I won’t go into each company we contacted and/or their specific responses but I will share that we booked with Team Kilimanjaro and Bianca’s response. We had the responses shown below the next day. A couple of side notes first:
1) I think that MANY of the companies are fine to book with and you have to go with what makes you comfortable and then not second-guess yourself. As soon as we booked I started reading rave reviews about ClimbKili (another company we sent a note to and received a VERY thorough response from) but you can’t keep thinking “Should I have booked with X or Y” or you will drive yourself nuts. Same with airfare (future post). Once booked, check your flights/times/connections, but don’t keep checking prices. You can’t do anything and it will drive you batty!
2) Bianca: OMG. She is an angel and I would so love to meet her. Thanking ME every time I send her a list of questions and providing excellent, thorough and easy-to-understand responses. I LOVE her. This is where the comfort level comes in. She has been fantastic to work with and I’ve read similar views from others. I’m not going to include every question again from my post yesterday but hit the highlights we received from Bianca (the topic is in bold, Bianca’s responses are underneath):
Recommended Route and Timing:
I am afraid the mountain is very busy in December and January, therefore I would suggest our TK Rongai climb over the Lemosho route. The Lemosho route joins with the Machame, Shira and Umbwe routes after day 2 and this causes a bottleneck effect at the Barranco Wall.
Our own 7 Day TK Rongai Route has been conceived specifically to address some of the weakness inherent in the other routes. All western and southern routes including Machame, standard Lemosho, Shira and Umbwe suffer somewhat from two blights; there is a slightly disappointing bottleneck effect caused by the convergence of all these routes at Barranco and the fact of there being only one way of passing over the steep Breach Wall; and perhaps more significantly, they all have a series of steep and unnecessary undulations (i.e. wasted height gain) en route to the high camp. These undulations occur after the principle climb high, sleep low feature (Lava Tower, 4642m) has already been achieved and therefore contribute nothing to acclimatisation, only serving to deplete a climber’s precious reserves that ought rather to be conserved for the summit bid.
Our new TK Rongai Route is proving incredibly successful and enjoys the lowest crowds (virtually none until the last camp), arguably the greatest likelihood of wildlife confrontation (because of low volumes of climbers passing through), by far the greatest climb high, sleep low differential (some 300m more than on the standard Lemosho and Machame) and therefore the safest and most thorough acclimatisation; and perhaps most significantly of all, the gentlest and most logical approach to high camp that ensures climbers arrive in position to assault the summit in as fresh condition as possible.
Trip Dates and Pricing (Talk about thorough!):
Given the internal structure of our company, we are able to schedule a climb virtually any day of the year, which enables us to operate to climbers requested dates rather than ask climbers to fit into our scheduled dates. Therefore it would not be a problem for us to schedule a climb for you on any date in December 2013 in January 2014. Please specify if you would want to have a private party climb, where you would only share the transport to the start gate of your route with other climbers but have your own staff on the mountain. This would make no difference to the price and is a very usual request. Unless advised otherwise, we will assume that originating climbers are happy for the climb to be classed as open for others to join.
Our 7 day TK Rongai climb would cost USD 2,279 per person when 3 climbers book together. Our 7 day Lemosho climb would cost USD 2,300 per person when 3 climbers book together.
Things that are included in this price are:
– pick up at Kilimanjaro Airport and transfer to your hotel in Arusha
– a night’s accommodation both before and after your climb*
– all climb costs, salaries, food, fees, etc. (excluding tips)
– all transfers to the mountain and back to your Arusha hotel again
– transfers back to Kilimanjaro Airport for your return flights
*Accommodation is in our standard range hotels, i.e. either at the Outpost Lodge, Arusha Naaz Hotel, or Le Jacaranda. If you wish to upgrade to either a mid-range or luxury option a surcharge is payable.
Significant additional cost considerations are:
– flights or overland transfers to Kilimanjaro International Airport or Arusha town if approaching from Nairobi
– tips to the mountain staff
– meals other than breakfast while in Arusha
– additional nights beyond the two standard hotel nights included
– hotel upgrade costs if you decide to request an alternative hotel to the standard
Skipping Safari for now (will post later as we’re still working details on lodges, etc.)
Toilet question (again, the thoroughness, making sure we understand the mechanics and are not horrified when we get there!):
You will have a portable toilet, which is included in our climb prices. Please note, however, we do not use portable flush toilets. We actually have a couple of these but they both broke almost immediately.
The problem is that there is a plastic slide between the two chambers. Freezing condensation cements the slide closed and when one forces it, because low temperatures make the plastic brittle, the plastic handle to the fore of the slide plate, snaps off.
So sadly, these portable flush models are not suitable for use at altitude. We therefore use the simplest possible design as there’s least risk of malfunction (and justified complaints) on the mountain.
We are constantly on the lookout for new gear, but are yet to find a satisfactorily reliable more sophisticated alternative to the wooden box with bucket inside! We know it sounds rather primitive, but to date we would still deem it to be most fit for purpose on Kilimanjaro.
Yes, that is correct. As regards equipment we provide, our Advantage Series climbs are configured to aim to ensure the best possible acclimatization and preparation for the assault by maximizing hydration, nutrition and rest. To this end we use mess tents, tables and chairs for virtually all meals. This allows us to have a very leisurely lunch every day under shelter that will typically include a soup starter, light pasta dish and fruit pudding. We therefore provide all the equipment requisite for these arrangements. We supply climbers with lightweight waterproof, breathable sleeping tents and 4cm thick sleeping mattresses.
Size of party and pace:
In terms of group size, our maximum recommended group size is only 8 climbers as we are concerned to ensure maximum exposure of climbers to their lead guides so as to be able to address any concerns climbers have about hydration, nutrition and acclimatisation while en route to the summit.
In the event that any member(s) of a climbing party start to struggle with the demands of climbing Kili, having assessed the situation, the Chief Guide will allocate his Assistant Guides accordingly to ensure that all climbers are reassured that they are in safe hands. If it is felt that it would be beneficial for the group to divide into smaller groups which walk at different paces, then the guides will deal with this and lead the smaller groups. If it is felt that it would be better for struggling member(s) to descend to lower altitudes, he/she/they will either be guided to a lower altitude on the mountain to await the return of the remaining members, or will be guided off the mountain.
In short – You will have enough guides on your climb to give everyone in the group the independence to trek at their own pace and to allow for a climber to be evacuated should the unfortunate event occur.
Debby again. I will say that all 3 of us were completely thrilled with her level of response and while we did talk to another couple of companies, the pricing, reviews, and service (responsiveness) had pretty much won us over! Next up: The booking process!