Our Kilimanjaro Mountain Equipment
Continuing in the same vein of candour that is hopefully evident throughout this site, the mountain equipment used by the KAS is a combination of equipment that TK has trialled and subsequently rejected on the grounds that their climbers are likely to object to it for one of a number of reasons, or that has been used successfully by TK and then subsequently rejected as still technically serviceable, but not sufficiently new as to justify being used by climbers who generally demand a better state of repair.
Taking one example, the tent in this picture, a Vango Hydra 200, was one of an order that was originally intended for use by TK but within a short space of time it was found that the semi-geodesic design was not appreciated by their climbers as the vestibule area was too small and the body of the tent itself did not afford adequate space to climbers to conduct their personal administrations. Additionally, snug tents have the appearance to inexperienced users, of leaking, as condensation collects on the inside of the fly sheet and body movements within the tent will then often cause the tent’s inner to adhere to the fly and allow capillary action to draw expired condensed moisture back into the tent.
This concept occurs wherever non-Ventile or non-Goretex tents are used in low temperatures, but is most evident where tents are small. Paradoxically, experienced climbers who climb dangerous mountains will prefer a compact geodesic or semi-geodesic tent as it withstands snowfall better and fares better in strong winds. On Kilimanjaro however these are seldom pertinent considerations and we concede that our Hydras are relatively awkward and cramped when compared to the generously sized tunnel tents in use with upscale operations.
KAS’ reduced staff support structure
Because KAS operates a streamlined support structure we are unable to supply mess tents for meals. From the luxury of your comfortable home, or from wherever you may be reading this, this may sound like a trivial detail. The use of a good quality spacious mountain mess tent should not however be underestimated as it allows for a full rest in warmth and shelter in the middle of the day; breaking up the day’s trek and affording better rest, hydration and nutrition.
These considerations reduce duress on the body and actually aid acclimatisation significantly. Where a climber is to opt for a budget climb however, a decent mess tent needs to be excluded from the logistical equation. We do our utmost however, to make you comfortable at meal times, bringing you a tray to your tent with flasks of hot drinks and at least a couple of food courses, and when the weather is good, we are able to take lunch – and sometimes breakfast – en plein air.
Safety equipment on Kilimanjaro
The title is a misleading way to begin this paragraph as it’s an obvious misnomer. Under the care of a well trained guide, it is not equipment that is likely to keep you safe, but the close and knowledgeable attention of an observant guide.
Our guides are trained immediately to descend climbers that evidence having succumbed to anything more serious than severe AMS. In consideration that the swiftness of the decision making process of the relatively inexperienced KAS guide as against a top-end operator’s guides, means that we elect as standard to equip our climbs with supplemental oxygen.
In the case of top-end guides oxygen is virtually never used. Where a guide lacks the necessary experience to identify the early onset of a significantly threatening altitude related condition, it is safest that the guide begin to administer short bursts of supplemental oxygen, in an effort to drive up the climber’s oximetry. Such administration should always accompany descent. Where an on site handover can be coordinated we will usually carry oxygen just for the summit bid.
Unfortunately, there are teams in operation who do not understand the correct use of supplemental when used without a nasal canula at this elevation and who have published misleading information elsewhere on the Internet. To address this, we ask that climbers please understand that supplemental oxygen will never be administered by KAS to a climber to assist their ascent on Kilimanjaro, but only to casualties for whom immediate descent is already judged to be necessary. Doing the opposite is unsafe.
Are our porters well equipped?
We are aware that some climbers have read about the fate of porters who try to work with operations that don’t seem to care about them or know how to look after each other. These cases have very little in common with operations such as ours, but since this is frequently asked, we’ll address the question. Frankly, if one were to ask this question to our porters they would probably be very amused that climbers have such concerns when porters do this work with us professionally on a daily basis, and are trained and paid to look after your welfare.
Yes, the mountain can at times be uncomfortable, but provided one keeps moving with the rest of the team and doesn’t get lost, go static and start losing body heat, then there are not significant threats against a porter’s comfort and safety. The dangers occur where a porter drops off the back of a group, loses the trail in the mist, and isn’t rescued by his team. In this sad event, however well equipped a porter is, in the alpine zone, his chances of survival are limited.
A well targeted question ought instead then, to enquire to what extent the porter teams are able to work well together as a team and look out for each other. In our case, the answer is ‘to a very considerable extent’. While on the subject, we have seen some probably well intended advice offered by foreigners who seem to want to impose their own cultural values and habits on Tanzanians.
With this in mind, we submit that it is a mistake to imagine that porters are comfortable in rugged boots, for example, or with carrying a western design rucksacks on their backs – which is objected to by most porters on the grounds that it shifts their centre of balance unnaturally far forward and places an unhealthy strain on the lower back.
As children most of the porters will have spent most of their time in bare feet carrying water and firewood on their heads, and so in the mountains, provided they keep moving and each stays within communication range of their buddy, they’ll generally be swifter and much more comfortable in more lightweight footwear.
If any readers have difficulty imagining how clothing preferences can vary so widely between different climbers, we would invite them to consider that Rebecca Rees-Evans, the fastest woman to climb Kilimanjaro - until her record of 13 hours 16 minutes was broken four years after setting it - summitted Kilimanjaro in a blizzard in May at 0250 in the middle of the night wearing lightweight tights and running shoes. That said, we certainly do not encourage KAS climbers to follow suit!