With 40,000 to 50,000 pairs of feet hiking their way up the slopes of Kilimanjaro every year en route to summit, it is not surprising that the mountain is taking the brunt of our human footprint. If the old saying, “leave only your footprints behind” held true, we would not need to worry about the effect of tourists on the environment. Sadly this is not the case.
Human waste and toilets
So lets start with the worst problem of all; human waste. It is something we all need to do at some point of the day and there are purpose built toilets at each camp and at some places along the route. If you are on Marangu you fill find nice flush toilets but for the rest of the mountain they are long drops. Lower down the mountain in the forest zone and at the first camps, the toilets smell due to low altitude and warm weather during the day. The effect of this is that many people elect to go outside the toilet in the surrounding area, resulting in unwanted piles of human waste and toilet paper littering the area. The situation at Crater camp at 5700m is even more dire, where they are no custom toilets meaning that the only places to go are in and around crater camp itself. Due to the sub zero temperatures, nothing freezes. Between camps, there are few, if any toilet facilities.
For the reasons mentioned above, regardless of how dire the conditions are in the toilet we ask that climbers make use of them. They are there for good reason. Take vicks and rub it under your nose if you must. If not, hire a toilet tent where the waste can be properly disposed of. And if you really do need to go between camps, find yourself a “loo with a view” a good 20m off the trail and away from any streams, dig and hole and bury your deposit.
Stay on the Trails
Speaking of walking away from the main trail brings us to the next point. Leave the trail for a call of nature but please, STAY ON THE TRAILS at all other times. Trails are there for a reason, they can be monitored and measures put in place when erosion occurs, Taking a shortcut off the main trail just because it seems quicker leads to soil erosion. And while running down the scree slopes after summit like a skier, following in the footsteps of many climbers and guides may seem like a lot of fun, over the years it gradually pushes all the shale down the mountain. Most climber and guides have done it. So we ask clients to please, as laborious as it may be, stick to the paths. If you must go down the scree, then walk. Shale is better left on the mountain than piled up in backpacks and trekking boots.
Leave Flora and Fauna where it is
Likewise, Kilimanjaro is not just the mountain itself, but everything on it, plants, rocks, volcanic stone etc. Take photos of it by all means but please, leave the plants and rocks and stones where they area. Enjoy them with your eyes, don’t destroy them with your hands. While it may seem “cool” to have a piece of volcanic rock in your home, the next generation will probably toss it in the garden. And that flower that you wanted to take home and dry took millennia to adapt to survive, ON the mountain. This brings us to the next point, what NOT to leave on the mountain.
Everything that is carried up the mountain that is not consumed must be brought back down again. At every camp, the gear that the porters carry must be weighed on leaving each camp and again on arriving to the next one. KINAPA enforces strict regulations to keep Kilimanjaro clean. Licenses are easily revoked or heavy fines imposed if it is found that a guide is leaving litter on the mountain. So in theory, all you have to do is give your little paper bag to the kitchen team to be carried off the mountain or better still, leave it in a bag in your duffel and dispose of it when home.
Why paper bag? Simple, plastic is a global curse and as of 1 June, Tanzania has banned the use of plastic bags. Anyone arriving into Tanzania will have to “surrender” plastic bags in their possession before entering the country.
En route to summit, sucking on glucose sweet helps with thirst and a dry mouth but sadly, most of those sweet wrappers find there way to the scree paths. If you have the energy to dig out a sweet and open it, then you have the energy to put the wrapper back in your pocket. The same applies to hand warmers and dead camera batteries.
If everyone followed these simple steps, we would be able to protect Kilimanjaro for the Chagga people who live on her slopes and for future generations. This grand old mountain is over 2.5million years old so let’s help it continue to grow old gracefully.
Debra Bouwer. Nomadic Adventures