When you think of the unparalleled natural beauty of Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro no doubt springs to mind.
Located in northern Tanzania, near the town of Moshi, Mount Kilimanjaro’s snow-capped peak juts up dramatically from the midst of a vast savanna. It’s made up of three volcanic cones—Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira.
Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest peak at 5,895 meters (19,341 ft.), and is the highest free-standing mountain in the world—meaning it’s not part of a mountain chain, which makes it all the more striking.
The protected site of Kilimanjaro National Park is made up of the mountain, the surrounding savanna and the forest of the national park. These gorgeous 75,575 hectares are comprised of unique zones of vegetation and numerous endangered species. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. There are huts and campsites on the mountain, so you can plan to stay right where the action is. Kilimanjaro is just 300 kilometers from the equator, so its climate is pretty consistent throughout the year. January and February are the warmest and driest months of the year, so are prime times to visit—especially if you plan on seeking the summit.
Climbing the Mountain
Here are some of the more noteworthy climbs of Mount Kilimanjaro:
- The first people to officially reach the summit were German geologist, Hans Meyer, Ludwig Purtscheller and a local called Lauwo in October 1889.
- In August 2014, Karl Egloff completed a run up the Umbwe Route and descent via Mweka in just 6 hours, 56 minutes and 24 seconds.
- Even though you officially need to be at least ten to climb Kilimanjaro, in January 2008, seven-year-old Keats Boyd from Los Angeles reached the summit.
Officially the oldest person to reach the summit is, Robert Wheeler, who accomplished this feat in October 2014.
About 35,000 people attempt to climb Kilimanjaro each year, but not everyone’s successful. It’s a mountain you can climb without fancy equipment, or technical climbing skills, which is appealing to many.
But don’t think you can waltz up the mountain without preparation. You need to climb with an organized trek, with a licensed mountain operator. There are several different routes to the top with varying degrees of difficulty—but you have to stick to these predetermined routes.
The climb is not without risks. By some estimates, about a third of the climbers don’t make it to the top. Some of these climbers succumb to dangerous altitude sickness, and officially two to three climbers die from this each year. But total deaths are higher than that—with some climbers falling to their death, succumbing to hyperthermia, or other accidents. But fear not—if you’re not the overly-adventurous type, you can opt for a tamer day hike instead.
What's In A Name? - While it isn't clear where the name "Kilamanjaro" originated, one theory is that it is a mix of the Swahili word "kilima" - which means mountain - and the KiChagga (a Bantu language spoken in some parts of Tanzania) word "njaro" - which loosely translates as "whiteness". Another theory is that Kilimanjaro is the result of a European mispronunciation of a KiChagga phrase meaning "we failed to climb it". That's funny!
Plants and Animals - Of course it’s not just thrill seekers who visit Mount Kilimanjaro. Many come to simply soak up the natural beauty. The mountain has five main vegetation zones:
- The Savanna bushland,
- The sub-montane agro forest,
- The montane forest belt,
- The sub-alpine moorland and alpine bogs, and
- The alpine desert.
There are 2500 plant species on the mountain—including 1600 on the southern slopes and 900 within the forest belt. There are also 130 species of trees Above about 4600 meters very few plants are able to survive the severe conditions, but sturdy little mosses and lichens are found all the way to the summit. Animals also thrive in the area. There are some 140 mammals including primates, leopards, and Abbott’s duikers. There’s a little something for everyone to see in Kilimanjaro.
The Future The distinctive white top of Kilimanjaro may not be here in the near future. The continuous ice cap is shrinking. Since 1912, Kilimanjaro has lost 82% of its ice cap and since 1962 it’s lost 55% of its remaining glaciers. Some predict the glaciers will disappear completely within a few decades.
Have you been fortunate enough to visit Mount Kilimanjaro, or are you dreaming of going?How about a little memento to invoke thoughts of Africa? In the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, skilled artisans handcraft gorgeous sculptures.