We’ve just been contacted by the author of arguably the best Kilimanjaro guidebooks, and it got us thinking. How should you choose who to climb Kili with? And why should you choose RJ7?
Kili treks are a huge industry, with over 40,000 people signing up for the challenge each year. With such a demand, there are literally hundreds of operators offering climbs, and each fighting for a share of the market. These outfits vary from one man bands, through mid-size high-end ground handlers and the biggest operators who squeeze every shilling to maximise profit. It is a minefield and we rightly receive lots of questions from prospective team members.
We have always been proud of our Kilimanjaro operation, so here’s what I’d consider to be a good checklist of what to ask from your tour operator BEFORE booking your trip.
- You get what you pay for
This point is one to always keep at the front of your mind and relates to many of the other points. In such a competitive market, many operators will simply try to offer treks at the lowest price. Clearly, this will always mean compromise, and sadly the knock on effect of this can be dire. Climbing Kili should be a trip of a lifetime, and saving a few hundred pounds may see you sleeping in leaky tents, eating bad food, halving your chance of summiting, violation of the basic human rights of your porters, and very poor medical/ emergency back up.
2. Porter welfare
The abuse of porters on Kilimanjaro is worryingly widespread and sadly it is these men who often bear the brunt of cost cutting by operators. They may be overloaded, poorly equipped, badly fed and under paid. When you see them carrying all of your kit, you would feel ashamed if you thought they were not being fairly rewarded for their incredible hard work. It’s common to see porters sat on a Massai blanket at 10pm shivering outside. This is to save weight and cost of porters, they sleep in the clients dining tent, and therefore have to wait until all the clients have gone to bed before they can sleep or even have some shelter. Also, some of the companies will agree a basic wage for porters, and then deduct food and shelter from that. There is an organisation in place called the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP). They have produced a basic criteria for partner climbing companies to sign up to, which covers things like minimum wages, equipment provided etc. It is a basic list, but a good first step if the company you’re looking at is a member. RJ7 is a full member.
Arguably the single most important aspect of any expedition. Climbing Kilimanjaro, whilst not technical, will expose you to extreme altitude and a relatively fast ascent. We don’t run any climbs of less than 7 days, and to save a few $$ by shaving off a day is a completely false economy. You could count on feeling lousy all summit day, and at worst become very (i.e critically) ill with altitude related illness. Make sure your operator carries bottled oxygen, pulse oximeters, a portable altitude chamber, a comprehensive first aid kit (with trained Guides) and also radios. We do all of this and during the low season our Guides are put through wilderness medical training. Our guides are internationally certified first aid responders. Our porters are also first aid trained.
Sleeping well and being comfortable can make or break your trip. Trying to climb with inadequate kit will make 7 days feel like a very long time if the weather is bad (yes, it does rain and snow on Kili, even when it’s not supposed to!). The nights are cold and a good night’s sleep is invaluable. We use all Mountain Hardwear tents on Kili, the same tents that are used on Mount Everest summit climbs. We also use Mountain Hardwear dining tents for all meals (even lunch), and additionally provide foam mats. To save our team members money, they can even rent brand new, -40c sleeping bags for the duration of the trip.
Our porters also sleep in their own tents, so they can shelter and rest as soon as they arrive at camp.
5. Pre-trip advice, support, and protection
Many trekkers may consider booking their climb direct with a local Tanzanian company. This can be risky and foolhardy on many levels, although there are exceptions to the rule. Firstly, the British traveller is one of the best protected in the world in terms of financial protection. Wiring dollars to a local company is risky and not recommended. We provide all team members with an exhaustive Expedition Travel Pack, which gives every detail about the trip, the itinerary, the destination country, vaccinations, all the way to plug sockets and how many pairs of socks to pack! We also have an office full of trekkers, climbers and travellers who are ready to answer any question about the trip and put your mind at rest. For many of our private teams, we even run training and team building weekends in Snowdonia and the Lake District for a proper shakedown 2 months before departure.
6. Hidden extras
When comparing tour operators it’s vital that you compare apples with apples. For example a 6 day Machame will always cost less than a 7 day Machame, and much less than an 8 day Lemosho. Also ask if airport transfers are included, what accommodation do they provide pre and post climb (and where), what board basis is the time pre and post climb. We use a variety of accommodation in Moshi and Arusha, our favourites are AMEG Lodge (Moshi), Blues&Chutney (Arusha) and Rivertrees (Arusha). We even provide a comprehensive travel insurance policy as standard for every team member.
7. Everything else
Choose your route wisely. We recommend an 8 day ascent via the Lemosho route, however if you are pressed for time, a 7 day Machame is an excellent and cost effective alternative.
A few other good questions to ask when you’re thinking of booking a climb:
- What is the maximum group size?
- What is provided at meal times? Is it a hot lunch on the trail or a snack bag?
- How many share tent and what size is it? (we use 3.5 person tents for 2)
- How many Guides will the team have and what is the ratio on summit day?
This article was put together by RJ7 MD Rhys Jones. Rhys has led seven Kilimanjaro climbs (all to the summit), including a group of amputee soldiers, and a filmed expedition with the first Tanzanian with albinism to reach the summit. Rhys has climbed all over the world, including Mount Everest and the Seven Summits; the highest peaks on all of the World’s seven continents.
RJ7 is a company focused on running expeditions without compromising safety, quality or ethics.