Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Few Good Men

More like 120 good men - that's the Summits Team!

Well, not supringly my first blog post is about Summits Africa, the company I founded in June 2007. My aim was simple - be the best. To acheive this I took the team I had moulded since 2001 and set up as an outfitter - a company that provides services to others. Our aim, by being very specialised on the delivery of our trips rather than the marketing or selling of them, is to excel.

So - is the result. Development and tourism in partnership is our motto and we are bearing fruit. In November 2008 we trained 60 porters and crew in basic first aid testiment to the way we operate.

Interesting stuff to follow - Machame versus Marangu, walking in West Kilimanjaro, Kilimanjaro and glaciation and so on... Keep checking in!

The 5 Steps to Planning a Kilimanjaro Trip

The post highlights the 5 key steps to consider when climbing Kilimanjaro. In short - if you are looking for a life challenge then my simple advice is this: select a company that won't exploit it's porters, select a route that matches your ability and then enjoy yourself preparing for the adventure of a lifetime!
  1. Is Kilimanjaro for me?
  2. Selecting a route
  3. Select a Kilimanjaro Operator
  4. Physical preparation
  5. Gear

1. Is Kilimanjaro for me?
Of the 200 + people that I have personally guided on Kilimanjaro in the last decade the overwhelming comments on expectation versus reality is 'That was the hardest thing I have done in my life, I did not expect the final section to be so tough BUT I'm glad I did it! And I won't be doing it again..'

Climbing Kilimanjaro has some simple realities that should help answer if it is a trip you want to do:
  • It's a minimum of 5 days trekking. I would not personally recommend less than 6 days and 7 + days is far more sensible in terms of acclimatisation. Can you handle camping for that long / and or staying away from creature comforts, dealing with other trip members that you may not like, food that is unlikely to be of hotel standard? (for food that Summits makes on Kilimanjaro see our Mountain Recipies blog). Make this easier by choosing a route and length of hike that suits you - my most recommended trip is a 7 day trip. The Machame route is the best 7 day trip (why and comparisons are for another article).
  • You will be physically challenged. Aside from the acclimatisation aspects the final section is most likely to be the hardest thing you have done in your life. Low oxygen levels and hiking for at least 7 hours (ascending to the Summit) are inescapable but conversely most people have no idea what they capable of. Yes I've taken unfit people to the summit, but people who had a decend all round level of fitness had a far better time. Note, all round body fitness is best and coming down is best done with walking poles!
  • You may fail. This may be due to altitude sickness, or you may hit a mental wall. Either way failure is a tough cookie to swallow. Again the simple adage of more time = higher chance of success rings true. In my experience people that have a very supportive and fun crew invariably do better and so take your time selecting a company and the longer the route also positively affects the success rate.
  • This is an intrinsically dangerous adventure. Deaths are rare on Kilimanjaro if you a look at it from a purely statistical point of view (accurate data is very hard to come by but a 1/4000 chance of death would be fair over the last 10 years) but a majority are from altitude related sickness or triggered sickness (and note by this I include things like heart attacks as the hypoxic or low oxygen environment can be the causitive trigger). In this respect the amount you pay does not always equate reducing the chance of death as most deaths are fairly extreme scenarios. Kilimanjaro is a freestanding mountain - you can come down quickly and so it is amazing how many people 'get away with it' as almost all trips are a quick ascent to the top and then you head back down to a relatively safe zone. I'll write up a much fuller article on altitude sickness with links later on but here's the point: a good company with well trained guides should be able to keep you within your safe zone or as close as it is reasonable with the boundaries of extreme altitude trekking. Top tip: keep your heart rate down. Your 'normal' heart rate can vary enourmoulsy compared to others but pushing yourself to a point where you can feel your heart pumping furiously is not a good idea. A good outfit will have enough trained guides to enable your group to split up if neccessary.

