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Kilimanjaro Climb Deadly For The Unprepared

October 18, 2010

Following the successful ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro by nine UK celebrities during a 2009 charity event, more and more people are feeling compelled to challenge Africa’s highest mountain–a decision which, according to a new University of Edinburgh study, could be fatal if they don’t prepare correctly.

According to BBC News, travel agencies have reported an increase in bookings to those looking to scale the over 19,000-foot Tanzanian peak following the March 2009 climb successfully completed during the Comic Relief charity event. That climb saw celebrities Gary Barlow, Ronan Keating, Chris Moyles, Ben Shephard, Cheryl Cole, Kimberley Walsh, Denise Van Outen, Fearne Cotton, and Alesha Dixon reach the summit, apparently inspiring many others to attempt and duplicate the feat.

However, Edinburgh scientist Stewart Jackson warns that many of those looking to climb Kilimanjaro “know little or nothing” about the dangers of high altitude rock climbing. In a study, Jackson, his colleagues, and more than 200 would-be climbers camped out at the African mountain for three weeks. They scaled to a height of approximately 15,500 feet, and used the Lake Louise Consensus guide to diagnose the different symptoms of altitude illness in the subjects.

As it turns out, nearly half of those who participated (47%) began showing signs of altitude sickness, including vomiting, headaches, fatigue, coordination problems, breathing problems and insomnia. Furthermore, Jackson and his colleagues discerned that the climbers were ascending too high, too quickly–not giving their bodies enough time to acclimate to the conditions.

“We found that many climbers knew little or nothing about altitude sickness and did not have previous experience of being at high altitude,” Jackson told the BBC, adding that he believed that these findings emphasized “the need to increase awareness of the risks of altitude sickness and the importance of taking your time to acclimatize.”

Jackson, who published his findings in the journal High Altitude Medicine and Biology, said that undergoing a climbing expedition on a smaller mountain before attempting to scale Kilimanjaro “offers climbers the best chance of a safe, successful summit.” Otherwise, individuals can face such health concerns as fluid buildup on the lungs or brain–also known as high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) and high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE)–due to the lack of oxygen.

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