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Sunrise from the top of Mount Meru
One day, one day someone will come in to work and tell me they need new boots or a sleeping bag because they’re going to climb Mount Meru, and I will have to try not to cry because they could be going to climb Kili and they’re not.
My uncle and one of my cousins climbed Kilimanjaro a month or two ago. They were the first of 450 people to reach the summit that day. Allow for the people who didn’t make it to the top and you have easily 500 people. Allow for the people who are on the first, second, third, fourth day of their trek, and there are some 2,500 people on Kili on that day (and I don’t even know whether this includes porters). And this happens day after day, week after week, across the walking seasons.
Of course I’m not of the opinion that no-one should climb Kilimanjaro. Important money ends up in the tourism-heavy local economy. The place is valued. It’s kept relatively clean - there are fines enforced by the park authorities - and the trekking routes are defined and maintained, so the impact on the mountain is controlled somewhat. Even so, I still think that it should be a considered decision.
- Look into alternatives. Want a technical challenge? Mt Kenya is a more demanding climb. Something exciting? Climb Ol Doiyno Lengai - it’s an active volcano. Something enchanting? Mount Meru is quieter, and you get to watch the sun rise over Kilimanjaro from the summit. Summit-bagging? Go for Mont Blanc. A dedicated walker? Go to Drakensberg, or the Simiens, or the Usumbaras or Udzungwas…
- Look into different operators, and make sure as much of your money as possible stays in Tanzania. Ideally, go straight to a local company in Arusha or Moshi.
- Consider which route you will take - they’re different lengths, different difficulties, different walks. Some are more trekked than others. Some have huts, others are camping-only. Look them up, read about the differences. Think about the implications of the different routes - how much money trickles down into the local economy; how heavily it’s walked; what the impact is on the mountain.
- If you’re spending time in Tanzania before or after the walk, remember that there’s more to the country than the Ngorongoro Crater and Zanzibar. Don’t get automatically sucked into this pattern. If it’s what you want to do, fine, but what about the rest? Why choose them over Lake Manyara, Tarangire, Ruaha, Saadani, the Selous, Mafia Island, Kilwa? Look at the scope for going to other, incredible, places.
If you want to do a charity trek:
- How does the organised charity trek weigh up against going independently? How does the cost of the charity trek balance against the money you hope to raise? (E.g. if you want to pay £3000 to go and hope to raise £1000 for charity, you might as well give them £3000 straight up and be done with it. If you want to go on holiday, that’s a different matter - travel yourself, pay £1500, and give the remaining £1500 away…)
- Who are you helping? How? Is it ok to have what could be a negative impact on the environment of your destination in order to support an unrelated charity or organisation back home?
- If you want to support a local Tanzanian project, think about whether climbing Kili is really the best way to go about it. Chances are there’s scope to do better work by fundraising from home, or volunteering, or providing materials or resources or training…
Remember that Kilimanjaro is a fragile environment. I’ve seen estimates that anything from 20-40,000 people set out to climb it each year, and for each person there’s an average of 2.5 staff - guides, porters, cooks… Each week I can easily speak to half a dozen people in work who are planning on climbing Kili. Please, please don’t choose to climb Kili simply because someone drops the option into your lap. Remember that there are other mountains, other adventures out there. Remember that there are other ways to challenge yourself and to make a difference. Think critically about your actions, the decisions you make, and the impact they have.
(FWIW, my feelings about going to Everest base camp are similar.)