2. Select A Route
Definately worthy of an article in itself - my top routes for 2008 were the 7 day Machame and the 9 day Lemosho routes. Overall selection criteria centre around:
  • Price: the cheapest route is the Marangu route. As people stay in huts the don't need tents = less weight = less porters. But, it's super busy most of the time and I have real ethical issues with this route when it gets so busy that porters are left out in the cold. On my trips I even send up a porter tent on this route for people that insist on Marangu. There are numerous ways and specifications you can climb Kilimanjaro with - in essence you get what you pay for. Low prices normally mean crews and porters are being paid sub park stipulated amounts (8000 tsh a day is the 2008 recommended per porter per day amount) and or other items are not provided such as supplimentary / emergency oxygen, enough guides and or crew etc.
  • Difficulty: if you invest 5 hours a week you can actually skip this. The easiest is arguable the 6 day Rongai route or 6 day Marange routes but with reservations. They both ascend via Gilman's point on the rim and so once at the rim it's still about 2 hours + to reach Uhuru Peak, the summit. Out of the two, Rongai trumps. Otherwise, if you value scenery and experience the Western routes are good choices (Machame, Lemosho).
  • Length of climb: the shortest routes are via Marangu / Umbwe / Rongai. These can be done over 5 days but I DO NOT recommend doing a 5 day climb unless you have been to over 5000 meters before and are very fit. Remember that more days equates to a higher success rate and 7 days is a good minimum to work with. That generally leaves the Machame route 7 day hike up to the 9 or 10 day Lemosho route for people that really want to spend some time on the mountain and camp in the crater on Kibo.
  • How busy a route is:historically the least busy routes are the Lemosho and Rongai routes BUT bear in mind that most routes are busy in the high seasons (mid Dec to early March and June through to early October). You can miss the crowds to a certain extent by starting mid week but don't bank on it. Certain times of the year historically have less people - late october to mid December, mid march to June but there comes with that an increased chance of rain.
  • Weather: Kilimanjaro can be hiked year round. In the wetter times of April and May and November / early december you will most likely walk for hours in the rain and or snow futher up. The only time I have recommended the Marangu has been in the rainy season of April to simply keep out of the elements. Even then if you book with a decent operator (shameless plug for Summits Africa here!) certain camping routes remain feasible as extras such as mess tents are provided. Machame has a great trail which is generally kept in good repair. In the drier months, especially well into August and September, dust can be frustrating. Personally, I love June for the snow and ice left from the long rains and low cloud base. It can be a little more chilly then but the summit temperatures do not vary enourmously year round.
  • Scenery: if Kilimanjaro was not such as summit orientated experience then this would be the leading criteria. The Lemosho route, as it ascends on the Western side and descends on the Southern side, has the greatest scenic variety. The trail head has really pretty Hygenia glades which turn into Podocarpus forest (dioecious, big and beautiful!) which then turn into Juniper forest. Rising up over the Shira Pleateau you enter heath and moorland - a zone where buffalo still roam and in the last year a guest even sighted Caracal - the African Lynx. Ok wildlife is hard to spot but then factor in the geology as you cross the plateau into and around Lava Tower and the southern glacial valleys and you've already seen more than you will ever see on the Rongai or Marangu routes. Less time and budget? Machame route comes in second.

3. Select a Kilimanjaro Climb Operator
Factors such as ethics and safety should factor in your decision. If they don't then choosing on the basis of price alone will most likely lead to a dangrous climb that exploits local people. There is another set of questions that relates to booking through travel agents and tour operators versus booking directly with an outfitter in Tanzania but the basic principles and questions are relevant - a Travel agent should be able to answer these questions or find out.

Here are some questions that you could ask of a climb company:
  • How much do you pay your porters per day? The parks authority (KINAPA) have stipulated (as of Dec 08 this data is correct) that 8000 tsh (roughly $6.5 / day) per porter per day for camping routes and 6000 tsh (roughly $5/ day) per porter per day is required. That's a good guideline for the minimum.
  • How do you guides monitor us? Acute mountain sickness (for a great article see our links page at or can be monitored in a number of ways - heart rate, breathing rate, oxygen saturations (with a pulse oximeter) and thereafter by checking things like headaches, dizzyness, gastro intestinal symptoms, ataxia, changes in mental status and so on. If the operator doesn't know then I'd suggest looking elsewhere.
  • What's included? We have heard some shocking stories where people book only to find that park fees, rental of camping gear, porters, food and so on were not included in the price. Exactly what is NOT included?
  • Do you have a valid Mountain TALA? The license for Kilimanjaro is called a mountain TALA - but note: if you are booking through an overseas operator or Travel Agent this won't apply - it is the local company on the ground that should have this.
  • What happens in an emergency? Does the company have rescue scenarios and decision making mapped out and do the people running the company have a good understanding of the emergencies that can happen? An emergency involving a pulmonary edema should be treated differently from a cerebral edema due to the way that these types of life threatening altitude sickness manifest themselves and resolve on descent.
  • How many guides to clients do you send? If your group is 10 people and there are only 2 guides then you could be caught short in an emergency. Not only should there be enough assistants but they should know enough to keep everyone out of danger. A 1 to 3 ratio of guides to clients is a good ratio IF they know what they are doing, the best offer 1 to 2 or even 1 to 1.

