Easy Travel COVID-19 safety measures on mount Kilimanjaro
For us at Easy Travel, safety always comes first on our list of priorities. And it’s not just about mountain safety, because following the global pandemic, we have trained our Mountain Guides thoroughly in prevention against COVID-19. As a responsible company, we rigorously follow the new standard operating procedures developed by the Tanzanian Government and added our own preventative measures, too.
All of those who choose to climb Kilimanjaro with Easy Travel can rest assured that we take all the precautions necessary to safeguard the health of all our staff and our climbers. You can see all the detailed operating procedures that we follow, as well as specific procedures concerning matters such as transfer vehicles, pre-trip briefings, health checks, accommodation and camping equipment, click here
Altitude sickness: What to know
Altitude sickness is the general term used to describe a group of symptoms that affect those who climb to high altitude, too quickly without being sufficiently acclimatized.
As you climb, your Easy Travel team will be watching you, monitoring your health on the mountain. Why? The higher you climb, the less the amount of oxygen you breathe in. It’s this that causes acute mountain sickness (AMS), altitude sickness and can result in high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). Make no mistake, the effects of altitude can be fatal if problems are not identified and treated promptly.
And don’t think ‘oh. It won’t happen to me’, as three-quarters of climbers will suffer from at least some form of AMS once they are above 2,500 metres.
Every individual climber is affected differently by the altitude, though generally problems start above 2,500 metres. Your mountain team will be looking for symptoms, typically headaches, giddiness, vomiting, fatigue and trouble with getting to sleep. If the condition worsens, the sufferer can become disorientated, confused and suffer severe shortage of breath.
Why altitude sickness happens on Kilimanjaro?
Any time you climb above a height of 2,500 metres (approx. 8,000 feet), you are at risk of suffering from altitude sickness.
For those who live at high altitude, there is little risk as their bodies have already adapted to the conditions. But for visitors who come to climb Kilimanjaro, it takes time for them to adapt to the reduction in barometric pressure at altitude. It is this reduced air pressure that makes breathing more difficult.
Types of altitude sickness
Typically, altitude sickness is categorised as follows
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
Correctly referred to as acute mountain sickness (AMS), but commonly known as altitude sickness, this condition results from a person being exposed to high altitudes. Usually, this occurs above 2500 metres (approx. 8000 feet). Most climbers are not accustomed to such altitudes and as a result, they react negatively, exhibiting symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, a ‘hangover’ sensation, and aching muscles. These are all unpleasant, but if not identified at an early stage and treated correctly, it can become much, much more serious.
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)
HAPE occurs when fluid enters the lungs through their capillary walls, resulting in a reduction in oxygen exchange and then a consequent decrease in the bloodstream’s oxygen levels. Brain function becomes reduced and death can occur. Indications that HAPE has occurred include coughing up white frothy fluid, irrational behavior/apparent confusion, shortness of breath and fatigue, and chest tightness. At night, a sensation of suffocation may be experienced.
Although descending the required 600 metres is essential, sufferers will still require to be taken to a hospital or clinic for monitoring and treatment.
High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)
Also associated with AMS is HACE, which occurs when fluid leaks into the brain causing brain tissue to swell. Once again, this condition is potentially fatal, with an immediate descent of the mountain required, with a follow-up treatment at a hospital/clinic. The symptoms of HACE include severe headaches, memory loss, confusion, psychotic episodes/hallucinations, loss of consciousness and even coma.
What are the symptoms of altitude sickness?
You may be young or old, super fit or in average condition, male or female, but AMS will not necessarily leave you alone! AMS can be mild or severe, so here are some of the symptoms you need to recognise and bring to the attention of your Easy Travel Mountain Guide to ensure problems do not become a disaster. Although each climber is different, and there are no hard-and-fast rules about how AMS might happen, here is how it might progress:
In its mildest of forms, AMS might produce the following symptoms, which can typically occur a few hours after reaching altitude:
A loss of appetite
Shortness of breath
It is common for symptoms to begin to show between 12 and 24 hours after the climber reaches high altitude. As the body adjusts to the thinner air at high altitude, normally after a day or two, improvement can be expected.
