Snow-capped Kilimanjaro, floating above the clouds is no doubt one of the most beautiful and impressive sights of the natural world. Even hard-boiled non-believers, in their unguarded moments, empathise with the Maasai who call it the “House of God”. The mountain is one of the Seven Best Summits of the world — it’s the maximum point on the African continent. Even though there are higher mountains, they form a part of mountain ranges, Everest for instance. But Kili, as it’s popularly known, is the highest freestanding mountain in the world. It rises gently from 3,000 feet, reaches for the skies and just halts after a 16,000 ft ascent. The diameter at the bottom is an incredible 64 kilometres.
Kilimanjaro is young as far as mountains go, and geologists let it just 750,000 decades. The mountain is composed of three dormant volcanoes -Kibo (19,340 ft ), Shira (13,000 ft ) and Mawenzi (16,896 ft ). Kibo occasionally belches some sulfur and steam. The highest point on Kibo is Uhuru Peak, where you find some wonderful glaciers and fantastic views of the nation below. Though Kili is only 3 degrees south of the equator, the peaks of Kibo and Mawenzi are covered in snow and ice year round. Many learned people in Europe hotly disputed a snow-capped mountain could be located at the equator once the German missionary Johann Rebmann reported it in 1849.
Going up the mountain, you move from tropical to artic conditions. There are five different climatic zones, with each zone carrying approximately 3,300 feet. The zones are- the lower slopes, then forest, then moorland, alpine desert and the summit. The lower slopes are cultivated and agriculture flourishes. The forest region is dry in the north and wet towards the southern slopes. The woods carries many tree species such as podocarpus, camphor, fig and olive trees and bamboo. The only animals available here are gloomy and Colobus monkeys and an assortment of birds including hornbill and turaco. In the moorland area, you discover the giant groundsels and lobelias common at the high altitude mountain areas of eastern Africa. Further up, animal and plant life are sparse.
Kili is the worlds’ most accessible summit. Any reasonably robust and ambitious individual, without using any special mountaineering equipment can conquer this giant. It’s however hard work. Altitude and the resulting thin air will be the major challenge rather than your failing strength. To avoid succumbing to high altitude sickness, you guides will always advise, you take the mountain slowly or”pole pole” as they say in Swahili. You should therefore avoid a fast ascent and take the time to acclimatise to the hills’ oxygen contested air. By ignoring such excellent advice many young males don’t reach the summit, when elderly more willful climbers make it.
To enjoy the natural beauty and majesty of Kili, you don’t even have to scale it. By utilizing a four-wheel drive vehicle, you can ascend to the Shira Plateau, which is perched at 12,000 feet. The first person recorded to have reached the summit is that the German climber Hans Meyer in 1889. Unlike today’s climber, he didn’t have the advantage a route map and he just made it on the next effort. Was taught a lesson in humility, for the second attempt, he brought along an Alpine expert and a local guide. Meyer named the summit following the Kaiser Wilhelm II, but this was years later revised to Uhuru or freedom in Swahili. Since the times of Meyer, the icecap has receded and scientists fear it will vanish entirely in 20 to 50 years. So, hurry up and climb Kili while it’s still such a pretty sight.
Today, few climbers use the tricky route initiated by Meyer. The climb normally takes five to six days and requires four to five overnight stay in comfortable mountain huts. The Marangu route, which was established way back in 1909 is the simplest and most popular and is used by over 90% of climbers. Experienced climbers prefer the scenic and difficult Machame route. Climbers aren’t entirely without a sense of humour and they refer to Marangu as the coca cola route, and Machame as the whiskey route. Other routes are Shira, Mweka and Umbwe.
Shira is a scenic route that takes you through the Shira Plateau, which you reach by four-wheel drive automobile. The route provides you great views of the Rift valley and Mount Meru. Using Mweka, you get to the summit and return to base in 4 times. However, as you might suspect, it’s fairly steep and therefore not easy whatsoever. The Umbwe route is even steeper and faster and you take just three times up and down. The route is magnificent, but it’s for the fit and experienced rather than casual climbers. Furthermore, there are specialized routes like the Western Breach and Lemosho paths.
