Deaths on Kilimanjaro Raise Concern About Porters' Safety

November 15, 2002

The death of three Tanzanian porters on Mount Kilimanjaro nearly two months ago has raised concern about the plight of local people hired to accompany climbers scaling the world's big peaks.

The three men died during a violent storm on the 19,340-foot (5,895 meters) mountain—the highest peak in Africa. They were not all in the same party, but are thought to have died of hypothermia on the same day, September 17.

About 20,000 climbers attempt the ascent up Mount Kilimanjaro every year. Fall is the prime climbing season because the weather is relatively tame that time of year.

This year, however, the week of September 17 had the worst weather conditions on the mountain that some people had seen in a dozen years. "All week the rain was very heavy, with wind blowing extraordinarily," said Debbie Addison, co-owner and manager of South Africa-based Wild Frontiers. "Then there was a sudden drop in temperature, compounded by the wind chill coming down off the summit."

Her company had employed Anthony Minja, one of the porters who died.

According to a post-mortem report, 47-year-old Minja died of acute cardiovascular failure, most likely related to hypothermia and possibly altitude sickness. He had been climbing along the Machame route with a group led by Wild Frontiers' local operator in Tanzania, Keys Hotel and Tours, when he decided to descend the mountain on his own.

He separated from the main group on the third day of the six-day climb, and his body was later found at 12,630 feet (3,849 meters), between the Shira and Baranco camps. It had been his first trip up Kilimanjaro as a porter.

The other two porters had been working for Tanzania-based Zara International. One died along the Machame route, the other while climbing the Marangu route. The exact causes of their deaths was not reported, and no additional information about them was available.

Cash to Carry

Most Kilimanjaro porters and guides are members of the Chagga tribe, who live in the town of Moshi and surrounding villages at the base of the mountain.

For the most part, local Chagga towns have subsistence economies. Since 1977, however, after Tanzania's national parks service officially opened the Kilimanjaro Forest Reserve, tourism has become a primary source of income for the Chagga.

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