A win on Kilimanjaro: How Africa’s highest peak conquered tourism

Posted: June 3, 2014 by kirisyko in Climbing, High altitude mountaineering
Tags: ,

Much has changed on Kilimanjaro -- Africa's highest peak -- since the days of camps among open-air latrines, trash littering the landscape and congested trails. Initiatives have turned an ecological problem into a manageable one that's also good for local business.

Much has changed on Kilimanjaro — Africa’s highest peak — since the days of camps among open-air latrines, trash littering the landscape and congested trails. Initiatives have turned an ecological problem into a manageable one that’s also good for local business.

(CNN) — “This is the silliest thing I’ve done in my life,” Ann says as she emerges from her tent.

“I should have done it when I was much younger.”

“Tomorrow you’ll think it was worth the effort,” Maria responds.

It’s a bitterly cold night in January.

I’m at Barafu Camp on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, with Ann Austen, a 69-year-old New Yorker and Maria Nielson, 55, from Sweden.

In the midnight darkness I watch them join a line of 200 headlamps, slowly ascending the last slope to reach the highest point in Africa — 5,895 meters (19,340 feet) above sea level. (Kilimanjaro’s official elevation is the subject of dispute — the preceding figures are the most commonly cited.)

But I’m waiting.

I’d learned from a local that while most groups trek to the summit overnight, hundreds at a time, to catch the sunrise from the top, the best time to climb is around 10 a.m. when the crowds, and the clouds, clear.

“I know the mountain, this is my mountain,” Sifael Malle tells me.

It’s a good decision.

We’re alone on Uhuru Peak, the highest point on Kibo crater, one of the three volcanic cones that comprise the mountain.

Three champagne corks are the only sign that others had been here earlier.

Without Malle’s local knowledge, however, it could have been different.

Local tip: Avoid crowds by climbing in the day, when everyone else has returned.
Local tip: Avoid crowds by climbing in the day, when everyone else has returned.

Tourism impact

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a British think tank, estimates that every year 40,000 people attempt to climb Kilimanjaro, bringing with them tons of waste and other environmental threats, including water contamination and soil erosion.

The crowds threaten the beauty of the place, which cultural narratives depict as a symbol of solitude and peace.

The glaciers are disappearing, changing the face of Kilimanjaro.

Local porters are often underpaid and climb without adequate equipment.

Hearing these stories, I’m skeptical about the place — other destinations are described as “purer” natural experiences.

However, I soon discover that much has changed since the days of horrific reports of camps among open-air latrines, trash littering the landscape and congested trails.

I find a clean mountain, with toilets at camps and along the routes.

The environmental challenges are significant but the initiatives implemented by the Tanzania National Parks Authority seem to be paying off.

The ODI calculated in 2009 that tourists spend just less than $50 million per year around the Kili experience.

Some 28%, $13 million, is considered to directly benefit the poor.

The ODI says this is the most successful transfer of resources from international tourists to impoverished locals they’ve witnessed.

see more: http://edition.cnn.com/2014/06/02/travel/climbing-kilimanjaro/

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