There are many reasons why people’s summit attempts fail on Kilimanjaro. In this post, we will cover the top five reasons people do not make it to the summit of Kilimanjaro.
1. Altitude Sickness
By far, the most common reason people fail on Kilimanjaro is due to altitude sickness. At high elevations, nearly everyone will experience some symptoms of altitude sickness. Most of the time these symptoms are mild levels of altitude sickness include a headache, nausea, lack of appetite, dizziness, and lethargy. This is normal.
Yet, when symptoms begin to worsen to higher levels of the illness, climbers should not go any higher as their bodies are not adapting to the altitude. The best way to reduce the chances of getting altitude sickness is to book your climb on a longer route. Doing so will give your body extra days to acclimatize and in turn increase your success rate. That is why we prefer the 8 Day Lemosho and 9 Day Northern Routes over the 6 Day Rongai or 7 Day Machame. These routes add an extra rest day which increases your probability of success by about 20% for each day added.
Other ways of decreasing the chance of developing altitude sickness are to use ALTOX Personal Oxygen Systems, to pre-acclimatize with a high altitude training system, and/or to use Diamox on the mountain. Altitude sickness can be fatal if precautions aren’t taken or symptoms are not recognized. That’s why we use only experienced, medically trained guides. Our guide’s training allows them to recognize and treat altitude sickness.
2. Untrained Guides
We believe that the operator you choose to climb Kilimanjaro with is the most important factor in making the summit. Guides who are inexperienced and not properly trained, not only decrease your chances of making the summit, they also put your life at risk.
Our guides have summited over 300 times and have worked for us for over 10 years. They have seen everything the mountain can do to a person and know what to do when the need arises. This includes knowing how to deal with elevation, food and water intake, injury prevention, handling adverse weather, and pace-setting. As mentioned above, altitude sickness is the main obstacle to a successful climb. Solid, well-trained guides know how to prevent and treat altitude sickness. By doing health checks and with careful monitoring of each client, our guides can act immediately if they notice a person may not be acclimatizing. The best guides on the mountain will increase your chances of summiting.
3. Lack of Training
It should be no surprise that trekking to 19,341 feet is not easy. Hiking for several days at elevation is very strenuous. Most days you will hike between 4-6 hours. The trail is steep in areas and it is over uneven, rocky terrain. It can be hot one day and cold and rainy the next. You will start in the rainforest and hike up through different climate zones like the heather/moorland, alpine desert, and artic. The summit day is the most difficult. You will wake up at 11 PM, eat and begin your summit attempt. It will be cold, dark, and windy. After several hours of this, the sun will rise about the time you reach Stella Point lifting your spirits.
From here you have an additional hour of climbing to achieve your goal. Once you reach the top, you’ll take a short break for snacks and a photo shoot. You’ll then begin your descent back down to base camp for a brief stay to eat and to take a nap.
Once you have rested, you’ll descend for several more hours to a much lower-elevation camp. It is this long day that can wear on even the most avid hiker. Summit day can be both difficult and mentally challenging. It takes a good degree of fitness to complete a Kilimanjaro climb.
Fitness comes from training. We understand that it is not always easy trying to find the time to get to the gym or to go hike. But, to get yourself in peak condition, try training 12 weeks before your climb. Use the Stair Master or elliptical and/or go for a good 5-8 mile hike at least once a week to start. Add a few more miles each week, so you are consistently hiking around 12 miles. As you build your stamina add weight to your pack.
4. Lack of Food or Water
At high altitudes, your body is working hard just to function. That means it is using a lot of calories and water in the process. One must continue to eat and drink good amounts to replenish your body. What usually occurs is that people are okay the first few days, even when not eating and drinking enough. However, as the oxygen levels begin to deplete, the culmination of calories burned and water usage and even lack of sleep begin to take their toll. A trekker can become more and more tired as each day passes which in turn also affects their ability to continue acclimatizing.
Your guides will always remind you to drink and eat as much as possible, even if you do not feel hungry. We also believe that bringing an electrolyte powder mix is very helpful for recovery after long days.
5. Injuries and Other Illnesses
Finally, when hiking over many days, it is not unusual for some injuries to occur. A twisted ankle, blisters, or swollen joints can end your Kilimanjaro climb if hiking becomes too painful. If you have known physical challenges, it is prudent to take action to counteract them. For instance, bringing sock liners, extra socks, and a blister kit to stop blisters from forming or getting worse. Additionally, use trekking poles to ease the impact on problematic joints. Wear high boots for better ankle support. Maintain good hygiene on the mountain. Stomach issues are quite common on the mountain. Always wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after using the toilet or before eating to prevent getting germs.
In the end, people turn back for a variety of reasons. It is a shame to spend so much time and money only to fail. To avoid this scenario, go with a reputable company that has a high success rate and experienced guides. Climb with Kilimanjaro Sunrise and our guides will do everything they can to make sure you safely make it to the summit.