There is a dangerous aspect to climbing Kilimanjaro, but it is hardly the worst thing you can do

Climbing Kilimanjaro is potentially dangerous. But does that mean all mountaineers are insane? It is all a matter of perception, argues a multiple climber of Mt. Kilimanjaro and the author of this article.


Madaraka Nyerere is the coordinator of the Butiama Cultural Tourism Enterprise and has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro nine times. Standing at 5,895m, Mt. Kilimanjaro is the world’s tallest free-standing mountain, Africa’s highest peak, and a UNESCO World Heritage site.


As I began my 8-day hike towards the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro on my first climb in 2008, I was keenly aware I faced the greatest challenge of my life. Not only did I lack any mountaineering experience, my initial research on the mountain revealed some unsettling facts.

Of the thousands of tourists who climb the mountain every year – there were 52,000 in 2013 – only 45 percent reach the summit. And between 3 and 7 climbers die trying every year. Not encouraging news for a first-time climber.

Why would someone want to put oneself in such danger? I had my reasons. I chose to climb Kilimanjaro after spending years saying “no” to the question: “have you climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro?” In addition, some researchers had concluded that by 2020 Global Warming would have melted away the mountain’s glaciers, and I felt an urge to see those glaciers before they vanished.

On that first climb I was accompanied by Le Huynh, who had concluded a string of extreme hikes, including one to Mt. Everest’s base camp. The base camp is higher than the peak of Kilimanjaro. As a warm up to our joint climb, he hiked up Mt. Meru (4,562m).

We chose the low-traffic Lemosho route for our climb and with each day on the mountain I gained more confidence of reaching the summit. However, we frequently discussed options for improving my chances of reaching the summit.

And so it was that, instead of the more challenging midnight departure for the summit from the base camp, Barafu (4,800m), we chose a morning departure. I had an excellent guide and reached the summit on the afternoon of 24 August.

We spent the night at Crater camp in the freezing temperatures on Kilimanjaro’s crater floor. It was one of the worst nights that I had experienced. The bottled water I kept in my tent was partly frozen in the morning. We chose one of the most dangerous spots to spend the night, exposing ourselves to the severe effects of high altitude sickness.

I left home having summoned the courage to face a formidable challenge, but lacked the strength of character to face the failure to reach the summit. So I kept secret my decision to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Before reaching the summit I decided that, if I succeeded, I would return to climb again. And I would encourage as many friends and family members as possible to join me.

I changed my mind after realizing the considerable challenge of reaching the summit.

Anyone who trains regularly and is reasonably fit can reach the summit with relative ease. Here’s the problem: most of the people I know do not train regularly and are not reasonably fit. And even those who have ample time to prepare themselves ahead of the climb do not.

I regularly read articles on climbing Kilimanjaro suggesting it is easy. For the unprepared, it is not and can be fatal. In fact, sometimes even the most experienced climbers fail to reach the summit.

So, rather than endanger the excellent relations I have with my friends and relatives, I have not become the active promoter of Kilimanjaro climbs that I opted to become. When asked I offer tips and suggestions on pre-climb training to help those who seek to enjoy, rather than regret, the experience of climbing Kilimanjaro.

I have climbed the mountain in various states of preparedness, from none to adequate. In all those conditions, I normally experience a challenging moment during the climb when I ask myself: “what am I doing here?”

I have a ready answer. Most of my climbs raise donations for charitable causes.


Here’s my full account of my first climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro:


I recall seeing a clip of a documentary featuring an extreme adventurer exposing himself to the harsh winter conditions of the Alaskan wilderness. Asked why he risked his safety he said: “If you have to ask that question, you can never understand my answer.”

Having faced, on multiple occasions, the challenge of reaching Uhuru Peak, and having returned to the mountain nine times to face the same challenge, I can relate to his response. You either enjoy it, or you don’t; there’s no half-way point.

Crazy? It is all a matter of perception. Are smokers crazy, inhaling their health away, one puff at a time? You decide.