Kilimanjaro is not only Africa’s tallest peak, but also the world’s tallest free standing mountain. The summit, named Uhuru Point, is 5,895 meters (19,341 feet) above sea level.
This mountain is very popular with both experienced hikers and first time adventurers because it is considered to be the easiest of the seven summits. Scaling Mt Kilimanjaro requires no technical skills or equipment, such as rope, harness, crampons or ice axe. Therefore, it is a hiking or “walk up” peak, not a mountaineering or climbing peak.
Most high mountains are part of ranges, such as Mount Everest’s Himalayan Mountain Range. These are formed in a process called plate tectonics. Below the ground, Earth’s crust is made up of multiple tectonic plates. These plates have been moving since the beginning of time due to geologic activity.
Free standing mountains like Kilimanjaro are usually a result of volcanic activity. Volcanic mountains are formed when molten rock erupts, and piles upon the surface.
Mount Kilimanjaro lies just 205 miles from the equator, in the country of Tanzania. When early explorers reported seeing glaciers on the top of Kilimanjaro, people did not believe them as they thought it was impossible for ice to form so close to the hot, equatorial sun. Scientists now believe that the glaciers shrink and then regrow during the planet’s ice ages.
As mentioned above, Kilimanjaro was formed from volcanic activity. However, the mountain once had three volcanic cones – Kibo, Shira and Mawenzi.
Kibo is the tallest cone and also the central cone. This is where Kilimanjaro’s summit lies. It was formed 460,000 years ago.
Mawenzi is a craggy peak that ranks as the third highest peak in Africa, after Kibo and Mount Kenya (12,549’/3825m). You will have good views of Mawenzi on the Rongai and Northern Circuit routes.
Shira is no longer a peak. It is estimated to have been about 16,000 feet high before it collapsed, creating the Shira Plateau on the western side of the mountain. The Machame, Lemosho and Shira routes trek across this feature.
Mount Kilimanjaro is a stratovolcano – a term for a very large volcano made of ash, lava, and rock. Shira and Mawenzi are extinct volcanoes, meaning that there is no activity underneath these cones. In short, they are cut off from their supply of lava.
However, Kibo is considered a dormant volcano; it can erupt again! If a volcano hasn’t erupted in the last 10,000 years, but scientists think it will erupt again, it’s considered dormant.
The last major eruption was 360,000 years ago. The most recent activity was 200,000 years ago. The ash pit is a two-hour round trip hike from the highest campsite, Crater Camp. Those who visit the ash pit will be greeted by the smell of sulfur from the volcano’s lava.
The origin of the name Kilimanjaro is not certain.
European explorers had adopted the name by 1860 and reported that “Kilimanjaro” was the mountain’s Swahili name. But according to the 1907 edition of The Nuttall Encyclopædia, the name of the mountain was “Kilima-Njaro,” comprised of the Swahili word “Kilima” meaning “mountain” and the Chagga word “Njaro” meaning “whiteness.”
Mount Kilimanjaro was first climbed in 1889 by a German geologist Hans Meyer, an Austrian climber Ludwig Purtscheller and a local guide Yohani Kinyala Lauwo.
On Meyer’s first attempt in 1887, he made it to the base of Kibo but had to turn around there. He encountered thick snow and ice walls and did not have equipment for heavy snow and ice.
He made a second attempt in 1888 that was also unsuccessful. But it was not due to the mountain itself, but because Meyer was captured and held as a prisoner by locals as part of the Abushiri Revolt, when the Arab and Swahili population rebelled against German traders. He was freed after a ransom was paid.
Meyer finally succeeded in 1889. His support team included a guide, two local tribe leaders, nine porters, and a cook. They reached the summit on the southern rim of the crater. The Marangu route closely follows Meyer’s groundbreaking path up and down Kilimanjaro.
Now approximately 30,000 people climb Kilimanjaro every year. Though not substantiated, it is often reported that 50% of climbers fail. This comes as a surprise as Kilimanjaro is not regarded as a particularly difficult peak when compared to other mountains. After all, it is not a technical peak and does not require superhuman abilities to scale it.
Why do so many people fail?
Mostly due to altitude sickness. People make the mistake of selecting the wrong route. Many who fail choose to climb on the Marangu Route, which is the shortest path (five days round trip) to the peak. However, the best way to climb is to use a longer route to aid in acclimatization.
Additionally, many people climbing Kilimanjaro are first time backpackers. They do not adequately prepare for their climb in terms of having the right gear, doing enough training, and hiring a reputable guide service.
The minimum age for climbing Kilimanjaro is 10 years old, but the park authority grants exceptions to children who have significant experience trekking.
While climbing Kilimanjaro, trekkers will experience five distinct ecological zones on their way to the top. These include:
Bushland/Cultivated Zone: 2,600′-6,000’/800m-1,800m
Rainforest Zone: 6,000′-9,200’/1,800m-2,800m
Heath/Moorland Zone: 9,200′-13,200’/2,800m-4,000m
Alpine Desert Zone: 13,200′-16,500’/4,000m-5,000m
Weather conditions near the base of the mountain tend to be tropical to semi-temperate and are relatively stable all year round. The lower plains are hot and dry. As one heads away from the bushland towards the rainforest, conditions become increasingly warm and humid.
Each zone gets colder and drier as the elevation increases. Plant and animal life also disappear with the rise in altitude through the heath and alpine desert zones.
Kilimanjaro’s icecap has shrunk 82% since 1912. Scientists estimate the glaciers may be completely gone in 50 years. The cause of this is thought to be due to deforestation, and not necessary global warming.
Personal First Aid Kit
The following first aid materials are important:
• Painkillers (asprin/paracetamol)
• Blister treatment
• Imodium or other antidiarrheal tablets
• Plaster/Band aids
• Antiseptic wipes
• Dressings, especially pressure relief for blisters
• Talcum powder
• Malaria tablets
• Sun block for skin and lips
• Cold cure sachets
• Oral rehydration salts/sachets
• Insect repellent
• Sanitary towels
In the event of an emergency on the mountain the rescue team plus one of the assistant guides will descend with the casualty to the park gate. At the gate the casualty will be taken care and the necessary arrangements will be made.
Cameras whether Video or film, need to be protected against the severe cold weather either in warm pouch or the interior pockets of your clothing. Do not keep in your backpack at higher elevations. A selection of lenses will aid the final results although weight and bulk will obviously influence your selection.
A polarized or neutral density filter is recommended, as is slide film rather than print. Bring your own film as it can be hard to find and expensive in Tanzania.
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