What's your favorite Kilimanjaro route and why?
In July last year, I reached the summit of Kilimanjaro for the 101st time. Almost 95% of my treks have been via the Lemosho route. I love this route because it has the highest success rate for clients, it allows more time for acclimatization. The Lemosho route takes 8 or 9 days typically but it's flexible. You can add a day while en route and you can also meet up with other routes. I have done the Marangu, Machame, Rongai, Umbwe routes and Mount Meru as well.
How has Mount Kilimanjaro changed in the last 10 years?
It's serious. In 1997 when you'd get to Crater Camp at 18,500 feet, you would need at least 2 hours to walk around the Furtwängler Glacier. Now you can just head straight to camp. It has apparently decreased by 50% in just the past 10 years. It is sad to see these things happening with my own eyes.
Nowadays, when you sleep at Crater Camp you can just hear the ice breaking and melting. You notice the creeks running down the mountain are much bigger. It causes soil erosion and rock falls. There was a big accident on Kili a few years ago and it was caused by rockfall. The farmers living around the mountain are also affected by this. The government has finally moved farmers away from the base of the mountain. Some had temporary housing to chop down trees for firewood up to 7,000 feet. It's now part of the National Park.
The National park is re-planting trees now, but you know it takes a long time for a tree to grow at higher altitudes. We finally got the authorities to pass a law against using firewood to cook meals on treks in 2001. When I first started trekking we would use firewood to cook all meals on the mountain. In the end the whole Marangu route was treeless, so we were really too late. It was crazy. We would spend two hours digging for roots and looking for firewood when we arrived at camp, so we could start cooking the meals. Now we use gas stoves.
What's the trash situation like on Mount Kilimanjaro?
That's a big problem, especially at the high altitude camps. Toilet paper is the biggest issue we have. Nothing decomposes very quickly at an altitude of 18,500. It's also difficult to organize cleaning crews to bring trash down the mountain. Who is willing to pay for this? In 1999 a clean up crew organized by Everest Environmental, brought down 15 tons of trash. But the authorities don't do much to maintain the mountain, very few have ever trekked up. Companies also are trying to make a profit, they want to minimize their costs. There's no room to carry extra trash back down. There's also a lack of training and education about environmental issues among some guides and porters.
I understand that the Guide is responsible for getting the porters together for a trek. How does that work?
Yes, it used to be this way, but the problem is, some guides would abuse their position. For example, they could tell a porter "work in my fields and I will promise to choose you as a porter on my next trek".
Porters are often abused. If you think you are saving money by going on a cheap trek, it will be the porters that won't get fed enough and have to carry extra. That is how they save money on treks. Porters die every year because they lack the right clothes, food and equipment. You can't imagine how bad the conditions would have to be for a porter to die up there. Sometimes you see that all the porter is given to eat is some bread and tea, just once a day and they sleep without shelter. There is a good organization called the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP). They are trying to change things, give porters a living wage and make sure they are treated fairly.
What Operators would you recommend, that treat the mountain and their employees with respect?
Well, of course we at Serengeti Pride Safaris do. We also make sure that every trip has two new porters, so we continue to train people. I also recommend any operator using African Environment as their ground operator. When I worked for them we came up with a fair system to register all the porters and give each an equal amount of work at a fair wage. Several local operators working out of both Moshi and Arusha have a reputation for treating their porters badly.
What's the best way to prepare for a Kili trek?
Kili and Meru are not technical so you just need to do a lot of cardiovascular exercise to build up stamina. The longest stretch on Kili will be no more than 9 hours. Usually it's about 5 hours a day. So if you practice walking for 5 hours at one time, carrying about 5-7 pounds, you will be in good shape.
Safari before or after a trek?
Safari is best after a trek. I realize people are nervous about making it to the summit of Kilimanjaro. So afterward, you can relax and feel good about what you've achieved. It's also hard to get on a long flight right after a trek, your muscles get very sore. A trek also gives clients a chance to talk and get to know local people. You're talking to guides and porters, you sing and joke together, it's all equal on the mountain.
What mountain have you not climbed that you would most like to?
My dream is to climb Mount Everest. The problem is I also promised myself that it would be the last mountain I climb, and I'm not ready to give up trekking yet! I would also love to do the 7 summits.
Final quick questions
Favorite place – Zanzibar because of the Swahili culture
Favorite animal - Leopard and I have a tattoo of my favorite bird, the Fish eagle
Favorite African beer – Kilimanjaro beer of course