4. Physical Preparation
You will be walking for a mimimum of 5 days. Probably 7 days. So - start walking! It's a once in a lifetime experience and so if you do not exercise as part of your 'normal' life routine I strongly suggest starting. When ascending to the summit your heart will be beating in excess of 80 beats per minute and most likely in excess of 100 bpm for at around 5 to 9 hours. And that is the lower end of the spectrum. All round fitness is great - walk a lot, swim, go to the gym 3 to 4 times a week, run, do yoga, in fact do pretty much anything you like and find something that you can enjoy. There is no better excuse for a lifestyle change.

Most people I have met, irrespective of their training regimes, have said that the final push was harder than they expected. That doesn't mean overstressing your body during the lead up time to your trip but having a healthy attitude and lead time is a very good thing. Personally I like to gym 3 times a week for an hour, run once a week for 40 minutes and walk at least 3 hours a week to keep conditioned. If you're unfit a 4 month lead time is a good idea.

There are other training options these days such as hypoxic environment training (low oxygen simulated conditions where you work out either in a room with lower oxygen than normal levels or special masks) - when I have more scientific data for the efficacy of these methods I'll post it.

5. Gear
Back in 'the old days' a family friend told me a story of how he borrowed some army boots, a couple of woolen jumpers and carried plenty of newspaper to keep out the cold. He reached the top! I'll post a gear article with some more detail and soe gear that I've found to be great over the years but here's my top tips:
  • No cotton: Keep away from Cotton. It doesn't dry easily and absorbs moisture. That means you get cold which is a bad thing.
  • Waterproofs:Make sure you have waterproof bottoms (pants) and a waterproof jacket WITH A HOOD. Yes GoreTex is great but there are other makes too. Good gear will last you much longer than just this trip.
  • Base layers: wick away base layers or thermals are great. Merrino wool is also a type of thermal that has become very popular of late but synthetic base layers made of artificial fabrics are now designed to draw away moisture from your skin.
  • Layers: layers can really help trap heat. Having spare layers is also great for changing into / letting other layers dry out. On the final summit you will most likely wear on the bottom 3 layers of trouser (for instance thermal base layer, normal hiking trousers and waterproof outer layer) and on top 5 to 7 layers (thermal underlayer, 2 regular layers, fleece x 1 or 2 and then waterproof outer shell).
  • Decent boots with heel support. Vibram soles come highly recommended. Carry these on the plane in your hand luggage or wear them on the flight as it can be very hard to source boots that fit you / or are in good condition once you land.
That's all for now. I'll also be posting more succinct articles on my website in due course as well. Questions or comments please feel free to email me.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Press Release - Summits Africa Expands into Kenya

The Latest info from Summits Africa, this is the Nov launch press release timed with WTM (World Travel Market). Some detailed information here on Summits Africa operations.

In summary for those that have not encountered Summits Africa before – we are an East African based professional outfitting company started by Kilimanjaro expert and guide Ake Lindstrom. This email is our first travel industry mail out to stimulate interest in our professionally run trips from Kilimanjaro climbs to mountain biking in the rift valley. Please feel free to pass on our information to others that may be interested and we look forward to hearing back from you in due course.

By the way, our success rate for all clients ascending Kilimanjaro in 2008 was 98.3%.

In this release

1. The Summits Africa methodology

2. NEW! - Kenya partnership

3. 2009 Trips and rates

4. Meet the team

The Summits Africa methodology

Experience and time are among the best tutors. Summits Africa is a team of some 130 porters, cooks, crew and guides that have been working together for 8 years.

