Tanzania Travel Guide to Kilimanjaro

Looking on Kilimanjaro it is easy to see why this icon plays such a huge role in the lives of the people who live in its vicinity. Rising from the plains of Africa, and often covered in cloud, it is as if the snow-capped peak touches the sky.

Mt. Kilimanjaro is a vision that has fed the human imagination for eons. Much more than the highest mountain in Africa, it is innately and inexhaustibly symbolic. Writers render it, climbers conquer it, Africans worship it, and at the end of the day its magnetic singularity remains undiminished. Though speechless wonder reigns in its presence, the traveller who witnesses Kilimanjaro Mountain will speak of it for years

Kilimanjaro - an insight into the legend

Africa's highest point, and the highest free-standing mountain in the world, Kilimanjaro is part of African folklore drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors. The majority of visitors marvel at the mountain from the plains of Amboseli National Park in Kenya - where the classic African postcard image of elephants against a backdrop of Kilimanjaro can be experienced.

Origin of the Name

The origin of the name of this iconic mountain is uncertain - although many theories exist as to the origins. It was named so by European explorers in the mid 1800's and for a while was known by its German version Kilima-Ndscharo.

Many have presumed to know the origin of the name from the local languages but all theories have fallen short of history and context. Many think it best to leave the origin of the name unknown and mysterious and in doing so adding to the legend that is Kilimanjaro.

Why is Kilimanjaro in Tanzania?

The map of East Africa shows an almost straight line dividing Kenya and Tanzania - with a very noticeable deviation in the region of Kilimanjaro which puts Africa's highest point in Tanzania. The popular story behind Kilimanjaro been in Tanzania revolves around Queen Victoria giving the mountain to Kaiser Wilhelm II as a gift but this is far from the truth.

During the Scramble for Africa present-day Kenya was under British rule and Tanzania, known as German East Africa, was under German control. The Society for German Colonisation was formed at this time to gain access to much of the area now known as Tanzania. Karl Peters, a sadistic adventurer, gained much of the territory for the Society through documents signed by the chiefs of the areas he passed through.

When the boundaries of the new colonies were drawn up the documents signed by the chiefs handing the land of Kilimanjaro to the Germans was accepted and the highest point of Africa was allocated to German East Africa.

Uhuru on Kilimanjaro

Rising 5895 metres (19340.5 feet) above the African plain, Kilimanjaro truly stands alone among the mountains of the world. The huge, solitary volcano is unaccompanied by any mountain chain. Though its size is immense, it also has one of the world's most accessible peaks. People who are in good shape can make the ascent to its summit, Uhuru peak, in a matter of days, passing through 5 distinct ecological zones along the way.

The highest point of Kilimanjaro, known as Uhuru [Freedom] Peak, is the ultimate goal for Kilimanjaro climbers. Renamed after the independence of Tanzania in 1961 to celebrate the dawn of majority rule, Uhuru Peak is today the place of celebrating human achievement. One of the most dramatic images of Tanzania's independence was the hoisting of the flag of the new republic on the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro at midnight on December 8 1961.

The lower slopes of the mountain are defined by coffee and banana fields that rise up and end where the mountain's forest begins. An average of 80 inches of rainfall a year make the forest home to some botanical treats. Tree ferns in this region are known to grow up to 20 feet, and giant lobelia often reach 30 feet. At an altitude of about 9,000 feet, the forest gives way to grasslands and shrubbery, and Elephant can sometimes be spotted roaming the high slopes.

At about 13 000 feet life begins to recede, a result of extreme weather conditions inhospitable to anything more than small Moss and Lichen. Once the summit area is reached, 3 glaciers and 3 volcanic peaks sit in lofty, placid contemplation of the tremendous plains over 3.5 miles (5.63 km) below.

The Snows of Kilimajaro - and global warming

The first reports of Kilimanjaro's snow-cap met with a certain amount of derision as it was not considered reality that snow could be found so close to the equator, but over time the snow-cap has become one of earth's most enduring images. Today the cap has become somewhat of a poster-boy for the global warming lobby. It is no secret that the snow cap on Kilimanjaro has shrunk over the years - with global warming been fingered as the culprit.

The snows of Kilimanjaro play an important role in the cycle of life in the surrounding areas, none more so than in the Amboseli National Park in Kenya where a life-giving marsh is fed by melting snow from the mountain. This waterway provides for countless numbers of wildlife in the form of grass and water. The shrinking snow cap is of concern to environmentalists who foresee catastrophic results of limited water supply to the Amboseli Marsh.

Many point to global warming as the root cause of the shrinking snow-cap and though this may be a major cause, the dangers of local deforestation have been overlooked. Trees on the slopes of the mountain are been chopped down to clear areas for cultivation, and for use as charcoal, by the local inhabitants and this is leading to less precipitation. With less rain the snow-cap is been starved of its water supply and is slowly disappearing. Estimates are that at present rates the Kilimanjaro icecap will have gone by the year 2030.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

The iconic symbol of Africa has to be the great mountain of Kilimanjaro rising from the plains, a view that most visitors who visit Africa are happy to take home with them. But there are many who are so inspired by the view that they return to get a more intimate look at the legendary mountain. There are also those who have dreamt of climbing Kilimanjaro from their childhood - and there are those who simply want to climb Kilimanjaro because it is there.

Whatever the inspiration for climbing the mountain is, the one certainty is that the experience will be a lifelong memory - whether the peak is reached on the climb or not. Many who have not reached the peak still speak of a sense of achievement at experiencing the mountain from so close.

Who can climb Kilimanjaro?

There is a great deal of misinformation out there about the requirements for climbing Kilimanjaro and many people are put off by this misinformation. The term 'climb' is also misleading as in reality the ascent of Kilimanjaro is more of a hike than a climb. Any reasonably healthy person can attempt the climb. No previous experience is required.

There are six established routes to the summit of Kilimanjaro, and although they all lead to the same conclusion they differ in character. Some are more a little easier than others, some more scenic and some carry less traffic than others. Whatever the route they all have the same result - a great sense of achievement and awe at the experience that is Kilimanjaro.

What training is required for climbing Kilimanjaro?

As with any activity of this sort any training will be of assistance in the end. Some experts will be quite happy to advise on an extreme training schedule but most will advise hiking as the best training for the climb of Kilimanjaro.

What needs to be taken into account is that much of the time the pace will be very slow on the ascent so part of any training program should involve the practice of walking slowly uphill. This may seem strange advice but many will tell you how mentally draining slow walking can be.

What do I need to climb Kilimanjaro?

  • A sense of adventure
  • The right clothing and footwear
  • The enthusiasm to tackle Africa's highest point
  • Confirmation of reservations

Please Note

It is highly advisable to take the mountain slowly. The thin air is a well-known killer of impatient weekend climbers, who misjudge their abilities and ascend too fast. Altitude sickness is common and can be fatal. No climb is permitted without a guide, and there are 6 routes up the mountain with varying degrees of difficulty. Huts are available at different points along the way, and the final ascent begins near midnight (so melting snow isn't a problem) and culminates with a spectacular sunrise at the peak.

Kilimanjaro - the Enduring Legend

Kilimanjaro will remain one of the most sought-after experiences in the world - be it as a challenge or as an esthetic pleasure. The number of people who are climbing the mountain today is far higher than even a few years ago and the plans of many new lodges for the Amboseli area bears testimony to the enduring popularity of the legend that is Kilimanjaro.

Leigh Kemp

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