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
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
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.
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
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.