Founder Ake Lindstrom’s approach is simple – training and learning must be built into all business processes. Data on heart rates and oxygen saturations from all high altitude trips are collected and used by our teams to monitor and assess our clients at least twice a day and as much as every few minutes to ensure that every client is as safe as they can be. We provide oxygen / emergency stretchers / pulse oximetry and altitude monitoring scorecard systems on all high altitude trips.

Data from 7 years of trips is used in our bi annual training and complements in depth training on all manner of topics from glaciology to history. 6 of our guides are community first aid instructors. As you read this email teams of our porters are being given basic first aid training. Every single porter we use will have received basic first aid training at least once in the last year.

Training our teams builds moral and is part of our career progression framework. Many future guides will have started with Summits Africa. The best will remain with us.

All trips we run are highly systemized. Professionalism comes from adherence to well designed and applied systems. On a ascent of Kilimanjaro to extreme altitude it’s reassuring to know that at base before the trip left the emergency oxygen canisters will have been checked, our own rescue stretchers ticked off on page 4 of our 18 page trip preparation document and that the guides will already know that Mrs X is allergic to Sulpha based drugs.

Pre trip briefings with senior managers (not just a driver guide or walking guide), post trip feedback forms and a no quibble approach to any complaints are all part of the Summits Africa service.

PLEASE NOTE: Summits Africa is an outfitter that specializes in adventure trips. We are more than happy to be booked as part of a larger itinerary through your local ground handler and we liaise very closely with a number of companies that specialize in other areas, such as flying safaris, beach holidays and so on.

NEW! – Summits Africa Kenya

Summits Africa has expanded! Previously for Mt Kenya climbs Summits Africa has referred our industry partners to professionals in Kenya. In order to better serve our customers and provide a highly consistent service Summits Africa has now taken over the operations and set up Summits Africa Kenya.

Our Kenyan operations are now headed up by seasoned Mt Kenya guide Paul Kanja who is now based in Nairobi with our equipment, crew and guides based at Naro Moru on the slopes of Mt Kenya. As with our Tanzanian operations we welcome trip leaders on FIT trips.

To find out more about our Kenya climb trips offered please take a look at our website and all our Kenyan services from airport meet and greets to a range of Mt Kenya routes can be booked through our existing central email –

Our flagship climb for Mt Kenya is a 6 day fully supported luxury specification Chogoria – Sirimon trip. As with our Kilimanjaro operations we prefer to provide all of our own tents and equipment rather than relying on the possibility of overcrowding in huts. Mt Kenya is a stunningly beautiful mountain, and for hikers this must rank as least as highly as Mt Kilimanjaro. Shorter trips are also available on request.

2009 Trips and rates

Summits Africa has a range of set departures for Kilimanjaro, Mt Meru and Mt Kenya on our website as well as post mountain short safaris. Please take a look at to see the range of departures that we offer. We also FIT climb services for Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenya, Mt Meru, Oldonyo Lengai and hiking in the Ngorongoro Highlands. All trips on our website are commissionable.

You can request our 2009 FIT rates by contacting Ake Lindstrom on or, if you use a local ground handler in East Africa, you can request rates from them too. Recently added to our portfolio is our luxury Mt Kenya climb and a lightweight specification climb will follow.

Meet the team

All bookings and enquiries should come into our central email address:

All of our team members have climbed all main peaks in East Africa – there couldn’t be a better team to answer your questions.


General Manager: Ake Lindstrom – rates and media requests, central contact

Operations Director: Emanuel Motta – in country default contact


Operations Director: Paul Kanja – in country default contact


Our USA team switch between East Africa and the USA, providing sales support on rotation.

Sales & Systems: Frank Castro – currently in Tanzania until February and then in California to support our USA trade enquiries

Sales & Marketing: Laura Hartstone – in East Africa from December to handle enquiries and sales

I look forward to hearing back from you in due course.

Kind regards,


[Åke Lindstrom – General Manager]


see for East African Adventures

see to see what’s up at Summits

see for our new short YouTube reel

“Tourism & Development in Partnership”