Monday, March 4, 2013

Getting Ready For A Kilimanjaro Safari

By Marion Peters

A Kilimanjaro Safari promises a bold adventure for the bolder sort of tourist, taking them to a site world-famous since the African interior has been known to the outside world. It is Africa's highest mountain and Tanzania's leading tourist destination. Among other things that makes this mountain stand apart from among the world's other famous mountains is that, with its relatively easy slope, it is accessible to walking tours.

Fortunately, almost any reasonably fit person can reach the summit of the mountain at Uhuru Point, at an altitude of 16,771 feet. Of course, it can become a challenge to become that reasonably fit person, and 41% of those who begin the walk don't make it. To the average tourist, Tanzania is pretty far from home, and there's no sense making that long a trip only to fail to reach the summit.

While there is no danger of falling off the edge of the mountain, the altitude itself presents dangers. In fact, anyone 55 or older should consult a doctor to see if the attempt is safe. The problem is that the summit is above the altitude at which the human body will suffer ill effects from scarcity of air, including Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS), High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE).

Altitude Mountain Sickness or "altitude bends" sufferers experience any one or several of a range of symptoms, from a tingling sensation in their fingers and toes to dizziness and nausea. Fatigue is also common. AMS isn't very dangerous in itself, but it can be deadly if it further develops into either HAPE or HACE. In any of them, the "A" stands for "altitude", and above 8000 feet, altitude can be dangerous.

There is no way, unfortunately, to predict who will or will not suffer the effects high altitude and low-density air. Fortunately, it is possible to train one's body before the trip in order to mitigate the prospect of development any of these problems. Ideally, one should train for at least eight weeks to get oneself into trekking shape until it is possible to walk 50 miles within a week all while carrying a weighted backpack.

It is vital to pack correctly for the trek, since the elements can be unpredictable and one must account for water and nourishment. Everything from shirts to socks must be able to keep one warm whether dry or wet. A spare pare of shoelaces can make a big difference if a shoelace snaps somewhere on a remote trail.

At least there is one sense in which the mountain is forgiving. It has six distinct approaches to select from, based upon whether a particular tourist wants to emphasize scenery or ease of travel. These range from the relatively easy, four or five night Marangu to the challenging but highly scenic six to seven day Machame.

Though its altitude is nearly that of the Andes or even the Himalayas, the "White Mountain" can be walked. It doesn't demand the grappling hooks and cleated boots of the serious mountaineer. This makes it attractive to tourists from across the world. However, it would be a mistake to underestimate the dangers presented by the altitude. A little preparation goes a long way in getting the most out of a Kilimanjaro safari.

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