Mount Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro (formerly Kaiser-Wilhelm-Spitze) is a mountain in northeastern Tanzania. It includes the highest peak in Africa at 5,895 meters. It is a giant stratovolcano, not currently active, with fumaroles that emit gas in the crater on the main summit of Kibo. Scientists concluded in 2003 that molten magma is just 400 meters below the summit crater. Although new activity is not expected, there are fears the volcano may collapse, causing a major eruption similar to Mount St. Helens. Several collapses and landslides have occurred on Kibo in the past, one creating the area known as the western breach. Although there is no recorded history of eruptions, local legend speaks of activity around 170 years ago.

The highest point is Uhuru Peak on the volcano Kibo, 5,895 metres. As the highest point in Africa, Uhuru Peak is one of the Seven Summits. The summit was first reached by the Marangu army scout, Johannes Kinyala Lauwo who climbed it nine times before realising there was a crater. Lauwo served as a guide for the first ascent by nonindigenous climbers, German Hans Meyer and Austrian Ludwig Purtscheller, on October 6 1889. Two other peaks are also extinct volcanoes: Mawenzi (5,149 metres), the third highest peak in Africa (after Mount Kenya) and Shira (3,962 m). Johannes’ Notch is named after Lauwo. In 1989 Lauwo was presented with a house at Ashira Marangu by the West German government in recognition of his role on the Meyer expedition. His relative, Trilas Lauwo (1952- ) was the first Tanzanian woman to reach the summit via the Mweka route in 1972.

The climb to Uhuru Peak is considered to be a relatively straightforward endeavour; however, ample time must still be provided for proper acclimatization to prevent altitude sickness. The three easiest routes, Marangu, Rongai and Machame can be climbed by a person of good health, and require no mountaineering experience. Many who climb employ altitude-sickness medication and find this to be helpful in preventing the pounding headaches that plague many travellers. Those who travel on the Marangu route usually take 4-5 days to complete their climb. Huts with cooking facilites, bathrooms, and (sometimes) electricity are available at the end of each day’s journey. The final part of the climb, from Kibo hut at 15,500 ft. to the summit, is generally undertaken at night, because the scree is frozen together, making the climb significantly easier. Gilman’s Point, on the rim of the crater, but about 1½ hours hike from Uhuru, is attained at 5:00 – 6:00 am; those who have the strength to continue may then hike on to Uhuru in the growing sunlight and rising temperatures. Another route is the Western Breach, which is much more technical in nature. Annually, approximately 15,000 people attempt to climb the mountain, of whom 40% reach the summit.
At the summit, there is a sign posted by the Tanzanian government. The sign (printed in English only) reads "Congratulations! You are now at Uhuru Peak, Tanzania, 5,895 m. AMSL. Africa’s Highest Point. World’s Highest Free-Standing Mountain. One of World’s Largest Volcanos. Welcome." The sign is covered in travel stickers from past trekkers who have left their mark on the top of the peak. Near this famous sign is a box containing a log that many climbers have signed.

Due to the equatorial location as well as huge height, climbers can experience almost every climate type on earth during the journey to the top.

Kilimanjaro is also the highest point in the world to be covered by a GSM mobile phone network. The service is provided by Vodacom.

Current conditions

While the volcano appears to be dormant on the inside, events on top of the mountain have been drawing global attention recently. The glaciers that have covered the top of the mountain for the past 11,700 years are rapidly disappearing. Over the past century, the ice cap volume has dropped by more than 80%[1]. In 2002, a study led by Ohio State University ice core paleoclimatologist Lonnie Thompson [2] predicted that ice on top of Africa’s tallest peak would be gone between 2015 and 2020 [3] [4]. In March 2005, it was reported that the peak was now almost bare, for the first time in 11,000 years [5]. A comparison of ice core records from Kilimanjaro suggests that conditions similar to those of today have not existed since then. Though the cause of the reduction in ice volume is in dispute, the loss of the Kilimanjaro ice fields will carry significant climatological and hydrological implications for local populations who depend on water from the ice fields during the dry seasons and monsoon failures.

As of January 2006, the Western Breach route has been closed by the Tanzanian government following a rockslide which killed four people at Arrow Glacier Camp. The rockslide is believed to have been caused by frost action in an area which is no longer permanently frozen.

After the Western Breach route was closed in January 2006, many expeditions that had intended to use this route have instead used the Lemosho/Barafu route. As the Western Breach route, this route starts to the west and goes up the Shira Ridge towards Lava Tower. Instead of going up to Arrow Glacier camp and the breach, however, this route goes around the southern edge of Kili towards Barafu camp. From Barafu Camp, around 15,200 altitude, a nighttime summit attempt is usually attempted.


In the arts

*Mount Kilimanjaro was the inspiration and backdrop for Ernest Hemingway‘s classic short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1936). He also wrote a non-fiction account of his safari experiences in the 1950’s, posthumously published as Under Kilimanjaro (2005).


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