Kibo, Kilimanjaro's summit cone
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Fred Achedo, traversing the lower impact zone on the Western Breach, at 5,080m.

Threat of accidents and deaths on the Western Breach of Kilimanjaro

 

There have been several accidents on the Western Breach in recent years, most of which have occurred between 5,000m and 5,300m elevation (not at Arrow Glacier Camp as the media has sometimes erroneously reported). The most unfortunate of these accidents occurred in January 2006 when rockfall dislodged from the base of a glacier on the face fell some 150 metres, impacting and killing three climbers.

 

Investigating the 2006 Western Breach accident under the auspices of TANAPA

Following this accident we were asked to work with representatives of Kilimanjaro National Parks under the direction of Tanzania National Parks, in order to demonstrate what we had previously advised the then Director General of Tanzania National Parks, Gerald Bigurube, was the cause of this accident. These findings were reported here.

 

Continued risk of rock fall on the Western Breach

It is our belief that now that the Western Breach has been re-opened, we should expect the possibility of further accidents. The primary reasons for this belief are that:

 

The r-shaped glacier from which the rocks fell in January 2006 continues to recede and to release more rocks. The fall-path of these rocks inevitably intersects the climber’s ascent route in at least two locations, regardless of how the route is constructed.

 

The principle of indemnity and function of informed consent when climbing Kilimanjaro.

Prospective climbers should be advised that neither KINAPA, TANAPA nor any climb organiser with which you may book your expedition are liable to bear any responsibility for accidents that may occur on Kilimanjaro. In all cases climbers are required to undertake to commit to their expeditions on the basis of informed consent and in acknowledgement of the fact that an ascent of Kilimanjaro entails potentially fatal objective risk, that is, risk that cannot be controlled by you or your climb organiser. Climbers should also note that the level of objective risk associated with the Western Breach assault route is considered to be conspicuously greater than on the two alternative assault routes.

 

Tanzania National Parks’ revised decision improves climber safety

Some viewers to this site may remember that we originally published a second reason why we felt that the Western Breach continued to pose significant risks to climbers. We originally expressed the following concern:

 

b) the alternative route that has been opened with the aim of evading rockfall now presents a new risk of falling. This is clearly illustrated in the image directly behind this text, taken on the southern side of the Stone Train where the new route is required to pass.

 

This risk is illustrated in the video ‘Western Breach, Stone Train: the right side is the wrong side’.

 

While it was originally the decision of the authorities to route the climb around what we contended was the ‘wrong’ side of the Stone Train, we are relieved to be able to report that this decision has subsequently been reversed, and our recommendation to adhere closely to the (ascending) left side of the Stone Train has been endorsed.

 

Ongoing caution strongly advised when ascending the Western Breach

While it is well received that the ‘official’ Western Breach route follows the report’s recommendations as regards the details of the new route, we nonetheless urge ongoing caution particularly because:

 

A) the route remains prone to rock fall in at least three places. Each of these ‘kill zones’ can be crossed quickly, minimising exposure to risk, however it is of course possible that rock fall can impact a climber even while crossing these small zones quickly,

 

B) while the authorities are able to prescribe the ‘correct’ route, to date they have been unable to erect the instructional signs and guidance notes along the ascent that we recommended in our Western Breach accident investigation report, and which would be required effectively to proscribe access to locations which the old route incorporated, but which are demonstrably highly risk-prone. This omission therefore allows significant scope for error where a guide that works for an operation whose experience of the face is perhaps slight, is concerned, or where an experienced operation employs either an inexperienced or incorrigible guide.

This bag was found a few metres below the lower of the two impact points.