On October 6, 1889, a German geology professor named Hans Meyer, an Austrian mountaineer called Ludwig Purtscheller, and a group of local guides from the nearby Moshi province all made history. As they climbed the final steps to the highest peak of Kilimanjaro, a mountain never known to have been scaled before, they must have felt a sense of wonder and satisfaction that few of us will ever know. We know what you’re thinking. If only they could have tweeted it.
Well, that historical injustice has finally been righted. High-speed internet service is now available on the slopes of Africa’s highest mountain, allowing would-be trekkers to Insta their way to the summit – or, you know, call for help before they join the ten or so people per year who die on the slopes.
Kilimanjaro was hooked up on Tuesday thanks to the state-owned Tanzania Telecommunications Corporation, with the country’s information minister Nape Nnauye calling the event “historic.”
“Previously, it was a bit dangerous for visitors and porters who had to operate without internet,” Nnauye said in a press event at the launch of the service. Now, though, visitors to the mountain can stay connected to the world below them up as far as the Horombo huts, at around 3,720 meters (12,205 feet) above sea level – although they’ll have to wait a little longer before they can tweet at the top, since internet access isn’t expected for the full 5,895-meter (19,341-foot) height until the end of the year.
Internet access has become a mainstay of mountaineering in recent years – for better or for worse. While over-reliance on smartphones has seen some would-be explorers guided up perilous and potentially fatal routes, even expert mountaineers say connectivity is crucial when things go awry.
“If a mobile phone gives a lost person a grid reference […] that they can pass to a mountain rescue team then it is much quicker to find them than to have to do a ‘blanket search’ of an area,” Chris Higgins, a team leader on the Keswick Mountain Rescue Team in England’s Lake District, told the BMC back in 2015. “Mobile phone use in the mountains obviously also has the potential to raise the alarm much quicker than twenty years ago and undoubtedly allows for help to be dispatched sooner with the resultant benefits to casualties. Mobile phones used in this way have saved lives.”
As Gizmodo points out, Mount Everest – a peak which attracts just ten percent of the number of first-time climbers as Kilimanjaro – got internet access years ago. With an annual footfall of around 35,000 tourists and mountaineers, it’s apparently high time Kilimanjaro joined the 21st century.
That’s both for the safety of its visitors, and – let’s face it – for the Instagram opportunities.