Kilimanjaro Mountain Factfile
Mount Kilimanjaro stands side by side with the slightly smaller Mount Meru on the otherwise flat plains of the East African plateau.
Kilimanjaro is the agglomeration of three extinct volcanoes
, Shira, Kibo and Mawenzi, whose violent creation was geologically associated with the creation of the Great Rift Valley, 100km to the west.
Kilimanjaro is so large that it stands head and shoulders above the clouds, creating its own micro-climate
. The rain shadow created to its south and west provides the beautiful and superbly fertile lands in which the town of Moshi is situated, an oasis of banana groves and coffee plantations set against the arid backdrop of the Maasai Steppe. The town of Arusha lies in a similar zone below Mount Meru.
The ascent of Kilimanjaro is in some ways like travelling from the equator to the pole
, with increasing altitude providing a very distinct range of climate zones, from tropical rainforest to moorland, alpine desert and finally to the polar conditions of the summit. Quite an extraordinary journey.
Between them, Mount Kilimanjaro National Park and Mount Kilimanjaro Forest Reserve contain the whole of the mountain and its surrounding montane forest, with small scale shamba agriculture generally reaching right up to the edge of the forest.
From beyond its extremely shallow lower slopes and with its summit so often shrouded above the clouds, it can be quite difficult to comprehend quite how big this mountain is. The fact that it will take you around a week to get there and back should be a bit of a clue. This is the world's largest freestanding mountain, the highest walkable mountain in the world and the highest peak in Africa.
Kilimanjaro from Meru.
Origin of The Name Kilimanjaro
There are many unsatisfactory explanations of how the mountain came to be known by this name. "Mountain of Greatness", "Mountain of Whiteness", "Mountain of Caravans", "Small Mountain of Caravans" are all names derived from the Swahili, Chagga and Machame dialects.
There is also a claim that the word "kilemakyaro" exists in the Chagga language, meaning "impossible journey", but this is thought to be consequential rather than causal.
We think it might have something to do with the swahili word 'kilima', which means 'top of the hill'. The second portion 'njaro' perhaps refers to the snow in some way. A similar word 'ngare' means water in the Meru language. So "Mountain with Water on Top" might be closer to the truth.
Of course everyone knows the mountain was really named after the legendary Tanzanian beer.
Kilimanjaro Early History
In the second century AD, Ptolemy, the Greek astronomer and cartographer, wrote of mysterious lands to the south of modern day Somalia that contained "man-eating barbarians" and a "great snow mountain". This knowledge he must have gained from the Phoenicians, who had circumnavigated Africa by this date, or from ancient Egyptian writings telling of the great expeditions of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, whose ships had traded the Swahili Coast. Either way, Ptolemy's account stands as the first documented reports of Africa's highest mountain; Kilimanjaro.
The next thousand years brings no mention of this great mountain. As the coast of East Africa rose in prominence as a trading route after the establishment of Arab rule in the sixth century, the main hub of activity centred around the island of Zanzibar and the immediate mainland known at the time as Zinj. Here the Arabs were able to access an almost unlimited supply of ivory, gold, rhinoceros horn and an even more lucrative and mobile commodity, slaves. The great slave caravans that ventured far into the interior may well have passed close by to the mountain to collect water from the permanent streams, yet no written record survives.
In fact it was to be Chinese traders of the twelfth century who were next to record observations of a great mountain west of Zanzibar. But Kilimanjaro was largely to remain a mountain of myth and superstition throughout the centuries ... one of the great secrets of interior of 'the dark continent'.
It was actually the desire to find the source of the Nile that drove British explorers and geographers to first head inland towards the mysterious mountain around 1840 onwards. To them Kilimanjaro was simply a tall tale told by the Arab traders of Zanzibar, nobody really believed that there could be a snow-capped mountain on the equator. This scepticism seemed well founded when British geographer William Cooley reported back to London that there was indeed "a large ridge called Kirimanjara" and that it was in fact "strewn with red pebbles". Sounds like he might have been in the wrong place!Krapf
In 1844, at the instigation of the London based Church Missionary Society, Johann Ludwig Krapf, a Doctor of Divinity and his wife Rosine arrived in Zanzibar. Krapf had a dream to link the west and east coasts of Africa by a chain of Christian missionaries, but it wasn't long before he discovered these high ambitions conceived in the parlours of Europe were not going to be so easy to realize in the field. In March of that year they moved to Mombasa, where Krapf was to suffer a major test of his faith when his wife died of malaria within days of giving birth. The child died also. Krapf was plunged into depression and suffered alone for two years until the arrival of Swiss missionary, Johann Rebmann, whose fresh enthusiasm was finally able to re-kindled Krapf's ambition desire to link the two coasts.
