Climbing Africa’s highest mountain unaided
Can you carry your own bags up Kilimanjaro?
By coincidence, over the past few weeks we’ve received several emails on a very similar subject. All of the correspondents want to climb Kilimanjaro. But none of them want all the fuss that goes with it. In other words, they want a climb Kilimanjaro with no porters.
Not only that, but they also want to bring – and cook – their own food, and one of the emails said their group wanted to bring and carry their own tents too.
So is it possible? Well, the truth is that there is no law saying that you can’t climb Kilimanjaro without porters. The park authorities only stipulate that you must sign up with an agency. They in turn must supply you with a licensed guide for every two trekkers.
In other words, you can’t climb Kilimanjaro completely unaided, because you need to go with a guide. But there is nothing to stop you requesting a trek where the service is deliberately minimal. In other words, where you have as smaller crew as possible. To do so, you will of course have to carry your own luggage, and food. You’ll also need to lug your own camping and cooking equipment up too.
Unfortunately, most companies are inflexible (or just plain lazy). They simply can’t be bothered to work out the logistics of such a climb. Instead, they prefer to sell off-the-peg treks rather than anything tailored to the particular needs of a group.
In short, most operators have their way of doing things, and are very reluctant to deviate from that. But there are a couple of companies that are willing to listen to your requirements.
Companies who run ‘porter-free treks’
Of course, I am obliged to begin with our own outfit, Kilimanjaro Experts. We love organising these sort of treks as it gives us a chance to do something a little different. (From a personal point of view, this sort of pared-down trek is also how I most like to trek, wherever I am in the world – and I know a couple of our guides like this style of trekking too.) Just write to us letting us know what sort of trek you want and we’ll build a trek that meets your requirements exactly.
Other companies include Team Kilimanjaro, who run a Lite series of climbs. On these, you agree to carry 12kg of their own luggage and forego the pleasures of a mess tent. They also offer the ascetic-style Superlite. Sign up for this, and you’ll have to provide and carry all your own food and equipment. You’ll also have to make your own way to Arusha from the airport and book your own accommodation.
If you prefer a KPAP company, then Nature Discovery also run Lite and Superlite versions of their treks. (If you’re booking from the States you’ll need to book through their American agent, Thomson.) In this instance, however, they agree to carry the first 8kg of your luggage, so you’ll be required to carry about 7kg.
On their Superlite version, you also miss out on a dining tent (present on their ‘Lite’ treks). Most painfully of all, they don’t even serve you pudding! But on all ND treks you do get WFR-trained guides, a Gamow bag and comprehensive medical kit.
Finally, there’s MEM Tours who offer a ‘Budget’ version of their already budget ‘Deluxe’ treks. On the budget treks you have to carry everything but the first 10kg of your own luggage. No airport transfers or accommodation are included. Note, however, that you save only about US$100 by doing so.
Three points about climbing Kilimanjaro with no porters
1) You don’t save that much money
Firstly, though you should save money adopting this approach, Kilimanjaro is still an expensive mountain to climb. The park fees, transport, airport transfers and hotels (if included) will all cost the same regardless of how you climb Kilimanjaro. And those costs will, of course, be passed on by the trekking company to you. (Please follow this link for details on how to make your trek cheaper – and how not to!)
If you’re bringing your own food and carrying your own stuff, then yes, you’ll save money. That’s obvious, because the agency won’t need to supply any porters or food for your trek. But porters and food are two of the cheapest costs on any trek anyway.
So yes, you’ll save a few hundred dollars. But you’ll still probably be spending over US$1500 for your trek.
Furthermore, some of the items that aren’t included on these stripped-back treks are worth including. Sure, you’ll save around US$35 each way per group by not taking airport transfers. But a taxi from the airport is US$50. So it would be better to take a lift with the trek operator rather than sorting this out yourself.
So, in summary, these pared down budget treks are more for those who just like the idea of challenging themselves by carrying their own luggage. Don’t choose one just because you want to save money – that’s the wrong motive.
2) You should still get a good service
Though the companies deliberately strip these treks back to the bare bones, that doesn’t mean their standards should drop. WHat’s more, some of the features of a company’s regular, pricier treks are often present on their cheaper treks too. This is often the stuff that made their prices so expensive in the first place.
For example, if a company has WFR-trained guides on their ‘normal’ treks, they should also be present on their budget treks. (See Nature Discovery, above). Similarly, if the company is a KPAP partner, then they must obey KPAP’s rigid standards on all of their treks. This means the budget ones too. (Though, of course, the number of porters the company has to pay will be very few, and maybe zero).
3) This style of trek is definitely not for everyone.
Finally, do remember climbing Kilimanjaro is hard. And doing so while carrying 15-20kg or more of luggage is much harder. What’s more, having to erect your own tent and cook your own food at the end of an exhausting day’s trekking can be truly soul-shattering.
4) Climbing Kilimanjaro with no porters does seem to reduce your chances of getting to the top
Finally, we can’t finish this article without pointing out the elephant in the room. Because from our observations on the mountain, those who carry their own luggage struggle more to acclimatise successfully. As a result, their chances of reaching the summit diminish too. That said, I admit I have little to back up this argument. Indeed, the few statistics I’ve seen suggest that clients are equally likely to get to the top whatever level of service they choose.