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.
Percentage of Deaths
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; it’s practically zero. Put another way, there is only one death per 3,333 climbers.
How does this compare to other high peaks? Below is a graph showing the percentage of deaths to successful summits on notable mountains such as Everest, K2 and Annapurna, all of which as peaks taller than 8,000 meters in the Himalayan Mountain Range.
As you can see, some of these mountains have rates greater than 20%. That means for every five successful summits, there is one death. Everest has a 4% fatality rate.
Most people who die on Kilimanjaro succumb to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), also known as altitude sickness. While scary, this is a manageable risk. Typically the sickness gradually becomes worse, giving the stricken climber ample time to turn around. AMS subsides quickly when you go to a lower elevation.
A good Kilimanjaro operator will have experienced guides who are medically trained to help you manage AMS should it occur. You definitely want to do your research to find a quality guide. This decision may literally save your life.
The Kilimanjaro company that I recommend, Peak Planet, is ultra focused on the safety of its clients. When I was on the mountain, it was apparent how carefully our guides watched us. They recorded our pulse rate, oxygen saturation levels, and listened to our lungs twice a day!
In addition they continuously asked how we felt and watched how we hiked. Because of this, our guides knew how people were feeling through the entire climb. They were very aware of the degree of AMS people have, if any, and when it is time to stop ascending.
Note that not all operators have this level of care and expertise. If you take a look at Peak Planet’s safety practices below, you will see just how serious they approach the matter.
Peak Planet’s Safety Practices
- Our guides are certified Wilderness First Responders (WFR)
- Our training and safety program was developed by IFREMMONT, a European-based high altitude medical training organization
- We have established protocols for handling emergencies on the mountain
- We conduct twice daily health checks using a pulse oximeter and stethoscope to measure pulse, temperature, blood pressure and oxygen saturation
- Our guides are equipped with Garmin inReach Explorer, a satellite communication device, for real time location tracking and communication
- ALTOX Personal Oxygen Systems, which reduce the likelihood of altitude sickness, are available for rent
- We carry emergency oxygen on all climbs to combat serious cases of altitude sickness
- We carry portable stretcher to quickly evacuate climbers who are unable to walk on their own
- We carry first aid kits to treat minor injuries such as blisters, cuts and abrasions
- We can initiate helicopter evacuation through Kilimanjaro Search & Rescue for severely injured or ill climbers
If you value your health and safety (who doesn’t?), I strongly recommend you climb with Peak Planet. This company has the right protocols in place in case there is an emergency on Kilimanjaro. I felt safe 100% of the time and had complete trust in my guides.
Being at high elevations can put added stress on the heart. Patients with known severe cardiac diseases (including severe angina, heart failure, or valve disease) should not visit high altitudes. Changes in altitude can affect factors like blood pressure, potentially worsening existing heart conditions.
But what about those with lesser heart or respiratory conditions? It is debatable. Given the physical exertion of climbing, people with any heart or cardiovascular issues are at a greater risk while on the mountain. Unfortunately, some climbers die due to pre-existing heart conditions that were unknown to the climber, but exposed during the trek.
It is pretty important 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. I don’t recommend using this route on the mountain for this reason.
The Bottom Line: Climbing Kilimanjaro is Safe
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.
To put this in perspective, 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). Kilimanjaro is relatively safe, so if you have an interest in climbing, just do it!