On 16th October 1847, Rebmann, with the help of eight tribesmen and Bwana Kheri, a caravan leader, set off for the mountain of Kasigau, where they hoped to establish the first of mission posts. The journey went well and they returned to Mombasa on the 27th of the same month. Along the way they had heard the stories of the great mountain "Kilimansharo", whose head was above the clouds and "topped with silver", around whose feet lived the mountain's people, the fearsome Jagga (now Chagga). Krapf immediately sought permission from the governor of Mombasa for an expedition to Jagga. His official reason was to find areas suitable for mission stations, but the legendary mountain was becoming of increasing interest to the two missionaries. Disregarding warnings about the 'spirits of the mountain', on the 27th April 1848, Rebmann and Bwana Kheri set off for Jagga and within just two weeks was standing on the great steppe of East Africa within sight of Kilimanjaro ... the first European to set eyes on the mountain. In his log he refers to "a remarkable white on the mountains of Jagga", which he could just make out through the haze. He asked his guide to explain what it was he was looking at and "he did not know but supposed it to be coldness". At that moment Rebmann realised that the legend really was true. There really were snowfields on the African equator. In April 1849, Rebmann's observations were published in the Church Missionary Intelligencier and although not properly substantiated until twelve years later, this remains the first confirmed report of Mount Kilimanjaro. First Ascent
In 1887, Professor Hans Meyer, a German geographer, made his first attempt upon Kibo, the main summit of Kilimanjaro. Accompanied by Baron Von Eberstein, Meyer was eventually defeated by a combination of thick snow, thirty metre ice walls and his partner's altitude sickness.
The following day, from the safety of The Saddle, Meyer estimated that the ice walls descended to just below the Crater Rim at an altitude of about 5,500m. The ice was continuous over the entire peak and it was evident that the summit could not be reached without some considerable ice climbing.
After an aborted expedition in 1888, Meyer returned the following year accompanied by the renowned Alpinist, Ludwig Purtscheller and a well organised support group determined to scale the peak. The climbers came prepared with state of the art equipment and established a base camp on the moorland from where porters ferried fresh supplies of food from Marangu. Daunted by the precipitous ice cliffs of the northern Crater Rim and the extensive ice flows to the south, the two climbers agreed that the best chance of success lay by tackling the less severe incline of the southeastern slope of the mountain. From their advance camp at 4300m the two climbers set off at 01.00hrs and reached the lower slopes of the glacier at about 10.00hrs. Although the glacier was not as steep or high as the walls encountered on Meyer's previous attempt, the incline never fell below 35 degrees and ice steps had to be cut. Progress was slow but after two hours the men reached the upper limits of the glacier where the incline decreased. A further two hours of painful trekking through waist high snow and over deep weathered ice grooves found the climbers at the rim of the crater with the summit in sight. However time and strength were running out and the summit was still another 150m above them, so they returned to advance camp. Three days later they tried again. This time the route was clearly marked and the previously cut ice steps had held their shape. The rim was reached in six hours and at exactly 1030hrs Meyer became the first recorded person to set foot on the highest point in Africa.
Presumably there was no sign at the top back thenEstablishment of commercial climb operations
Although Meyer and Purtscheller laid the trail for further ascents of Kilimanjaro, there was not an instant queue of would-be climbers. It wasn't until 1912, over twenty years later, when a path from Marangu was established and the first huts at Mandera and Horombo were built by Dr. E Forster of the newly formed German Kilimanjaro Mountain Club, that activity began in earnest. The outbreak of war in 1918 however delayed further expeditions and the building of the Kibo Hut.
The year 1929 saw the next stage in the opening up of the mountain with the formation of The Mountain Club of East Africa (now The Kilimanjaro Mountain Club). Founded by C. Gillman, N.Rice, P Ungerer and Dr. Reusch. Kibo Hut was finally completed in 1932, hotels began to organise safaris onto the mountain and the public began to reach Gillman's Point, with a few of the more hardy going on to the summit. Kilimanjaro: Fastest Ascent
Most people spend between 5 and 8 days climbing the mountain. However in 1993 a Brazilian, Mozart Cat established the speed record by going up and down in 17 hours 30 minutes.
The current return ascent record was established on 27th March 2000 by a member of Team Kilimanjaro, Rogath Ephrem Mtuy, in a time of 14 hours 50 minutes. He began the attempt from the Marangu Park gate at 0400hrs in the morning. He reached the true summit at 1530hrs and began the descent immediately, returning to the Marangu Park Gate at 1850hrs.
Icefields on the summit path
Mount Kilimanjaro was born of the catastrophic movements in the earth's crust that created the Great Rift Valley
that runs from the Red Sea through Tanzania to Southern Africa. The rift valley is an example of a constructive margin
, where new crust is exposed as two continental plates pull away from each other.
