?
Altitude sickness is a range of symptoms that can occur when someone ascends to a high altitude too rapidly, without sufficient acclimatization.
The body can adjust to the reduced air pressure at higher altitude, but only at a rate of about 300 m (1000 ft) altitude gain per day.
If you ascend faster, and everybody climbing Kilimanjaro will, then you may develop altitude sickness.
There are three main forms of altitude sickness:
AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) is very common when climbing Kilimanjaro.
HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) is a fluid build up in the lungs.
HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema) is fluid build up in the brain.
Both HAPE and HACE are potentially fatal but are thankfully extremely rare during a well planned Kilimanjaro climb.
What exactly causes the individual symptoms of altitude sickness is still not fully understood. If you want to know more details, there is a link to an excellent tutorial at the bottom of this page.
There is also a range of other symptoms you are likely to experience during a Kilimanjaro climb due to the altitude. They are considered normal and shouldn’t worry you:
You breathe faster,
you are out of breath sooner,
you may experience periodic breathing at night (where you stop breathing for up to 15 seconds, and then breathe very fast to make up for it, scary but harmless),
you may wake up frequently at night,
You need to urinate a lot more often.
None of those symptoms are altitude sickness.
What are the symptoms of altitude sickness?
The symptoms of AMS are headaches, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, sleeplessness, fatigue, dizziness. Everybody can expect to experience at least some of these symptoms in a mild form.
The most obvious symptoms for HAPE are extreme breathlessness, even at rest; rattling breath, coughing with pink froth and blue lips or finger nails.
HACE becomes apparent as a lack of coordination, inability to walk in a straight line, confusion and irrational behaviors (to the point of not acknowledging the symptoms).
How dangerous is altitude sickness?
The symptoms of acute mountain sickness as described above are self limiting and not dangerous. In fact, your guides may tell you during the briefing not to worry, that it is totally normal to be throwing up repeatedly during that last final push top the summit. Nice…
However, if you do experience symptoms, your guides should also keep monitoring you, because AMS can progress to one of the more severe forms of altitude sickness.
HAPE and HACE are potentially fatal!
Make sure that you always remain in contact with your guides and let them know exactly how you are feeling. Also keep an eye on your climbing partners, since people suffering from these severe conditions may not be able to correctly assess their own condition.
Anybody experiencing symptoms that could indicate HAPE or HACE needs to descend IMMEDIATELY or they will die.
But please don’t panic now. As I said above, these conditions are extremely rare, provided you act sensibly when on the mountain.
Who gets altitude sickness?
Anybody can get altitude sickness. There is no way to predict how your body will react if exposed to high altitude without proper acclimatization.
Susceptibility to altitude sickness is random. Fitness is no protection. People who are extremely fit and exercise a lot get it just an easily as couch potatoes. There are many stories that indicate they may be even more susceptible!
Men appear to be more susceptible than women, especially young and fit men. (Competitiveness and the desire to show off plays a part in this. Men will often ascend faster. Too fast.)
Older people seem to be less susceptible. (Older people will ascend more slowly, and nothing protects you better from altitude sickness than ascending slowly.)
When do you get altitude sickness?
Highly susceptible people can experience symptoms from 2500 m (7000 ft) on wards, in rare cases even below that. The chance of developing AMS increases with the height but the rate of altitude gain is even more important.
Mt. Kilimanjaro is 5895 m (19340 ft) high. Pretty much everybody on a Kilimanjaro climb will experience some symptoms of altitude sickness during that last push to the summit.
There are other factors that increase the likelihood of altitude sickness, apart from the absolute height itself:
Rate at which a height is achieved (the faster you ascend the bigger the risk of developing symptoms, this factor is more important than the absolute height itself!)
Time spent at height (symptoms start appearing within 6-10 hours though they can be delayed)
Symptoms of acute mountain sickness typically take one or two days to disappear. If you keep ascending they may not go away. For most people the symptoms come and go during the day, disappear overnight, only to come back the next day as the climb continues.
AMS can be very unpleasant, but with the right preparation and at a sensible pace, most people can climb to at least the last camp below the crater rim (around 5700m). It’s that last push to the summit where AMS becomes the make it or break it issue.
You climb Kilimanjaro with knowledge that every detail of your trip has been designed by one of the professional mountain guide and high altitude experts.
Our first goal
Your safety is our paramount concern on your Kilimanjaro trek. You leave home with the comfort of knowing that during your trek all you have to worry about is putting one foot in front of the other. We take care of the rest.
Twice a day our guides perform a through health check, using their specialized High Altitude Medical Paper and conjunction with pulse-ox meters. Regular medical checks help keep your motivation and our guides can determine your condition
FAQ about Kilimanjaro
You are about to make a big decision for one of the best holiday adventures of your life. It will be amazing and you will make and endure relationships for a lifetime. There is something about Africa . . . .So,
• Who is coming to Tanzania with you – men, women, older children?
• Are you all reasonably fit?
• What do you fancy? Most people like to climb a mountain and then take a safaris.
• What type of Safaris appeals to you -driving or walking?
• Where would you like to stay – tented camp or a lodge?
• Do you have the time to finish with a few days on the beach?
• Zanzibar or somewhere more remote?
Now you have permission to dream! Chat with your friends and work out what appeals and we will suggest an itinerary and quote.
Some reality checks and FAQs
1: How Do I Choose an Operator?
There are literally hundreds of companies who service the mountain. Selecting an operator can be a daunting task. You want to be sure that your operator staffs are experienced, competent guides, who practice high safety standards and treats porters well. You want an operator that has proven expertise and track record of successfully serving a wide range of client over many years. Eastland Adventures has lead climbs on Mt Kilimanjaro nearly for many years and has helped many climbers realize their dream of reaching the summit.
