Guides & Porters on Kilimanjaro
Check out this great National Geographic article on Kilimanjaro Porters
The question of guides and porters on Kilimanjaro has consumed about as much debate time and effort as whether the glaciers on the crater are static or receding. The fact that these men have always been a feature of Kilimanjaro climbs has been a source of tremendous relief and frustration to generations of climbers, depending on from what perspective the phenomenon is viewed. On the one hand independent climbers resent the top-heavy crew they are mandated to include on their trip, and from the other weary souls rejoice at collapsing at camp with no requirement to cook, clean, assemble or disassemble camp.
Kilimanjaro is a national park, and is governed and regulated by the Tanzanian National Parks Authority (TANAPA), and the use of local guides and porters is mandatory. The underlying reason for this is to secure as much benefit to the local people as possible, to create as much employment as possible, and to spread the bounty generated by tourism in the region as possible.
In recent years there has been increasing regulation governing the terms of service of the guides and porters of Kilimanjaro. The sight of poorly equipped, ill-shod and malnourished individuals, paid a pittance and loaded with accoutrements, struggling to remain warm and dry at high altitude, is largely a thing of the past. There are still a few of the cheap outfitters who will countenance this sort of thing, and the use of inexperienced and unqualified guides, but these are few nowadays, and on the whole the tourists who climb Kilimanjaro are sufficiently aware of the cost structure of climbing the mountain that support crews are reasonably well paid and at least adequately equipped.
There exists a fairly well defined hierarchy in the support crew fraternity.
Like the captain of a ship, they are in charge of everything and everyone else. There is typically one lead guide, but the rest of the crew will depend on the size of your climbing group and the financial strategy of the operator who sold you the package. At the top end the guide is always licensed, very experienced, and fluent in English. Some of the very high-end companies pay lavishly to maintain the loyalty of the top guides, whose experience and supplementary training is part of what makes many of these trips so noticeably pricey. At the bottom end guides can be young, sometimes with borrowed licenses and with very little practical knowledge or experience, and indeed very little in the way of reliable equipment.
A good guide combined the skills of a maître d’, a quartermaster, a meteorologist, a nurse, psychologist, anthropologist, geologist, volcanoloist, ecologist, entomologist, zoologist and general thinker of thoughts and feeler of feelings. He will answer your questions as he coordinate every aspect of the trip, and will lead from the front or the rear. Some guides have summited Kilimanjaro 300 or more times.
A good operator will hire one assistant guide for each two to three climbers in your group. In other words, a group of 4 climbers will have 2 assistant guides to go along with the lead guide and the rest of the support crew. Since groups tend to get spread out during each day’s climbing segment, the assistant guides will space themselves out among the group as well, and one assistant guide will be bringing up the rear. Assistant guides will almost always speak reasonably fluent English.
If someone in your group has problems with altitude sickness or any other major problem that curtails their climb, an assistant guide will attend to them and help them descend and get help if needed. The rest of the party carries on toward the summit, so this can be a difference between a group that makes it and one that doesn’t. If the operator doesn’t hire enough staff then a medical problem can put everyone’s climb in jeopardy, but the better operators make sure this won’t happen by hiring the proper size crew.
These men are usually newer to the Kilimanjaro scene and it’s not necessary for them to be fluent in English. They’ll carry almost all of your personal equipment, as well as the tents, cooking apparatus, food etc. for the whole group. There will typically be 2 or 3 porters for each climber in your group, so a group of 4 climbers might have between 8 and 12 porters.
They, along with the cooks, are the lowest paid in the crew, but you can take comfort from knowing these are very desirable jobs and men come from all over the region to compete for these positions. If they become fluent in English, prove themselves quick learners, and can aquire enough experience, it is possible for them to move quickly up the ladder.
Depending on the size of your group, you’ll have at least one dedicated cook and maybe several. There can be some crossover between cooking and hauling gear, but you can expect a professional cook to be preparing your meals in the evening, usually long before you arrive at camp yourself.
Tipping The Crew
This is an issue that many people, particularly tip-happy Americans, are curious about, and it is good to factor this into the price of your climb. Yes, it’s common and courteous to tip these brave men who helped you conquer Kilimanjaro, but only if the service was good or great. As a rule US$10 per porter and US$20 per guide