Around 25 million years ago East Africa was a huge flat plain that buckled and ruptured after the African and Eurasian continental plates rebounded off each other causing huge rifting and weakspots in the thinning crust that led to the formation of many volcanoes in the region. Where the original valley was deepest, the volcanic activity was greatest, eventually forming the huge volcanoes of Ngorongoro on the rift itself and a string of volcanoes to the east including Kenya, Meru and Kilimanjaro.
The rift valley is still active today and Kilimanjaro is the result of comparatively recent volcanic activity. Starting around 750,000 years
ago, the mountain originally consisted of three large vents, Shira
, which came together as they grew in altitude.
Eventually the Shira cone collapsed and became extinct, followed by Mawenzi. The Kibo cone however remained active and about 360,000 years ago endured a massive eruption that released a flow of black lava to completely cover the old Shira caldera to the west and created the saddle between Kibo and Mawenzi to the west.
Kibo eventually levelled out at its present altitude and became dormant. Since then it has been periodically been covered with ice sheets and glaciers.
Around 100,000 years ago a huge landslide on the southwest face created the Barranco Wall
, a major feature of some climb routes and Kibo's last eruption formed the caldera
, containing the Inner Crater
and Ash Pit
The summit of Kilimanjaro was previously completely covered by an ice cap more than 100m deep with glaciers ranging well down the mountain to below 4000m.
At present only a small fraction of that glacial cover remains, the most visible and impressive sections being those around the spectacular northern and southeastern icefields.
A residual portion of a previously much larger ice sheet which used to cover the whole of Kibo
Extract from : Ice Cap Retreat
by Jonathan Amos in San Francisco 19/02/2001 The beautiful icefields on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in East Africa could completely melt away in the next 20 years if the earth continues to warm at the rate many scientists now claim. The calculation comes from Professor Lonnie Thompson of Ohio State University, who has made an aerial survey of the famous Tanzanian peak. He said comparisons with previous mapping showed 33% of Mt Kilimanjaro's ice had disappeared in the last two decades, 82% had gone since 1912. Studies on other tropical peaks revealed a similar picture, he told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He warned this melting could have serious repercussions for drinking water supply, crop irrigation, hydroelectric production and tourism. He said, "retreating glaciers is just one of many symptoms of the dramatic changes in climate that we are likely to experience within our lifetime."
However, evidence of a retreat of this ice sheet was first observed by Hans Meyer, the first Westerner to make the summit, who reported in 1898 that the ice limit had withdrawn by over 100m since his first ascent 8 years earlier. This rapid change is therefore perhaps not entirely due to recent global warming, but rather a result of a longer term cycle of climatic events.
Studies by Sheffield University during the 1950's reported that Kilimanjaro has had a long history of glacial advance and retreat coinciding with a sequence of eight glaciations. The present ice cap is probably the result of the world wide drop in temperature experienced between 1400AD and 1700AD and suggests that there have been several long periods when Kilimanjaro was devoid of ice. The current retreat is the result of a general increase in the temperature of the earth over many hundreds of years.
Mount Kilimanjaro has five major climate zones and the activity within each of these is controlled by the five factors of altitude, rainfall, temperature, flora and fauna. Each zone occupies a range of approximately 1000m of altitude and is subject to a corresponding decreases in rainfall, temperature, range and diversity of life forms as we move up the mountain. Lower slopes
Altitude : 800 to 1800m
Rainfall : 500mm (Plains) : 1800mm (Forest Boundary)
The southern lower slopes of Kilimanjaro contain ample evidence of human activity. The original scrub and lowland forest has been replaced by grazing land, cultivation and densely populated settlements fed by water permeating from the forest zone. The slopes were originally earmarked by the British and Germans as potential settlement areas due to the 'European' weather. These lush and fertile lands are in stark contrast to the northern slopes where low rainfall coupled with the porosity of the lava soils prohibits cultivation. There are none of the larger mammals in this zone but some of the smaller tree-dwelling mammals are numerous such as bushbabies, tree hyrax and genet.Forest
Altitude : 1800 to 2800m
Rainfall : 2000mm to south and west : under 1000mm to north and east
The forest belt completely encircles Kilimanjaro and provides the best conditions for plant life. It serves as the water provider for all the lower slopes with up to 96% of all the water on the mountain originating from this zone and then percolating down through the porous lava rock to emerge as springs. The forest supports a variety of wildlife including several large mammals such as elephant and buffalo and in certain areas it is compulsory to have an armed guide. Occasionally eland inhabit the upper fringes of the forest. Colobus and blue monkeys are common, along with bushbuck, duikers, leopard and bushpig. The forest is often cloaked with a band of cloud, particularly between 2500m and 3000m. This cloud promotes high humidity and dampness year round. Whilst clear nights can get pretty cold, during the day temperatures rarely leave the range 15C to 20C.
