Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The 'ambulances' of Kilimanjaro

I don't know about you but before I went to Kilimanjaro I must admit to the odd thought in the back of my head. I wondered if I was to get hurt or sick how would they get me off of the mountain. I didn't figure they would call 911 and the local ambulance would pull up seven minutes later along with the fire trucks and a police car, as we might get at home. No, I was aware that the service was different in the middle of Africa. I also knew that although we hear of helicopter rescues off mountains in the Rockies, the Himalayas,or the Swiss Alps, I didn't really count on that either. Iam not sure there is a rescue helicopter in all of Tanzania. I really didn't know what would happen nor did I want to make use of whatever service that there was. In fact I didn't, nor did anyone on our trip or anyone on our schedule. However I did see one woman being carried off on the "ambulance", so I can tell you what service is available.
When we arrived in Horombo Huts at the end of our second day of hiking, under the main hall were these contraptions.

Basically it is a steel stretcher with a motorcycle wheel and a set of shock absorbers mounted in the middle. At first glance I couldn't quite understand how it would be used. However on our rest day we saw one in action. Apparently the park has a crew of "paramedics" and I use the term loosely. I have no idea what if any medical training they have. However they are there purely for the purpose of bringing down those unfortunate climbers who cannot get down on their own. How do they do it? See the photos below.

I have no idea who the unfortunate person in the sleeping bag or what happened to her. I do know that when we arrived in Horombo there were three of these ambulances under the hut and when we left there was only one. Other than the case pictured above we never saw anyone being transported on the trail nor did we see any of these stretchers being brought back up the mountain. When we passed thru Horombo on our way down there were none under the shed.
I really have no idea how long it would take to get someone down in this manner but I do know that the guides and rangers are a lot faster than we might think. See my post on the summit climb re the woman carried down the scree slope, and you will understand what I am referring to.
Also, look up 'fastest climb of Kilimanjaro' and you will come to this site which tells the story of Simon Mtuy who runs a guiding company in Moshi and climbs the mountain regularily. Incredibly he has climbed roundtrip from gate to the summit and back down in 8 hours and 27 minutes. There was no "pole pole" going on there. Needless to say the people who work on the mountain year in and year out could probably carry a sick person off the mountain faster than we think. Lets hope we never have to find out!!

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