Remember the golden rule, namely, to tell your mountain guides if you experience any of the above symptoms. Further continued acclimatization should see these symptoms reduce and there should be no need to stop the ascent, as long as you take it slowly.
Of course, the AMS might become worse and the following symptoms can indicate the onset of moderate AMS :
Nausea and vomiting
Increased severity of headache
Ataxia, which in layman’s terms means that co-ordination of movement becomes difficult
A tightening in your chest
Once these symptoms occur, the only option on the mountain is to descend, if advanced medication is not available. (Note that ataxia can result in the sufferer becoming incapable of walking unaided, so prompt reaction is required to avoid an evacuation by stretcher). A descent of around 300 metres in altitude is usually sufficient to allow the climber some recovery; a day of extra acclimatization at the lower altitude will produce a substantial recovery.
Descent at this stage is essential, as continuing to climb will lead to the AMS becoming severe. Severe AMS can be fatal. Two potentially fatal conditions are associated with this severe stage, HAPE and HACE. In both cases the lack of oxygen results in leakage of fluid through the capillary walls into either the lungs or the brain.
A sufferer of severe AMS like HAPE and HACE will demonstrate the above symptoms plus:
An inability to walk unaided
Difficulty in breathing, even when trying to rest
Fluid entering into the lungs
A reduction of mental ability
A cough that produces a white or pink frothy substance
An immediate descent of the mountain is required, if this severe stage is reached. And the descent has to be further, down by 600 metres at least.
Who gets altitude sickness on Kilimanjaro?
We often associate the word ‘sickness’ with a lack of fitness, or bad diet, or ‘not looking after yourself.’ But it is important to understand that anyone can get altitude sickness, even the fittest person can suffer. While we at Easy Travel can do much to try and prevent our climbers from getting it, it is often genetic factors – beyond anyone’s control – that determine whether, and how much, someone might be affected.
Other factors that influence your likelihood of getting altitude sickness are the altitude at which you live (if you normally live at altitude, your body will have adapted to some extent); your age (for once, being older has some advantage, as younger climbers are more susceptible to altitude sickness) and whether you have had altitude sickness previously.
It’s impossible to change many of the factors above, but we can reduce the risk by the way we plan the climb and how we execute it. Taking it slowly up the mountain is crucial, as it allows climbers to gradually adapt to the altitude. Sleeping at an altitude lower than the highpoint of your day’s climb is another good piece of advice. With our years of expertise of climbing Kilimanjaro, we at Easy Travel know how to reduce the risk.
How to prevent altitude sickness on Kilimanjaro?
While there is no fool-proof way of preventing altitude sickness, we have set out below the guidance which will give you the best chance of avoiding it. Following this guidance is really, really important – we strongly suggest that you read it carefully.
How Easy Travel can help you to prevent altitude sickness
For many climbers, the concept of altitude sickness is entirely new and perhaps a bit frightening. We at Easy Travel have over 35 years of experience and with a summit success rate of 98.5%, we have the expertise to help you avoid altitude sickness. Of course, as it affects every climber in a different way, there are no guarantees. But here’s how Easy Travel help thousands of climbers every year to avoid getting it.
We ensure that your trip is the right length. Some operators will promise to take you to the summit in less days than we recommend. But rapid ascent is a sure-fire way of failing to acclimatize you properly and this will hugely increase your risk of suffering the effects of altitude. Your body can adapt to altitude, but it needs to be given enough time to do so.
Pace while climbing
We ensure that your pace is appropriate, for the same reason. Over-exertion increases your chances of AMS, and therefore of failing to reach the summit.
Daily health checks
We carry out proper daily health checks using specialist equipment.
Staying properly hydrated
We ensure you are staying properly hydrated at every stage of the climb, as dehydration is ill-advisable when climbing.
Trained and experienced mountain guides
We have trained, experienced Mountain guides who really care about you.
