To whom it may concern -
I wish to raise concerns I have over key health and safety issues on my upcoming vacation to East Africa. This will be a group of three which includes Dale Helman M.D. (my brother), his girlfriend Dana Mills, and myself.
In particular I address climbing Kilimanjaro, dividing strict climbing issues from nutritional ones. The latter in turn includes hygeinic and esthetic concerns.
I have a considerable amount of experience mountain climbing and, apart from the high altitude achieved, will find this walkup very comfortable indeed. It will be a pleasure (if somewhat demeaning) for porters to carry my heavy equipment.
The required equipment list is essentially what I would have recommended for such an ascent with the following exceptions for which I kindly request an explanation as to their conspicuous absence -
a) ice ax and crampons. The trail is described, and I quote, "Uhuru stands at 19,340 feet - the difference in height is not enormous but the track around the edge of the creater is rocky AND ICY, with NUMEROUS OPPORTUNITIES for the unwary climber to fall and hurt himself" (emphasis added, cf page 4 of A & K Travel Information For Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro).
I am bringing my own ice ax and crampons unless someone convinces me that the route has neither hard crusty snow and/or large sections of ice without solid rock for footholds.
b) synthetic raingear such as GoreTex. It is well known that on the lower slopes it can rain at anytime, especially in the afternoon. Item #17 on the equipment list is a "lightweight raincoat with hood" possibly supplemented by "a folding umbrella". Much preferred is raingear of a synthetic material designed to allow body moisture to pass through, as GoreTex, both for the upper AND the lower body. Wearing it a cumbersome umbrella is obviated.
A related issue is the stated time of departure of the first day of climbing (cf page 2), "Most climbers set off on this first stage of the walk between about 11 A.M. to 12 noon." This implies that the afternoon is spent hiking on the lower slopes with ample opportunity for rain!
Although I understand that there is roughly a sixty mile drive from the hotel in Arusha that morning, I kindly request that we consider the following change in schedule to avoid this nasty scenario. A predawn departure from the hotel following by an early start hiking at some 7 A.M. Our biological clocks will be so misaligned from the 10 hour time zone difference (having just flown from California), that arising at 4:30 for a 5 o'clock departure will be irrelevant. LUNCH UPON ARRIVAL at Mandara hut, NOT ON THE TRAIL WHILE STILL CLIMBING (more on the relationship between food and immediate exercise below).
c) headlamp for the night ascent to the summit. Item #20 is a flashlight- as with a folding umbrella the loss of one useful hand while hiking is patently absurd. I will bring my headlamp and provide for my brother and his girlfriend (they have agreed to this).
It appears to me that the equipment list was chosen with the pre-existing wardrobe of a nonclimber in mind, and not that of what is truly required for ensuring safety on the mountain. After all, most of us allready own flashlights and umbrellas but not GoreTex clothing and headlamps. PLEASE JUSTIFY YOUR EQUIPMENT LIST.
NUTRITIONAL ISSUES - HYGEINE and CALORIES
We are all aware of the hazards in eating uncooked food in third world nations. And so I address the following concerns regarding hygeine -
a) It is stated that fruit is served on the mountain. What type? If of the unpeeled variety (pears, grapes), will they be washed with boiled water? The peeled variety (mangoes, bananas) will be preferred to avoid this issue alltogether.
b) The equipment list does not include eating utensils or dishes. What mechanism will be in place to wash utensils in boiled water? If no such mechanism exists, should we not provide our own utensils?
I cite the following FACTS regarding the relationship between climbing and food consumption.
It is detrimental to eat a heavy meal and follow this with immediate physical exertion. I personally find that a small meal of mainly carbohydrate is optimal for breakfast while climbing, supplemented by numerous snacks along the trail. Dinner, if not followed by climbing, can be as large as one pleases.
Carbohydrate loading. The summit day will consume as much Calories as a marathon and is best preceded by a day of considerable eating. I have found that most climbers agree that such overeating really does help out, particularly at higher altitude.
