Back to Africa's highest mountain to write its 2021 story
Twenty thousand porters, many of whom work as subsistence farmers off season, are holding their breath right now. Each one is hoping against hope that this year, the climbers will return to once again, march slowly up the slopes of Africa's tallest mountain, Kilimanjaro.
Covid cut the climbing season to a mere trickle. While that may not mean much to you, it most certainly means a great deal to those porters, each of whom supports up to one hundred additional family members on the very few dollars per day they earn if they get porter work during the two active climbing seasons each year.
I plan to be there once again to write about it. It's going to be a celebratory mood on the mountain, and I can't wait to watch and record how porters and climbers will embrace a return to one of the most iconic adventures on earth. I climbed to the summit back in 2013, and since then have been chronicling some of her best stories about good people who have been doing excellent work on the easiest -comparatively- of the worlds' Seven Summits.
This past year, many Partner companies collaborating with the not-for-profit organization Kilimanjaro Porter's Assistance Project (KPAP) threw in their support for their mountain crew, ranging from GoFundMe campaigns to help provide food, a highly successful cleanup campaign which resulted in a vastly more beautiful mountain as well as staff trained in the critically- important Leave No Trace skills, and a considered emphasis on learning Tanzania's new standards for safe tourism. Despite the downturn, it's been a busy season in some ways.
Many climbers have no idea that porters are the most vulnerable of all mountain crew members. KPAP is the world's leading organization dedicated to improving their working conditions for these simple reasons:
1. A well-fed, warm, safe, adequately-paid and happy crew ensures a safe and joyful journey up the mountain for you and me. The greater part of this means proper and safe working conditions - masks, hand-washing and social distancing- as well as appropriate compensation for the mountain crew to provide for themselves and their families.
2. Porters trained in Leave No Trace not only become leaders among their other crew members for their climbing companies, but they also ensure that Kilimanjaro's flanks aren't left with the burden of trash that sours the experience for all of those who wish to climb later. For that uplifting story please see this.
From that article:
“The idea of using this idle time available to us, to beautify Kilimanjaro and provide some needed employment to our staff, was a no brainer. We were happy to help implement the Leave No Trace practices on the mountain that has given all of us so much over the years and be a part of this employment project.” Kiliwarrior Expeditions
In any normal year, and 2020 was everything but, climbing companies compete fiercely for tourists. This year, so many were at risk, including the futures of the climbing companies themselves. There was a rare commitment among the Partner companies towards cooperation not only to support the porters and mountain crew, without whom the climbs can't happen, as well as to one another.
One proviso, however. As tempting as it may be to seek out a "fire sale" price to climb Kili, that's not a good idea. This article on going cheap on the mountain explains why.
I'm going to be curious to see what elements of this new-found commitment continue as the world slowly decides to adventure again.
If you are one of those, like me, who decides to take on this great endeavor, it behooves us all to consider heading up the mountain with one of KPAP's Partner companies. These outfits have committed not only to fair wages but also to being monitored during the climb to ensure their commitments are honored. And, where they may fall down on the job, to fixing the problem in order to maintain their KPAP Partner status.
The main reason this is so critical is simple. Wise tourists increasingly care about sustainable practices, they are willing to pay more for companies who commit to do the right thing not only by Nature but also by those people who guide and support them on their journeys. KPAP partnership is the ultimate proof of those commitments. Educated consumers, and there will be far more after 2020, are likely to seek out those companies who take these factors into consideration.
Remarkably, African nations, by comparison, fared far better than many Western nations, especially the US, in terms of Covid. Tourism is the life blood of their economies, so they had much to lose if they didn't take the science seriously. As those of us who do adventure travel plan to revisit our favorite places, those nations are getting ready to welcome us back with open arms (and masked faces, but you can see they're very happy to see us).
For my part, I can't wait. I can't wait to see a cleaner Kilimanjaro. I can't wait to watch the excited and enthusiastic porters gather for work at the base of the main climbing routes. I can't wait to speak to those who have suffered a long year of privation, but whose exuberant smiles and immense gratitude greet the climbers as they prepare for the hikes of their lives.
These porters do hundreds of these same hikes, yet for us, simply making it to the top one time is a huge deal. It's only fair that we thank those porters, and the Partner companies of KPAP, for best ensuring that we, too, make it to the top.
You can go any time, as this article explains. A number of now-very satisfied folks made this climb under Covid, and found that the preparations, crew readiness and nearly-empty slopes afforded them an unprecedented chance to enjoy their climbs.
Is this your year to take on Kilimanjaro? If so, please consider using a KPAP Partner company. Here is the current list.
I may see you on the mountain, getting ready to head up into the clouds. I've been there. It is indeed worth it.
And I can't wait to return to Kilimanjaro to see you off.