No matter the route you select, all Kili climbs begin at Marangu Gate. This is where you receive your license and pay entrance fees. On the normal Marangu route climb, you spend four nights up the mountain. The path is clearly marked directly to the summit. You begin with trekking through the forest zone to Mandara Hut (9,000 feet ) for your first night. Onward through moorland, you stop for another night at Horombo Hut (12,450 feet ). Then through the alpine desert, your next night finds you at Kibo Hut (15,450 feet ). However, you don’t really sleep there as you go for the summit just after midnight. Then you descend back to Horombo Hut for your last night following a general trek of about 77 kilometres. If you wish to spend more time up high to acclimatise, it is possible to overnight twice at Horombo Hut.
On the Machame route, you spend one night more on the mountain. You overnight at Machame Hut, Shira Hut and Barranco Hut. You connect to the Mweka route and continue to Barafu Hut. After handling the summit, you descend for your final night at Mweka Hut. On the following day, you rejoin other mortals at the bottom of the mountain. You’re advised to select the route that best matches your experience. Most hope to reach Uhuru Peak – the highest point on Kibo -and really all Kili. Others are happy with Gillman’s Point, the slightly lower peak on Kibo. However, Mawenzi, actually lower than the Kibo peaks, is much more jagged and demands mountaineering experience. Many climbers find scaling Kili, whatever height they achieve, a very gratifying experience.
But don’t be too disappointed if you don’t reach the summit. Various estimates indicate that only 15-30% of climbers reach the top. Climbing Kilimanjaro is for people that are physically fit and mentally prepared. It’s your ability to muster that extra dose of determination that will count if the going gets tough. Concerning physical preparation, begin by taking hikes uphill with a pack strapped on your back. This rehearses the climb, minus the elevation of course. Think also of putting in some aerobic exercise in the gym and by running. If you’re having heart or lung problems, not risk the climb. In all cases, it’s a good idea to speak with your personal physician to make certain that you don’t bite more than you can chew.
It’s best you purchase a Kilimanjaro climbing tour package to benefit from those with local knowledge. The normal package will package together: return transfers – Moshi or Arusha to Marangu Gate, park and save fees, services of guides, porters and cooks, accommodation in mountain huts and all meals on the mountain. Moreover, you want to hire locally or bring along equipment and sleeping bags. Some helpful stuff to collect contain – waterproof hiking boots, rain suit, flashlights, sunglasses, prophylactics for high-altitude illness, hand gloves and nighttime shoes. You require a daypack to take a few essentials, as the porters carrying your gear will often increase their own way. Some things to take on your back include bottled water, extra clothing, camera and sunscreen.
It’s possible to climb Kili, any time during the year. But it’s definitely less fun during the March to June period when it rains the most. The second and lighter rains come from late October to early December. The best time is when it’s dry and warm – January, February and September. July, August, November and December also great, though cooler. Because of the variation of conditions along the road – from tropic to arctic – it’s convenient to dress in layers you can either discard or add on. Generally, in the northern Tanzania area, you can expect temperatures to average from 15°C in May to August and 22°C over December to March. In the mountain, temperatures fall by approximately 1 degree Celsius for every 650 feet .
Many climbing fans want Christmas and the New Year to locate them up the mountain, and if you don’t book early, it’s difficult to get a slot. The ideal way to unwind after the trek is by taking a Tanzania safari at the unrivalled wildlife sanctuaries in the north of the country or by heading to the shores of Zanzibar. I also have written short features on these attractions.
Kilimanjaro is 475 km to the northwest of Dar es Salaam. The foundation for climbing Kili would be the northern Tanzania towns of Moshi or Arusha. Kilimanjaro International Airport services the area. But it’s usually cheaper to disembark at Nairobi in Kenya and then to have a shuttle bus to Arusha.