These two observations lead to the following recommendations -
c) NO LARGE BREAKFASTS on the trail (cf page 2 "Breakfast is another large meal - porridge, fruit, hard-boiled eggs, toast and jam, and more tea.") A subset of this meal is adequate, e.g. porridge with powdered milk, dried fruit and nuts to mix in; plus hot chocolate and coffee for three people who are not in the British custom of drinking tea at every opportunity.
d) A good amount of food the day before summiting (cf page 4 "Those who are going to attempt the peak should go to bed ... after a very light meal (!!) - generally a stew or a thick soup"). The recommended small meal, although seemingly the "correct" thing at home to promote early sleeping, is again wholly inappropriate under the present circumstances.
e) There will be a small LUNCH AT THE SUMMIT in addition to numerous high energy foods along the trail for summit day. If A & K cannot arrange this then I will bring enough for all three of us. It is beneficial for morale to know while climbing that a tasty lunch is waiting at the summit.
f) RETURN TO KIBO HUT WITHOUT DESCENT TO HOROMBO HUT. Would you squeeze two workdays into one and not be desparately tired? The ONLY (repeat, ONLY) way we will consider returning to Horombo hut on summit day, is after a considerable (2-3 hour) sleep in the afternoon while at Kibo.
g) no lunch the other climbing days while still hiking. (cf page 3 "...after a lunch of butter sandwiches and fruit"). However LUNCH UPON ARRIVAL at camp even if the same described lunch.
NUTRITIONAL ISSUES - ESTHETIC
I am a gourmand who enjoys good food at EVERY opportunity. I do not repeat a menu except after a considerable timespan. I do not eat at McDonald's nor do I eat plain porridge, plain butter sandwiches, or plain meat with potatoes (cf same document noted above) unless I am starving.
h) Please make the effort to VARY THE FOOD made available on the climb - as your paying clients we have no choice but to eat what you serve. My brother (the "emperer") frequents the best restaurants available since at home he has a choice.
i) Please make the effort to PROVIDE HIGH QUALITY FOOD and not just "standard fare". If you insist upon feeding us by English custom I humbly suggest the following examples - Stilton cheese / Double Gloucester for sandwiches instead of butter (these last for days without refridgeration). - Steak and Kidney pie (in the States these are available frozen and could certainly last unrefridgerated for at least the first night) - Fish and chips with malt vinegar (can one find a dehydrated version at an outdoors recreation store?)
j) My brother does not eat any pig products owing to religious convictions. Therefore please do not serve a meal in which pork, ham, bacon, or pork-based sausage (bratwurst, hot dogs ...) is the sole option.
- that the biscuits be flavored (chocolate, jam, etc...) and not just plain shortbread devoid of taste); fruitcake would be marvelous!
- dried nonfat milk for porridge and to drink with biscuits; herbal tea such as cinnamon, orange spice, etc.. (e.g. not the bitter Earl Gray variety or "Lipton"); cocoa powder for drinks; instant coffee to wake people up;
- no British "high tea" upon arrival at camp before dinner (cf pg 3 "... tea and biscuits on arrival will be closely followed by an early evening meal ..."). We would FAR prefer either a dessert in the evening with or AFTER DINNER, even if that dessert is your simple tea and biscuits.
- Champagne and salmon roe caviar upon return to Kibo hut from the summit. My brother is paying a huge amount for this trip and, as the "emperor" (as he is known locally), fully expects to be treated accordingly.
Please answer my requests in a timely fashion. Whatever you cannot provide I will bring myself (subject to international travel restrictions) since I am determined to enjoy aspect of my vacation, including the food.
My brother is a licensed physician and will bring Decadron with syringes in the unlikely event of high altitude pulmonary or cerebral edema. This relieves the problem in twenty minutes and buys time while descent is made to a hospital.
Dana will provide a videotape camera for the summit experience. We trust someone (myself if need be) will carry this.
I look forward to this trip to no end, and trust that everything will turn out according to plan.