Mweka Trail descending through the forestHeath and Moorland
Altitude : 2800m to 4000m
Rainfall : 1300mm (edge of forest) : 530mm (upper limit)
This semi-alpine zone is characterized by a heathland type of vegetation and abundant wildflowers. However it is two distinctive plants that are of particular note ...
Lobelia deckenii : This lobelia is endemic to the area and is exceptionally striking. Growing up to 3m high, it has a hollow stem, a tall flower-like spike and spiralling bracts that conceal blue flowers. In order to protect the sensitive leaf buds from the sub-zero night time temperatures, the lobelia closes its leaves around the central core, while the covered rosettes secrete a slimy solution that helps to insulate and preserve the more sensitive tissues.
Senecio kilimanjarin : This giant groundsel is again endemic and is one of the most spectacular plants of all. It can reach 5m in height with a crown of large leaves and a metre long spike of yellow flowers. Close relation Senecio cottonii can grow at even higher altitudes than the Senecio kilimanjarin and uses its old dead leaves as insulation around its trunk.
Giant lobelia on the Rongai trail up to Mawenzi Tarn
This zone does not support abundant wildlife due to its altitude but there have been sightings of hunting dog, buffalo, elephant and most commonly eland. The Shira plateau is even occasionally visited by lions. Smaller mammals are more common and support a few predators such as civets, servals and leopards.Highland Desert
Altitude : 4000m to 5000m
Rainfall : 250mm
The temperature of the Kilimanjaro semi-desert zone ranges from sub-zero at night to 30C during the day. Water is scarce and there is little soil to retain any moisture. There are only 55 recorded plant species that survive at this altitude. Lichens and tussock grasses are present in reasonable numbers, as are some mosses. But as the soil is subject to movement overnight as the ground water freezes, most root plants find life extremely hard. There are no resident larger animals in the desert, although eland, leopard, serval and hunting dog all pass through on occasion. Only a few birds can survive in this rarefied air and once again none are resident. Ravens and some large birds of prey will hunt during the day but head downhill with the sunset.
Bare rocky landscape of the highland desert towards KiboKilimanjaro Summit
Altitude : 5000m +
Rainfall : under 100mm
An arctic zone characterized by freezing cold nights and a burning daytime sun. Oxygen levels are half that of sea level. There is minimal liquid surface water because of a combination of low rainfall and porous rock, and the bleak terrain supports minimal life forms.
Trekkers encounter snow on the Crater Rim looking towards Mawenzi
A few lichens grow, but only at a rate of about 1mm per year, so even the most unimpressive looking spread is probably of venerable age. The highest recorded flowering plant was a Helichrysum newii at 5670m within the Kibo Crater but these are few and far between, as are sightings of mammals at this altitude. There are however two particular sightings that have made it into folklore ...
The Frozen Leopard : Originally discovered and recorded by the local missionary Dr Richard Reusch in 1926 and later having the misfortune to feature in Ernest Hemingway's unbearably self-indulgent book The Snows of Kilimanjaro
. No one knows quite what the leopard was doing up here. Reusch recorded that he managed to cut off one of its ears to take home as a souvenir. Some years later someone unknown made off with the whole thing, never to be seen again.
The Frozen Leopard
Hunting Dog : In 1962 Wilfred Thesiger, George Webb and Effata Jonathon encountered a pack of five hunting dog at Hans Meyer Point, around 5,000m. As the men continued to the summit the dogs followed at a parallel distance of about 300m all the way to Uhuru Peak, where they watched the men dig out and sign the log book. Fearing an attack, the men began to descend but the dogs disappeared over the crest and were not seen again.
Kilimanjaro FactsKilimanjaro Facts
... the highest peak in Africa
... the highest freestanding peak in the world
... the highest 'walkable' mountain in the world Kilimanjaro Protection
... 1921 : forest reserve established
... 1973 : park established
... Park HQ Opened : 1977 (by President Nyerere)
... Unesco World Heritage : 1989 Kilimanjaro Location
... Northern Tanzania : East Africa
... 2 50' / 3 20'S : 37 00 / 37 35'E Kilimanjaro Areas
... Park : 756 sq km / 75,353ha
... Forest reserve : 929 sq km / 92,906ha Kilimanjaro Altitudes
... Marangu Gate : 1,830m
... Summit : 5,895m Kilimanjaro Dimensions
... Kibo Crater : diameter : 1.9 x 2.7 km
... Kibo Ash Pit : diameter : 350m Kilimanjaro Rainfall at altitudes
... Forest Belt : 1800m : 2300mm
... Mandara Hut : 2740m : 1300mm
... Horobo Hut : 3718m: 525mm
... Kibo Hut : 4630m : 200mm Kilimanjaro Temperature
... Generally falls 1C with every 200m increase in altitude
... Marangu Gate : 10C to 30C
... Summit : -20C to 10C