At Thomson, we’re proud to lead 98% of our trekkers all the way to the summit! But what about the 2% who don’t reach Uhuru Peak? When David James’s daughter Kristen had to descend due to altitude sickness, he and his wife Jeri opted to go down with her to make sure everything was alright. This is David’s story of the descent, in his own words:


Guests Kristen and family at Kilimanjaro trailhead

Kristen, Jeri, and David at Kilimanjaro’s trailhead

We were at Lava Tower camp (15,238’) when our daughter Kristen succumbed to a severe case of AMS.  Despite a couple of hours on oxygen, she couldn’t even keep medication down. Our extraordinary head guide Onest advised us around 2 AM that in view of the severity of her symptoms, Kristen should descend immediately. A cardiac doctor in another Thomson trekking group camped nearby agreed, and preparations began immediately for the descent.

Although our group had agreed that if one of us had to turn back he/she would have to descend alone, both Jeri and I were sufficiently alarmed at Kristen’s symptoms that we decided to accompany her down in case the situation turned even more serious.  At that point, hospitalization seemed possible.

Once the decision to descend was made, it took an astonishingly short time before all our gear was packed up (by the porters), and Onest had a dozen porters and guides organized to take Kristen (and us) down in the middle of the freezing, moonless night to the emergency pick-up point just below Shira 2 camp.  Kristen could still stagger along, and as she described it, they all proceeded “as though in a well rehearsed ballet at top speed down the mountain.”

By the time Jeri and I caught up, Kristen was looking noticeably better.  The evacuation vehicle arrived almost exactly as we were reaching the pick-up point, and from there we all sped across the Shira plateau to Londorossi Gate, where Mathew met us and shepherded us down to Arusha and the luxurious Mt. Meru hotel.

I cannot find enough superlatives to compliment Mathew—he handled everything, from hotel formalities, to getting us more U.S. dollars, to visiting the cultural center in Arusha, to organizing a marvelous one-day safari to Tarangire National Park with Simon (also excellent!) as driver.  We’ve taken several self-drive safaris through major parks in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia, but we’ve rarely seen such an abundance and diversity of wildlife as we saw in Tarangire: lions, leopards, cheetahs, steenboks, dik-diks, and even a tree python, all before lunch! As we lunched along the sunny bank of the Tarangire River, observing herds of elephants frolicking in the water, we thought often of our mountain colleagues struggling pole, pole up into ever thinner and colder air, and we weren’t in the least unhappy.

Overall, the ascent was a marvelous experience. The astonishing work of the porters in transporting luxury food and facilities up the mountain was an entirely new experience for us; we have always traveled self-sufficiently in the past, whether backpacking, kayaking, or on self-drive safaris.  The guides, porters, food, and camp facilities—the whole operation in fact—were honestly superior to anything I had imagined. There’s not much mystery as to why Thomson is top-rated.

We were happy to have seen the mountain up close and personal, but not in the least disappointed not to have summited. Indeed, the days after our premature descent were simply delightful.

We all went back to the gate to greet the others on their arrival the final day, and to pass out well-deserved bonuses to the porters and guides who helped so much.  We were astounded that eight of the twelve porters who helped Kristen down the mountain in the cold and dark immediately turned around to climb back up to Lava Tower in time to haul the gear to the next camp, despite having had no sleep at all that night. These guys are simply fantastic! We were also gratified to learn that the porters who came off the mountain with us didn’t lose wages for the days missed.

Even though it didn’t turn out quite as expected, we had a wonderful time on our expedition. Thanks again, Thomson!


Thomson Safaris Kilimanjaro trekker Kristen with porters

 Kristen reunites with her porters at the conclusion of the trek