A shock report claims that not one of 20 charity treks up Kilimanjaro it studied followed expert advice to protect participants.
Mountain medicine experts say this is putting lives at risk from altitude-related illnesses.
The report, presented at the Symposium of Climbing and Altitude Medicine held at Plas-y-Brenin at the weekend, heard that the recommendation for anyone heading for the summit of Kilimanjaro should spend at least seven days above 2,500 m to acclimatise. Only one of the 20 came close, allowing trekkers six nights to adjust before the summit day.
Outdoor writer Ed Douglas did the research, which found that the thousands of charity participants who go up Africa’s highest peak each year are being almost certainly condemned to a period of acute mountain sickness and possibly even high-altitude cerebral oedema and pulmonary oedema, both of which can be fatal. 14 tourists are reported to have died of high-altitude sickness on the mountain between January 1996 and October 2003, according to the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre.
Fitness is no guarantee of protection against acute mountain sickness. 75% of the organisations running the treks – including nationally renowned charities – planned just four nights above 2,500m. One allowed only three nights. Kilimanjaro is 5,895m (19,341ft) in altitude, well above the height when altitude problems come into play. The Tanzanian government charges more than $100 a day for each trekker on the mountain.
Author Ed Douglas said: “Realistic advice about the problems and risks of high altitude was either absent or buried in almost all cases.
"Trekkers should understand that climbing Kilimanjaro is safer and a lot more fun if they take their time. They also have a much higher chance of reaching the summit. I wouldn’t want to have to reach the summit with fewer than six or seven nights’ acclimatisation."
BMC president and neurologist Dr Charles Clarke said: "With the rise in popularity of adventure travel, more and more people are trekking at high altitude.
“But they often underestimate the dangers of rapid ascent. It’s great that people are prepared to experience adventure, but preparation is essential.
“You won’t catch me going up Kilimanjaro in less than a week. I have been to high altitude many times. The object is to enjoy oneself and feel well doing so. And of course, not to take risks unnecessarily. I have seen several people trying to speed-climb Kilimanjaro over a long weekend with disastrous results."
Expert guidance says that trekkers should avoid sleeping more than 300 to 500m above their previous night’s camp. Half of those who go straight to 3,500m experience acute mountain sickness, with 2% encountering serious symptoms.
You can access a copy of the Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme’s mountain medicine centre advice on the British Mountaineering Council’s website.