About the Kilimanjaro Alpine Service
Rather than beat about the bush and equivocate with euphemisms that help us to claim that we have the best guides on Kilimanjaro while offering the lowest prices of all serious Kilimanjaro operators, we prefer to state very plainly that the Kilimanjaro Alpine Service is staffed by junior guides and support staff from another much larger Kilimanjaro operation.
However, before you navigate away from this site to where someone is going to try very hard to convince you that they somehow mysteriously manage to attract the best guides on Kilimanjaro while obviously paying their staff very little (and so managing to charge very little for their climbs), we would first encourage you to consider whether such claims are likely to be realistic or honest.
Conversely, we prefer to hide nothing and to be as transparent as possible about our methods.
Kilimanjaro Alpine Service Staff
If the KAS is staffed with junior guides, then why, you are probably wondering, should you consider climbing with KAS rather than another operation that claims – with no rational corroboration – to host the best guides on Kilimanjaro? The reason is that while we do indeed use guides that generally work as assistant guides for a more upmarket operation, nonetheless we genuinely believe these guides to be of much higher calibre and character than the vast majority of the rest of the budget operations available.
We believe that this is the case because these guides work and train alongside the guides that we believe to be the very best on Kilimanjaro, guides who are drilled relentlessly in the most exacting procedures employed on the mountain. And it is hard to work in such an excellence-pursuing environment without absorbing a good deal of that operation’s ethos.
Also, because we apply to TK for staffing on a climb by climb basis, these guides and their support staff have a carefully vested interest in performing excellently when they lead our climbs. The reason for this is that TK uses our operation as a proving ground for selecting their own leaders. When a junior TK guide leads a KAS climb we can be sure that he’ll be acutely aware of all the eyes on him, assessing him critically with a view to feeding back to TK what are his weaknesses and areas requiring attention and improvement.
Conversely, readers will probably already know that the usual disease in high volume budget operations is that staff appointments are are often governed by nepotism rather than performance, and that most teams are affected by apathy and lack motivation to do any better than what’s required to receive their salaries.
That comment doesn’t apply to all operations by any means, and there are a few nice small operations that are attentively managed and the staff work hard to please, but we wish to differentiate ourselves diametrically from the former type.
Competitively Ranked Guides
Since TK is a British run operation and none of the staff members are related to the operation’s owners – who themselves allocate each guide and his assistants – they are able to have a fairly unique staffing system in which each guide and assistant guide competes to improve his rank.
A guide’s rank is the product of a number of factors, including the feedback of his colleagues and management, and that of the climbers who are kind enough to report back after their climb. As a junior assistant guide moves up through the ranks in his bid for leadership of a TK climb, he will usually serve with KAS and seek to implement the standards that he has learnt while working under senior TK guides.
So while we concede that our guides are not the most experienced, we nonetheless contend that they certainly aspire to be and play an important role in an operation that does achieve some of the highest standards on Kilimanjaro.
Can I expect the same standard on a KAS climb as on a TK climb?
Rather than encourage inappropriate expectations – which are always the basis of disappointment – we will offer a very unhesitant ‘no’ to this question. It should be understood that the guides that lead TK’s climbs enjoy a pay scale and monthly work volume that ensures that they are probably the very highest paid guides on Kilimanjaro, in terms of annual income.
As such TK are able to attract the very best guides on the Kilimanjaro circuit and it is known that they field a constant stream of applications from guides serving with other operations.
In terms of having more appropriate expectations of your Kilimanjaro staff, when booking with KAS you can be sure that you’ll be led by staff that certainly aspire to be the best of the best, but who as yet still lack some of the leadership qualities that a more upmarket operation like TK would deem to be necessary in its climb leaders.
As an example of such shortcomings, your guide will likely have reasonable English – but as with most budget companies – you’ll need a little patience with him as he may not readily understand everything you say unless you speak more slowly than usual. He may also appear less confident and decisive than a more senior guide.
That said, he will have been trained fully for a leadership role and will in all cases be a fully licensed guide and will necessarily have been cleared by KINAPA, the governing authority, to lead climbs. Confidence and good judgement are however, qualities that come only with years of experience in a leadership role, and it should please be understood that your KAS guide is still quite close to the beginning of his climbing career.
With the KAS however, we have certain failsafes built into the system that are not enjoyed by other budget operations. For example, in the event of duress high on the mountain, where it appears that an incident may be developing that your guide arguably has less than totally reassuring personal means to contain, you will have been supplied with all the hotlines giving direct access to TK.
At this point, TK may either discuss the guide’s proposed decision with him or else may choose to directly intercept command of the event if they have another operation close by. Where the latter option is unavailable or the guide cannot reach command, the climber should understand at the outset, that in the event of having any doubts about a climber’s safety to proceed, the default option is to descend rather than to chance an attempt at the summit in dubious circumstances where the risk is that the climber’s condition may develop to become life-threatening.
Why would KAS be willing to expose climbers to inexperienced guides and relatively substandard equipment?
KAS works on the assumption that the climber has already decided that a significant priority in their decision making criteria as to which Kilimanjaro tour operator to contract is that of cost reduction. Working with this assumption, we have zero qualms of conscience that our own “inexperienced” guides and “substandard” equipment is in most cases of a conspicuously higher standard than anything else that is available in anywhere near the same budget bracket.
Booking a budget climb necessitates certain compromises. We believe that climbers choosing to accept the compromises associated with a KAS climb have to compromise a good deal less than with any other budget option! KAS guides may lack the experience of a senior top-end operation guide, but they are nonetheless exposed to the same training as TK’s leading guides.
So, if you are competitors to TK, then why does TK assist your operation?
The short answer is that TK uses our climbs as a proving ground for prospective senior guides for their own climbs. TK therefore has a vested interest in the careers of our guides and considers that it is preferable and more cost efficient to subsidise our operation than to arrange training simulations for their staff that are a very inadequate substitute for real leadership of climbers.
Since TK have an interest in the reputations of the guides that it allocates to lead our climbs, climbers can be confident that TK will not willingly assign a guide that they have serious concerns about.
That said, it is possible that the guide leading a KAS climb may have very little direct leadership experience and may be less confident and decisive than a more senior guide from an upmarket operation would be.