2. How Much Does it Cost?
Please resist the temptation of selecting an operator solely based on price! Price should be only one component in your overall decision. Prices vary significantly between operators as well as in the length of the climb. Do not come all the way to the mountain just to encounter hidden costs lying in wait. Eastland Adventures offers quality climbs at reasonable rates. Our prices are a great value from $1550 per climber, excluding tips. At this price level, we can satisfy all park fees, pay decent wages to staff, and supply fresh and adequate food as well as equipment, while still maintaining great service to our clients.
3. When are the Best Months?
The best times to climb Kilimanjaro tend to be the warmest and driest months – End of December, January, February and beginning of March, June, July, August and September are also good months. However, temperatures and weather are quite unpredictable, and can change drastically based on the time of day and altitude. It’s best to avoid the long rainy season, from the end of March to early June, and the short rainy season, from November through the beginning of December.
4. Which Route should I take?
Each route have different rates and unique characteristics which may or may not appeal to you. However, to get the most out of your trek, consider the difficulty, scenery and traffic when you select your route. Other factors that should be considered are your age, fitness level, medical conditions, backpacking and hiking experience, experience at high altitude, degree of motivation, and any other special considerations. We recommend the Lemosho, Northern Circuit, Machame, Rongai, Marangu, Umbwe and Western breach routes for Kilimanjaro. Please kindly consider your guide’s advice regarding this.i
5. How Many Days do I Need?
There are minimum days recommended for each route or combination of routes. The more days you spend on the mountain, the better your chances for successfully reaching the summit. Statistics show that each additional day you spend acclimatizing increases your probability of success. Do not book the minimum number of days. Chances are, you will not enjoy your climb nor will you reach the top. Again, the guide’s advice will come in handy.
6. Should I Join a Group?
A private, small-party climb is the way to go. Naturally, a small – party climb ensures individualized attention, added flexibility and increased safety. Most climb operators run large group departures. Once they add the support staff, a “small” group of climbers becomes a crowd! That’s hardly the way to enjoy the mountain.
7. What Do I Need For the Climb?
Follow the gear list and resist the temptation to bring more. You won’t need it and it is just extra weight that you or the porters must carry. Upon completion of the climb, you’ll be surprised to realize that what you needed is not that much anyway. Try to limit all of your gear to less than 20Kg. It can be done.
8. What about Altitude Sickness?
Altitude sickness is potentially fatal. However, most climbers will get some form of mild acute mountain sickness (AMS) while on the mountain. Our guide will monitor you closely during the duration of your climb. However, you should be aware of the symptoms of mild, moderate and severe AMS, and you must inform your guide of any symptoms immediately. Never try to hide your symptoms in order to continue climbing. There is always the possibility that the impact of AMS will ultimately sabotage your summit attempt.
9. What Do I Need Before I Arrive?
Not many people have been to such high altitudes before. Therefore, climbers should have a medical check prior to attempting to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. Consult your health-care provider to determine which immunizations and medications to obtain for your travels to East Africa. A valid passport, six months prior to the expiration is required for entry into East Africa. Most travelers will need a visa to enter this region. Climbers should also obtain travel insurance that covers trip cancellation.
10. Do I need to train for this?
Yes we recommend light exercise starting few month before your climb, we recommend cycling, scouting, jogging and long walking with 5-10 back pack.
We have various menu prepared by our professional cook and also we prepare menu based on your dietary requirements. However we recommended to carry along some high energy food like chocolates and nuts for adding extra energy and successful completion of the trek. Our sample menu which we offer while trekking
Toast (with honey, jam and/or butter); French toast; pancakes; sausage; bacon; eggs (scrambled, fried, omelet); cooked vegetables; fruits (oranges, mangoes, bananas), cereals; hot cereal; tea; coffee; cocoa; juice
Cold meat sandwiches; tuna or chicken salad sandwiches; grilled cheese sandwiches; fruits (oranges, mangoes, bananas); eggs; French fries, otherwise known as chips; tea; coffee; cocoa; juice.
Beef, chicken (roasted, stewed, curried); pasta; rice; vegetables (stewed, boiled, steamed, curried); potatoes (mashed, boiled, fried); corned beef + cabbage; Ugali (Local dish); fruits (oranges, mangoes, bananas); tea; coffee; cocoa, juice.
Staying hydrated on the mountain is very important. A key reason why people suffer from Acute Mountain Sickness is because they become dehydrated. You should aim to drink at least 3L of water a day. Your guides will provide you with water on Day one of the hike and from then on porters collect water from streams on the mountain. It is important that you purify this water using water purification tablets. Also recommended is adding high energy powders to improve the taste and give you an added boost. Also, a lot of oral re hydration salts (ORS) are recommended for preventing dehydration while trekking on the mountain.
TIPPING FOR GUIDES AND PORTERS
Tipping for guides and porters is standard. A single climber will have on average one guide, four porters and a cook. As a group size increases the climbing support team increase at a similar ratio. The ratio is set by the Kilimanjaro National Park (KINAPA), In general, you should budget $20-$25 a day for guides, $15-$20 a day for assistant guides, $15 a day for your cook and $10 a day for each porter. Depending on the size of the group your total tip budget should be $250-$300. It is recommended that you calculate how much you will be tipping your support team before arriving on the mountain and prepare individual envelopes for each climbing support member whom you distribute at the end of the climb.
We are more than happy to receive your questions any time and we are so flexible to assist you in organizing your safe and successful Kilimanjaro climb