The porters of Kilimanjaro are featured in my book Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, which chronicles my attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. The book is on sale now as an e-book for $3.99 and in paperback for $9.99 from Amazon and other booksellers.
They are the unsung heroes of any mountain climb — the guides, porters, and cooks who help climbers reach the summit and get back safely. The workers who serve on Mount Kilimanjaro are brave and dedicated souls who work for low pay and risk their lives to assist climbers in their quest to realize their dreams.
Guides, porters, and cooks have helped thousands of people climb Kilimanjaro since the mountain was first summited in 1889. That team, led German professor Hans Meyer and Austrian mountaineer Ludwig Purtscheller, included a local guide, nine porters, and a cook.
Although climbers are responsible for getting themselves to the summit, their support team carries most of the gear and equipment they need to do the climb. Each porter and cook carries up to 15 kilograms (33 pounds), a heavy burden to bear for days and hours on end, again and again, up and down, in any kind of weather, over different kinds of terrain.
Cooks carry all the food and equipment needed to prepare meals.
Porters haul climbers who need to be evacuated from Kilimanjaro down in a mobile stretcher — something that looks like a wheel barrow.
Workers arrive at camps ahead of time and set up campsites so they’re ready when the climbers arrive. For every climber on the mountain, there may be three or more assistants helping them.
Although working conditions on Kilimanjaro can be difficult, most guides, porters, and cooks are passionate about their jobs and take pride in being a member of an elite group. Many start out as porters or cooks and become guides after graduating from mountaineering school. Park management hires some graduates as park rangers. A few go on to start their own tour companies.
Workers who don’t earn much money often make do with whatever clothing or equipment they can afford or hand-me-downs donated by climbers. In some cases, their wardrobe may consist of tattered shirts, light jackets, worn pants, loafers or tennis shoes with inadequate soles. Underdressed workers often race up the mountain and pass climbers with expensive clothing and gear.
If you hire an outfitter or guide to help you climb Mount Kilimanjaro, please consider these suggestions when you’re on the mountain.
- Meet your team. Get to know the guides, porters, and cooks who help you fulfill your dream. Tanzanians are generally friendly and helpful. They go to lengths to help those they care about, including their clients. Learning a few phrases in Swahili, the local language, will go a long way to building rapport with your team. They will remember you as the foreigner who spoke their language.
- Pay decent tips. Many members of the support team earn very little on a climb. The pay is small but more lucrative than most jobs on the local economy since the guides and porters earn additional money from tips. Giving them a decent tip is the right thing to do. They work hard for you. There’s no set rule for the amount, but a decent tip is reportedly 15 percent of the fee you paid your guide shared among all members of the team.
- Donate extra gear. You may not need some of your clothing and equipment after you finish your climb. Many climbers donate extra gear to the team. It’s a personal decision whether to give away your belongings, but your team will appreciate it. You can make a donation to any of the many porter support groups that help workers by giving away used gear in good condition. Many are online.
- Treat workers with respect. The workers on Kilimanjaro work for you and other climbers. They are dedicated professionals and deserve your respect.
I appreciate what my team did for me on my climb. There was no way I could have focused on climbing Kilimanjaro if I had to what they did for me. I’m grateful that they carried my heavy bags, set up and took down my tent every day, cooked and served me food, and made sure I survived.
The workers on Kilimanjaro are heroes behind the scenes who deserve credit and respect for doing the difficult job of helping climbers reach a place that would otherwise be uninhabited by humans.
The Kilimanjaro sign is featured in my book Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, which chronicles my attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. The book is on sale now as an e-book for $3.99 and in paperback for $9.99 from Amazon and other booksellers.
The Kilimanjaro Sign. It’s what every climber tries to reach when they attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Not only does it make a great photo op, it symbolizes achievement. They did it. They made it to the top of Kilimanjaro!
Until recently, the summit was marked by an iconic wooden sign with yellow lettering, covered with stickers left behind by climbers who wanted to leave their mark.
The old Kilimanjaro Sign was more than a marker erected by the Tanzanian government on the top of Uhuru Peak, the highest point on Kilimanjaro. To many, it symbolized that they had beaten the odds and achieved something remarkable – standing on the rooftop of Africa. Thousands of photos of climbers next to the sign adorn desks or hang on walls around the world. Thousands more dream of taking their own photo with it.
The wooden sign, in English, read:
YOU ARE NOW AT
UHURU PEAK TANZANIA 5895 M A.M.S.L.
AFRICA’S HIGHEST POINT
WORLD’S HIGHEST FREE STANDING MOUNTAIN
A fourth plank on the sign that read “One of World’s Largest Volcanoes. Welcome” disappeared by 2010. A box containing a logbook next to the sign vanished by 2007.
At 5,895 meters (19,341 feet) above mean sea level (AMSL), Mount Kilimanjaro bears many distinctions. Among them:
- It is the highest mountain on the continent of Africa and in the country of Tanzania.
- It is fourth highest of the Seven Summits, the highest mountain on each of the world’s seven continents.
- It is one of the world’s largest volcanoes, active or extinct.
- It is arguably the highest mountain you can climb without technical gear.
- It is arguably the highest free-standing mountain on Earth. Some say that Mauna Loa in Hawai’i is the highest based on its height from the ocean floor, although that is subject to debate. Of course, none compare to the volcano Olympus Mons on Mars, which, at more than 22,000 meters (72,000 feet), is three times higher than Mount Everest.
The old Kilimanjaro Sign listed all of these records. But now the iconic wooden sign is gone!
The New Kilimanjaro Sign replaced the old one at the summit in January 2012. The metal sign is bright green with yellow lettering. Reports suggest that the new sign was erected to commemorate Tanzania’s 50th birthday. (Then-Tanganika declared independence from Great Britain on December 9, 1961. The island of Zanzibar, which became independent in 1963, united with Tanganika to form Tanzania on April 26, 1964.)
What do you think of the New Kilimanjaro Sign? Will it replace the old one as an enduring symbol of Kilimanjaro in the hearts and minds of those who have reached the summit or long to climb it? Only time will tell.