Attention from the team
We have enough staff in our mountain team, ensuring every one of our climbers gets sufficient individual attention. This means they will spot any problems early on; it also means that, if a climber has to descend, we have the staff to accompany them.
Safety systems and procedures
We have well-designed, well-rehearsed safety systems and procedures in place. If something goes wrong at altitude, you want to be confident that your mountain team can handle it. No ‘ifs,’ no ‘buts,’ no indecision, no shortcuts on safety.
Some climbers ask us whether we carry a Gamow Bag, which is a portable hyperbaric chamber, on our Kilimanjaro climbs. A Gamow Bag is used for a climber suffering from AMS and simulates descent. Actual descent is the most effective response to AMS, so we do not routinely carry these bags. We can provide a Gamow Bag as an option, at extra cost. If this is of interest, please enquire when making your reservation.
How you can help yourself to prevent altitude sickness
As we have said already, the human body can adapt to altitude, but you have to help it. Here’s how you can:
Book with a responsible operator
Choose a responsible operator for your climb, one who does not cut costs and rush you up the mountain.
Choose an itinerary which has a rest day built into the climb. This extra day can increase your chances of success by nearly one-third!
Choose an itinerary which involves – where possible – sleeping at a lower altitude than the highpoint of the day’s climb. This is a great help to the acclimatization process.
Listen to your mountain guide
If there is only one phrase of Swahili to learn on Kilimanjaro, then it’s definitely ‘pole pole’ or ‘slowly, slowly.’ This is the only sensible pace at which to ascend, and it is crucial to your chances of reaching the summit. So, do listen to the guides’ advice: it just has to be ‘pole pole’ all the way to the top.
Focus on breathing
Breathe deeply, breathe slowly. In everyday life, we take breathing for granted, but here you should really focus on it.
Keep well hydrated, taking on at least 4 litres of fluids every day you’re on the climb. And avoid alcohol, tobacco and any drugs with a depressant effect (even sleeping tablets), as these can contribute to altitude sickness.
Keep your calorie-count high, eating well to keep energy levels up.
Be honest about your health
When your guides ask: ‘How are you feeling?’ you must be 100% honest, alerting them to any symptoms which might be evidence of altitude sickness. If your symptoms suggest that you are suffering from moderate altitude sickness, then you should halt your ascent. If they get worse, you’ll have to descend to allow recovery.
Some climbers choose to use Diamox (acetazolamide) which is taken in tablet form and can help to prevent and treat altitude sickness. Diamox is not beneficial to all climbers: it simply does not work for everyone. Its function is to allow a greater amount of oxygen into the bloodstream. It is advisable to consult your doctor at home and to try it out at home before bringing it to Tanzania and relying on it for your climb. Diamox can cause side-effects, so it is essential to know about these beforehand. Easy Travel remains neutral on Diamox, as tests have been inconclusive. As an alternative, some climbers choose ibuprofen, commonly available in many countries without prescription and usually without side effects.
How to treat altitude sickness
The first priority is to prevent climbers from getting altitude sickness, but at Easy Travel we are totally realistic: some climbers will inevitably suffer symptoms. The first such symptom is often a headache. If this is accompanied by other symptoms, then this could mean that you have altitude sickness. In severe cases, this may result in a need for medical attention.
It is very important that any symptoms are identified early, and our mountain crew members are constantly monitoring all of our climbers for the tell-tale signs of altitude sickness.. It is also vital that all climbers are 100% open and honest with the mountain crew members. Ignoring symptoms, or being less then truthful about how you feel, could be dangerous – even fatal.
The ‘treatment’ for mild cases of altitude sickness is both obvious and straightforward. Quite simply, the affected climber must be accompanied down to a lower altitude without delay. If the symptoms are more severe, then the climber will be taken down to an altitude of less than 1300 meters (4000 feet).
Different measures are required in more severe cases. If you are identified as suffering from high altitude cerebral edema (HACE), then it is possible that you will need dexamethasone, which is a steroid. If you have high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), you will need to be administered with supplemental oxygen. There is a chance that you will need medication and you will certainly need to see a doctor, maybe even having to be admitted to hospital.