If you tell your loved ones that you are climbing Kilimanjaro, most people become concerned for your safety. “Don’t people die there?” they ask.
Although there are risks in climbing such a high mountain, your loved ones need not be so worried for you. Here’s why. Some 30,000 people climb Kilimanjaro every year, and the reported number of tourists deaths is about 10 fatalities per year. That is a only 0.03% chance of death. Or 1 death per 3,333 climbers.
Most die due to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), also known as altitude sickness. This is a manageable risk as typically sickness gradually becomes worse, giving the stricken climber ample time to turn around. AMS subsides when you go to a lower elevation. A solid Kilimanjaro operator will have experienced guides to help you manage AMS should it occur. The Kilimanjaro companies I recommend carefully watch the climbers so they know the degree of AMS people have, if any, and know when it is time to stop ascending.
Some climbers die due to heart problems – a pre-existing condition that was exposed during the trek. Given the physical exertion of climbing, people with cardiovascular conditions can be in danger while on the mountain. That is why it is best that everyone get checked out by their doctor before they come to Tanzania. Make sure you are healthy enough to do a high altitude trek.
Lastly, some get killed by rockfall. Though this appears to be a random event, there are some places where rockfall can be more frequent. So if you avoid these paths, you also eliminate most of this risk. Rockfall has killed people on the Western Breach more than at any other place.
Taken together, you can see why Kilimanjaro is NOT very dangerous. Most of the dangers can be mitigated before your trip by selecting the right operator, selecting the right route, and by getting yourself checked out by a doctor.
BOTTOM LINE: CLIMBING KILIMANJARO IS SAFE
Compare Kilimanjaro’s death rate (1 in 3,333) to dying in car accident (1 in 491), dying from heart disease (1 in 174), and dying from firearms (1 in 355) and you will see that Kilimanjaro is relatively safe. Mountains like Mount Everest have death rates of 10% (1 climber dies for every 10 successful ascents to the summit).