Minimizing your environmental impact on Kilimanjaro

It’s vitally important we do our best to look after Kilimanjaro. For its part, KINAPA (the park authorities) does try to keep the mountain clean. At huts and campsites, trekking groups have their rubbish weighed by the ranger. He is looking for any evidence that rubbish has been dumped (ie if the rubbish carried weighs less at one campsite than it did at the previous one). If he finds this evidence, then the guide could have his licence temporarily revoked and/or have to pay a heavy fine.

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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.

Buffalo are not suitable as pets - see below

Buffalo – not suitable as pets (see below)

Unfortunately, standards appear to have slipped recently. As a result, 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 the mountain, trekkers are equally culpable. After all, much of it is our rubbish.

You can help Kilimanjaro become beautiful once more by following these seven simple rules. The rules are just common sense, and apply to almost every mountain anywhere in the world.

Seven simple rules for looking after Kilimanjaro

Everyone wants to minimise their environmental impact on the mountain. Here are some simple rules to follow so you can do your bit.

1) Dispose of litter properly

In theory, all you should have to do is give your litter to your crew. Given the stiff punishments they receive for leaving rubbish behind, this should ensure all waste is taken off the mountain.

That said, don’t give used batteries to the porter whose job it is to collect your litter. Keep them with you and take them back to the West where we have the facilities to dispose of them properly (the batteries that is, not the porter).

2) Don’t start fires

Fire damage Machame

Porters walking past fire damage on the second day of the Machame Route

Many trekkers feel that lighting a fire in the evening and sitting around it is an integral part of the whole camping experience.

But Kilimanjaro still bears plenty of scars from damage caused by out-of-control fires. Indeed, every couple of years there’s a new report of a fire breaking out on the slopes.

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.

3) 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.

4) Use the purpose-built latrines on Kilimanjaro

It’s true that the public toilets on Kilimanjaro are often in a terrible state. The central toilet at the Barranco campsite, for example, is now so full that the pile of human waste is in danger of developing a snowy cap all of its own. But I’m still glad they’re there, and are used. After all, it’s better that climbers use those public toilets than find somewhere elsewhere to do their business. That just leads to 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 don’t want you to go in their H2O.

Secondly, take a plastic spade or trowel with you so you can dig a hole to squat over. Then, when you’ve filled the hole, cover it with plenty of earth. 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.

Disposing of used toilet paper

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. This, to be fair, is the best way to keep Kili pristine and paper-free.

5) Leave Kilimanjaro’s flora and fauna alone

The rare fireball lily

The rare fireball lily – don’t pick it!

Kili is home to some beautiful flowers and fascinating wildlife. But in all honesty, the giant groundsels rarely thrive in the soils of Europe. While the wild buffalo, though they may look docile, 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 Kilimanjaro is rare and has adapted over the millennia to survive the unique conditions.

So leave it all alone; that way, other trekkers can enjoy them too.

6) Stay on the trails to look after the mountain

The continued use of shortcuts, particularly steep ones, erodes the slopes. This is particularly true on Kibo. Because, 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 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 to minimise your environmental impact.

7) Wash away from streams and rivers

Kilasiya Falls, Marangu - at the foot of Kilimanjaro

Kilasiya Falls, Marangu – at the foot of Kilimanjaro

You wouldn’t like to bathe in somebody else’s bathwater. Nor 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. Your guide 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.

Further reading: Minimum impact trekking

We can, of course, spend pages discussing all the things you can do to minimise your environmental impact on Kilimanjaro. But as we say above, it’s mainly just common sense. But for more information on this subject, check out this Africa Travel Magazine article on keeping the mountain clean.

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