Iconic, awesome, impressive…when it comes to describing Africa’s tallest mountain, the list of adjectives just goes on and on. Starkly beautiful, snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro towers over the surrounding Tanzanian landscape, beckoning brave adventurers to set off on the ultimate mountain trekking challenge to reach the Roof of Africa.
Do you yearn to add your name to the list of over 60,000 adventurers who annually take on the challenge of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro? If so, the good news is that this epic adventure is an achievable goal for any reasonably fit trekker (many handicapped heroes have managed to reach the summit!), provided that you have all the information and facts about Kilimanjaro at your fingertips to help you make the best informed decisions which will be crucial to the success of your expedition.
Will you be among the conquerors this year?
Fascinating Facts about Kilimanjaro
- Kili (as the mountain is affectionately nick-named) is located in the Kilimanjaro National Park near Moshi in Tanzania, East Africa.
- At its highest point, Uhuru Peak, Mount Kilimanjaro reaches a dramatic 5,897m above sea level. Given that the foot of the mountain is approximately 1000m above sea level, you will be ascending a very impressive 4900m.
- Interestingly, Kili is not actually a mountain in the true sense of the word but a massive stratovolcano, composed of layers and layers of volcanic ash, pumice and lava.
- Mount Kilimanjaro last erupted over 360,000 years ago. The mountain is made up of three volcanic cones, two of which are considered to be extinct, while the tallest of the three, Kibo, is technically dormant and could erupt again in the future – the last volcanic activity was noted over 200 years ago.
- It is believed that the name Kilimanjaro derives from the KiChagga word meaning “white”, a reference to the snow, ice and glaciers that have covered the higher altitudes for centuries. These days the glaciers are diminishing at a record rate due to global warming, and it is thought that they will disappear completely within the next 20 years unless progress can be slowed or halted. Thousands of trees are being planted around the base of the mountain in an attempt to save the glaciers.
- The mountain is home to an astonishing diversity of habitats and ecosystems including tropical jungle (near the base), savannah, montane forests and an alpine zone at higher altitudes. These habitats provide a home for many plant and animal species including monkeys, baboons, mongooses, bush pigs, civets, genets and leopard – occasionally you may also encounter elephant and buffalo at lower elevations.
- Reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro does not require you to have mountaineering skills – it’s more of a hike than a climb, which is why so many people take up the challenge.
- Trekking Mount Kilimanjaro is not just about hiking up a mountain – along the route you will have the chance to see some brilliant landscape including verdant gorges, glacial lakes, unique alpine flora and much more.
- Two of the most crucial aspects of your trek will be choosing a reputable company to guide you and ensuring that you spend as long as possible en route to the summit – if you are too eager you have a much greater chance of falling prey to altitude sickness and having to abort your ascent. The longer you can spend acclimatizing your body to the altitude, the greater your chances of reaching the summit.
Your route to the Roof of Africa
There are several routes to choose from and selecting the one that suits you best is essential to ensure you enjoy each and every moment on the mountain. Although all the routes eventually merge into a circular path at Kibo Crater, (from which point you will make the final ascent up to Uhuru Peak) each of them features different scenery and some are definitely more challenging than others. Here is a brief summary of what you can expect from 4 of the most popular routes.
Marangu Route – 64km.
The Marangu Route is one of the most popular (due to gentler gradients) and you might find it disconcertingly crowded. The route offers a good chance of success provided you do not try and rush it – at least 6 days of trekking is recommended and an extra pre-trekking night in Arusha will give you a better chance of avoided altitude sickness. Marangu is also somewhat boring as you use the same route for the ascent and descent. Marangu is the only route where you can sleep in A-frame huts (and proper beds) rather than tents and sleeping bags.
Machame Route – 49km.
Machame is the next most popular route and has a higher success rate because you will spend more time adjusting to the altitude, and because the final approach is a little easier to navigate. However, the downside is that this shorter route is also steeper than Marangu and is best suited to fitter, experienced hikers. Machame is one of the most attractive routes and you can do it in 6/7 days.
Rongai Route – 65km
If you fancy a much quieter experience the Rongai route may suit you perfectly. Although the scenery is less varied you will be much less likely to encounter other groups until you join the Marangu route at Kibo Camp. This route is great for less experienced hikers and you should not try and complete it in less than 6 days.
Umbwe Route – 53km
Umbwe is undoubtedly one of the most scenic routes but it is also one of the most challenging featuring a steep and direct route to the top; as such, it is only recommended for really fit and experienced hikers. You will also need to spend an extra night en route to acclimatize, and a minimum trek of 7 days is recommended.
Lemoshe Route – 70km
The picturesque Lemoshe route is the most recent addition to the list of routes available to trekkers and offers a great combination of low traffic, excellent success rate and beautiful scenery. The route can be trekked in 6 days but a minimum of 8 days is recommended to ensure a successful ascent to Uhuru Peak.
What to expect as you approach the summit
The final ascent to Uhuru Peak will differ slightly depending on which route you have chosen, but the following summary will give you an idea of what to expect on summit day!
It’s a foregone conclusion that you won’t get much sleep the night before you make your final ascent – excitement will have reached fever point and you will be woken up just before midnight. It will take you approximately 6 hours to cover the relatively short distance (4.5km) to Stella Point (or Gilman’s Point if you are trekking the Rongai Route). You will be doing the “Kili Shuffle” , a laborious process of simply putting one foot in front of the other – there is just not enough oxygen to move any faster! Once you reach Stella or Gilman’s Point you can watch the magnificent African sunrise from one of the highest points on the African continent.
However, you are not done yet! If you plan on reaching the highest peak at Uhuru Point (the official summit) you will need to keep going for around another 40 – 50 minutes – the total ascent should take around 6-8 hours. After an appropriate celebration and a photo shoot you will be ready to tackle the descent, fuelled by exhilaration and the best ever feelings of accomplishment.
Just when you feel you absolutely need to stop and rest just think about this: your guides and porters do this over and over again every week!