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Exploring summit crater on Mountain Madness climb of Kilimanjaro. David Bates photo

Kilimanjaro in the time of COVID

Kil­i­man­jaro is a bea­con, a land­mark tow­er­ing over its region. Bea­cons pro­vide light and land­marks show us where we are in rela­tion to the world around us. Both geo­graph­i­cal­ly and metaphor­i­cal­ly Kil­i­man­jaro is liv­ing up to its rep­u­ta­tion in this world turned upside down by COVID. While most of the world is closed to trav­el, Kil­i­man­jaro is open to trekkers.

Writ­ten by Steve Guthrie

The nor­mal” process of how expe­di­tions to Kil­i­man­jaro oper­ate has changed to adapt to the real­i­ty of the virus, but these changes pro­vide a bea­con to shed light on how we go forward. 

Moun­tain Mad­ness has a long asso­ci­a­tion with Kil­i­man­jaro. In 1984 Scott Fis­ch­er and Wes Krause pio­neered a trekking route, devel­oped logis­tics plans and infra­struc­ture, hired and trained staff, and oper­at­ed count­less trips. Their vision is car­ried on to this day, which impor­tant­ly includes a guid­ing ten­ant for us to not only leave no trace in the lands we vis­it, but be a good part­ner to the peo­ple that work with us and have a pos­i­tive impact on their lives. A liv­ing wage is just the first step. Mak­ing sure that all staff are prop­er­ly equipped, pro­vid­ing cut­ting edge indus­try stan­dard train­ing, and oppor­tu­ni­ty for advance­ment is impor­tant but needs to be com­bined with respect, trans­paren­cy, open com­mu­ni­ca­tion and embrac­ing our dif­fer­ences. The essence of Moun­tain Mad­ness is that we strive to be a fam­i­ly, a group of friends, both oper­at­ing and staffing the trips but also par­tic­i­pat­ing as guests.

Dancing with the group after a successful climb of Kilimanjaro. Photo by David Bates
Wes and scott
Kili Summit Oct2010

As the extent of the pan­dem­ic became appar­ent, we worked with our part­ners in Tan­za­nia and our friends/​clients of Moun­tain Mad­ness to pro­vide some relief to Kil­i­man­jaro staff. Funds were col­lect­ed and food and cook­ing sup­plies were pur­chased and dis­trib­uted to ease the bur­den until reg­u­lar work could begin again. 

David Bates image of Kilimanjaro porter on Mountain Madness climb
Helping out Mountain Madness Kilimanajro staff of porters cooks and guides
Food and supplies for Kilimanjaro porters cooks and guides

This past fall it became clear that Tan­za­nia offered a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty for trav­el in a world large­ly shut down. Wilder­ness, moun­tain envi­ron­ments, and Savan­nah make it eas­i­er to prac­tice social dis­tanc­ing. We worked dili­gent­ly with Tan­zan­ian staff to devel­op risk man­age­ment pro­to­cols relat­ing to COVID that would allow guests to con­tin­ue expe­ri­enc­ing Kil­i­man­jaro and safari with all the mag­ic inher­ent in our trips. To accom­plish this, we are tak­ing excep­tion­al mea­sures which include: 

- Test­ing of all staff pri­or to each trip and iso­lat­ing every­one at a remote safari camp while wait­ing for test results. In fact, we test 120% of need­ed staff so we can have extra” in case some­one tests positive. 

-Vehi­cles are cleaned and san­i­tized after each use. Dri­vers are test­ed and iso­lat­ed with the rest of staff.

-Masks are required in vehi­cles, in groups and where social dis­tanc­ing may be difficult. 

-Bub­bles or pods are cre­at­ed to lim­it con­tact. For exam­ple, porters will not have direct or close con­tact with guests. The lead and assis­tant guide will pack, pre­pare, and san­i­tize guest bag­gage begin­ning and fol­low­ing each day of trekking. Addi­tion­al­ly, they will set up guest tents and pre­pare the din­ing tent. Kitchen staff will have their own bub­ble and food prepa­ra­tion and ser­vice will be main­tained with­in that bubble. 

-We are not using hotels or pub­licly accessed accom­mo­da­tions. Moun­tain Mad­ness has pri­vate com­pounds and camps that we can keep iso­lat­ed and mon­i­tor all staff and guests. We have been oper­at­ing remote safari camps for decades which has pre­pared us for this tran­si­tion dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. These camps are high-end and very com­fort­able with great food and accommodations. 

-We mon­i­tor, in real time, all news relat­ing to the virus both in Tan­za­nia and through­out the world and will not oper­ate in places where we feel there is excep­tion­al dan­ger or unknown factors.

On the way to Mountain Madness camp in Arusha National Park
Mountain Madness Kilimanjaro alpine guides and cooks for ascent on the mountain
Lava tower camp

Moun­tain Mad­ness is cur­rent­ly offer­ing Kil­i­man­jaro treks and safari. We had two groups in Decem­ber and expe­ri­enced effec­tive imple­men­ta­tion of the pro­to­cols. Despite all the lim­i­ta­tions, changes, and dis­ap­point­ments of the past year, it is not only pos­si­ble to trav­el to Kil­i­man­jaro, but high­ly rec­om­mend­ed. Imag­ine being the only par­ty on the sum­mit. You will prob­a­bly have much of the moun­tain to your­self. On safari you might not see anoth­er vehi­cle for hours and have a large expanse of the Serengeti or the Ngoron­goro Crater in splen­did iso­la­tion. This is per­haps a once in a life­time chance to see Tan­za­nia as it was 40 or 50 years ago. Sub­lime beau­ty, vast tracks of unin­hab­it­ed land, herds of ani­mals with­out herds of tourists, and the care and warm hos­pi­tal­i­ty of our Tan­zan­ian friends. 

The splendid isolation of the Serengeti while on safari with Mountain Madness. Photo by David Bates
The snows of Kilimanajaro with Mountain Madness

Once again, as through­out his­to­ry, Kil­i­man­jaro stands as a bea­con and a land­mark, guid­ing adven­tur­ers and trav­el­ers through an unchart­ed time. It shines hope and as the cra­dle of human­i­ty, shows us that there is a way for­ward and the future is bright. Kil­i­man­jaro was, and remains, the most life-chang­ing and empow­er­ing adven­ture I have ever embarked upon. My eyes were opened to an utter­ly amaz­ing world and that first expe­ri­ence there still res­onates strong­ly and is an impor­tant touch­stone. My wish for the New Year is that when you feel com­fort­able enough to trav­el, that you have an adven­ture that res­onates with you as much as my first trip to Kil­i­man­jaro res­onates with me. We will take care of the details so you can relax, take a deep breath of life and shed the skin of this past year.