This was one of the most amazing experiences and even surpassed my expectations. We did their 8 day Lemoso trip (11 days total with the company, 8 days/7 nights on the mountain with NO crater camp). We chose the Lemosho route due to it being longer and providing more time for altitude acclimatization and also being less crowded at least until it meets the Machame route.
We chose Tusker Trail as our operator as they were very safety focused and even teach courses on high altitude medicine to physicians. Their guides are also high altitude wilderness first responder trained, which is clearly a plus. This was not just what they advertised, but was apparent by the training the guides had as well as the fact that we witnessed other groups approaching our guides for assistance more than once during our week on the mountain when some of their guests had gotten ill. Turns out to be a NP certified guide you only get training on the ecology of the mountain and ZERO first aid training by the national park service. Some guides may get some first aid training by the company that hires them, but this is infrequently the case and they simply learn skills like CPR by word of mouth on the mountain. So don’t assume your guide as any first aid training, you must ask your tour operator exactly what training and any certifications they may have.
Our guides from Tusker checked our gear the day before departure to make sure it was adequate. They went beyond checking our oxygen saturation levels and administering a questionnaire for altitude sickness daily by listening to our lungs every morning to check for pulmonary edema. The hiking pace is very slow, but I believe this is also why out group did so well with very few symptoms of altitude sickness (mild headaches only). We saw other people in pretty bad shape, vomiting, and nearly lifeless being dragged off the mountain in other groups, and even one guy who had pulmonary edema that was walking himself down the western breach without oxygen with his guide because his crew had already passed the "point of no return". I get how adventurous it sounds to do the western breech but the risk of the route with possible rock slides and the guaranteed altitude sickness of sleeping in the Crater camp doesn't sound worth it to me. Our guides even admitted that they frequently feel sick in the crater camp when they do an overnight there.
Our group was 7 people Ranging in age from 30-78, and from locals across the US including sea level and a mile high. Some of us were avid outdoorsmen, others were marathon runners, and some were simply those who wanted to mark off a bucket list item.
One thing that was great surprise for our group is that we got to choose partway through our trip to slightly alter the itinerary to allow us to summit during the day rather than during the dark. This made the experience very enjoyable and we were the only ones on the mountain during the day time other than a few people we saw descending. So we had a celebration at the top all by ourselves, without crowds trying to get pictures with the sign. We did this by choosing to skip staying at Karanga camp after we left baranco camp and moved on to Barafu after eating lunch. We were a little tired that day but not bad, and then we got a full nights sleep and started our climb in the AM at sunrise. I think starting well rested despite losing 19 hours of acclimatization was great for our moral and made for a good experience. I asked why they don't make this a standard option, and it's because they need to assess how people acclimatize as they go along first and if things aren't going well they don't offer it, but most of the time they are able to. The other upside to this was it shortened our total trekking time/distance on summit day as when we came down we camped a second night at Barafu instead of descending all the way to Mweka. The following AM we descended to Mweka, which was hard enough on the knees so I can't imagine doing it immediately following the summit. Ultimately the trip felt very doable, but this is coming from someone who trained by hiking in Colorado up to 13,000 feet every weekend for two months before the trip and my only sign of altitude sickness was a mild headache at 17,000 on my ascent.
Some of the most memorable parts of the hike were: 1) Hearing the colobus monkeys call in the middle of the night in waves across the forest at Forest Camp, 2)Decending from Lava tower into the lush baranco valley with the giant seneccio and waterfalls, 3) scrambling for 90 minutes up the baranco wall, 4) Seeing the summit get closer and closer each day, 5) seeing the glaciers on our last hour to the summit, 6) running down from the summit as if I was telemark skiing dodging rocks and using the deeper sand to slow me down (I arrived in camp nearly an hour before everyone else).
Each of the camps were spacious and I didn’t think felt all that crowded as the only noise I ever heard was from our own crew. They were also clean and I didn’t see as much trash on the mountain asn I suspected I would. Even when I checked out the public pit toilets they weren’t that bad. Our group had our own private bucket toilet with a seat, but sometimes the smell that was locked into the tent was worse than the public pit toilets that were better ventilated. Our toilet tent also blew over one night while everyone was sleeping, luckily I didn’t have to get up to go that night.
The food was fantastic and they have a chef fly out from Le Cordon Bleu every year to train their chefs. Their Tanzanian chef Alex on our trip is apparently so good they fly him out to cook for their trips in mongolia. They were also easily were able to accommodate my gluten free diet (I brought along some GF products that they prepared to replace other carbs the group ate). Our favorite was the soups each day that were a perfect start after hiking and our bodies craving salt. We also had tasty treats such as crepes and apple pancakes for desert. We had a constant supply of fresh vegetables, fruits, and various proteins. They actually restock fresh food by having a new set of porters carry it up the machame route half way through the trip. There was always so much food we didn't eat it all.
The gear was in good condition. With all the dust the zippers can stick, but the camp master can fix and even replace zippers if needed. The sleeping pads are about 2 inches thick rubber coated foam that is self inflating. Was still a bit stiff for me as my bony hips hurt when I camp for long, so I had brought along an inflatable pad that I put on top, but I never heard anyone else complain about being uncomfortable.
I would highly recommend Tusker Trail to any of my friends who want to go climb Kilimanjaro, even though the cost is a little higher than some companies, I felt that I got my money's worth in how well cared for we were and my entire group was very impressed with our whole experience.