Minimizing your environmental impact on Kilimanjaro
KINAPA does try to keep Kilimanjaro clean. At all huts and most campsites, every trekking group must have its rubbish weighed by the ranger and if there’s any evidence that some rubbish has been dumped (ie if the rubbish carried weighs less at one campsite than it did at the previous one) then the guide could have his licence temporarily revoked and/or have to pay a heavy fine. It’s a system that would appear to have many loopholes but until recently Kili was a very clean mountain and it also remains the only one where we’ve seen porters and guides voluntarily walk fifty yards from the trail to pick up a discarded water bottle or sweet wrapper. And though it can be a little frustrating to have to wait for your guide every morning while the rubbish is weighed, it’s a small price to pay for a pristine peak.
Unfortunately, standards appear to have slipped recently and there is now serious concern amongst trekking agents and environmentalists about the state of some of the trails. While it’s easy to blame the authorities for the parlous state of Lemosho and other routes, trekkers are just as culpable. After all, much of it is our rubbish.
You can help Kilimanjaro become beautiful once more by following these simple rules that apply to almost every mountain anywhere in the world:
Dispose of litter properly
In theory, all you should have to do is give your litter to your ‘staff’: given the stiff punishments they receive for leaving rubbish behind (see above), this should ensure all waste is taken off the mountain. Unfortunately, despite all the cleaning crews and the weighing stations at each campsite, the litter situation is getting worse. Whatever you decide to do, don’t give used batteries to porters; keep them with you and take them back to the West where they have the facilities to dispose of them properly (the batteries that is, not the porters).
Don’t start fires
For some reason, many trekkers feel that lighting a fire and sitting around it in the evening is an integral part of the whole camping experience.
But Kilimanjaro still bears plenty of scars from damage caused by out-of-control fires.
There’s absolutely no need to light a fire on Kilimanjaro.For cooking, your guides and porters should use kerosene, while for heat, put another layer of clothes on, or cuddle up to somebody who doesn’t mind being cuddled up to.
Boil, filter or purify your drinking water
This will help to reduce the number of non-returnable, non-reusable, non-biodegradable and very non-environmentally friendly plastic mineral water bottles that are used on Kili.
Use the purpose-built latrines on Kilimanjaro
True, some of them could do with emptying (especially the central toilet at the Barranco campsite, which is now so full that the pile of human waste is in danger of developing a snowy cap all of its own), but this is still better than having piles of poo behind all the bushes on the trail and toilet paper hanging from every bough.
If the situation is really urgent and you cannot wait until you reach one of the purpose-built latrines along the way, deliberate before you defecate: firstly, make sure you’re at least 20m away from both the path and any streams or rivers – the mountain is still the main source of water for many villages and the people who live there would prefer it if you didn’t crap in their H2O. Secondly, take a plastic spade or trowel with you so you can dig a hole to squat over, and cover this hole with plenty of earth when you’ve finished. And finally, dispose of your toilet paper properly, by either burning it (the preferable method) or, if this is not feasible, by putting it in the hole you’ve just dug and covering it with plenty of soil.
One reader has written in to say that it’s very difficult to burn soggy toilet paper. My editor, however, has conducted a controlled experiment and gives this advice: ‘If you light the dry corner of partially wet loo paper and twirl it round so the flame dries the wet bit it does all burn up’. Give it a go next time you need to, err, go. The reader does, in fact, go on to say that trekkers should adopt the ‘pack it in – pack it out’ method, ie to double-bag toilet paper (preferably in a ziplock bag) and take it out of the park; and this, to be fair, is the best way to keep Kili pristine and paper-free.
Leave Kilimanjaro’s flora and fauna alone
Kili is home to some beautiful flowers and fascinating wildlife, but the giant groundsels rarely thrive in the soils of Europe and the wild buffalo, though they may look docile when splashing about in the streams of Kili, have an awful temper that makes them quite unsuitable as pets.
It’s illegal to take the flora or fauna out of the park. And there’s a reason for it. Much of the nature you see on the mountain is rare and has adapted over the millennia to survive the unique conditions of Kilimanjaro.
So leave it all alone; that way, other trekkers can enjoy them too.
Stay on the trails
The continued use of shortcuts, particularly steep ones, erodes the slopes. This is particularly true on Kibo: having reached the summit, it’s very tempting on your return to slide down on the shale like a skier and you’ll see many people, especially guides, doing just that. There’s no doubt that it’s a fast, fun and furious way to get to the bottom, but with thousands of trekkers doing likewise every year, the slopes of Kibo are gradually being eroded as all the scree gets pushed further down the mountain. Laborious as it sounds, stick to the same snaking path that you used to ascend.
Wash away from streams and rivers
You wouldn’t like to bathe in somebody else’s bathwater; nor, probably, would you like to cook with it, do your laundry in it, nor indeed drink it. And neither would the villagers on Kili’s lower slopes, so don’t pollute their water by washing your hair, body or clothes in the mountain streams, no matter how romantic an idea this sounds. If your guide is halfway decent he will bring some hot water in a bowl at the end of the day’s walk for you to wash with. Dispose of it at least 20m away from any streams or rivers.
For more information on this subject, check out the following article: Africa Travel Magazine article on keeping the mountain clean.