Written by: Jonathan Lee
One of the most common questions I get from prospective climbers is “how many porters will I have on my Kilimanjaro trek?” Before we go into a detailed breakdown on the numbers, I'll first explain the key roles of a strong Kilimanjaro support team:
Lead Guide - The lead guide is the leader of a the climbing team and will be walking in lock step with you, day to day, as you make your way toward Uhuru Peak. . Lead guides typically have several years of experience climbing the mountain and very often work their way up to this position by starting out as a porter.
The lead guide is ultimately responsible for guiding the climbers up the mountain and for monitoring each climbers health, including symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). This is a extremely important role as the lead guide will be responsible for making key decisions such as when to push for the summit or descend based on climber health, weather or other factors.
Assistant Guide - Second in command is the assistant guide, who serves in a supporting role to the lead guide. The assistant guide’s key responsibility is to make sure that no one in the group gets left behind. The assistant guide will trek in the back of the pack to ensure that the slower climbers trek in the right direction. In the event that parts of the climbing group need to descend, the assistant guide will lead the group down, while the lead guide continues leading the ascent for the rest of the group.
Camp Manager - The camp manager is responsible for ensuring that the camp is setup ahead of time and that climbers preferences and needs are met. The porters arrive at each camp well in advance of the climbers, and set up the sleeping tents, dining tents, cooking tent etc. When the climbers arrive at the camp, everything is setup and ready so that the climbers can rest and enjoy the camp. The camp manager helps set up the camp and coordinates all logistics such as getting more water for the camp.
Chef - The chef on a climb has the very important task of feeding the climbers and supporting team. A very important part of the climb is to maintain good nutrition to ensure that you have enough energy for each day’s trek. The chef is responsible for making breakfast, lunch, dinner and the occasional snack. Chefs on Kilimanjaro will also be responsible for making sure meals meet dietary needs, as long as you have notified the tour operator ahead of time.
Waiter -The waiter will greet you every morning with warm ‘washing water’ for you to wash your face, brush your teeth and bring you hot coffee / tea. During meals, the waiter will serve you food in your dining tent and clean up after the meal. Upon arrival at your next camp the waiter will serve snacks and tea or coffee prior to dinner.
Porters - Among the hardest workers of your climbing support team will be your porters. Porters carry all of the equipment needed for the climb. Each porter is limited by law to carrying (15 kg / 33 lbs) as mandated by the Kilimanjaro Park Authority. It’s unofficially recognized that many porters end up carrying more than the legal load. It amazing to watch porters as they carry heavy loads while trekking up the steep terrain often wearing sub-par equipment. Since Mount Kilimanjaro is a remote mountain, everything required for the climb needs to be carried all the way up the mountain and then all the way back down. Porters will carry food for the entire climb, tents, sleeping bags, camping tables, chairs, climbers' clothes, supporting crew clothes, cooking equipment, propane etc.
Your climbing support team -
Each climb typically has:
1 Lead Guide
1 Assistant Guide
1 Camp Lead
2-3 Porters per climber
As an example, a climbing group of two will have a total climb support team of 9-10 people. If your climb is longer than 6 or 7 days you many have additional porters assigned to your climb to compensate for the extra supplies that need to be carried up.
Now let's take a moment to talk about porter pay and treatment. Working as a porter is extremely hard work. Porters take on this job as it pays well compared to other jobs in the rural communities surrounding Mount Kilimanjaro. A large part of porter pay is dependent on tips from climbers for their hard work. I'll cover on a separate post how much you should tip your climbing support team. To learn more about programs related to ensuring that porters are paid and treated well I recommend visiting the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project.