Facts About Mount Kilimanjaro for Aspiring Hikers and Everyone Else | Trekking Days
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Facts About Mount Kilimanjaro for Aspiring Hikers and Everyone Else

by | Africa, Hotspots

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Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the world’s most iconic mountains. Located in Tanzania, it is the tallest mountain on the African continent and one of the Seven Summits (the tallest mountains on each of the seven continents). Millions of people visit Tanzania each year with the hope of summiting Kilimanjaro, but there are still many who don’t know much about this volcano. Here are 15 facts about Mount Kilimanjaro that you may want to know if you are an aspiring hiker planning to reach Kilimanjaro’s peak or someone who wants to learn new things about the mountain.

Fact 1: Mount Kilimanjaro is a volcano

What many people don’t realize is that Mount Kilimanjaro is actually a volcano, specifically, stratovolcano. The last time it erupted was around 360,000 years ago, and since then the mountain has been slowly eroding. Today, only a small portion of the original volcano is still visible, but geologists believe that it was once much taller than it is today.

The summit of Mount Kilimanjaro has three volcanic cones: Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira. Don’t trekk the mountain with lava anxiety, as the highest point, Kibo, is a dormant volcano, while the next highest point, Mawenzi, is extinct. The third peak, Shira, is a collapsed crater.

For centuries, the glacial summit of Kibo has been crowned with a blanket of snow and ice, but due to global warming, these glaciers are now in danger of disappearing. Scientists estimate that if current trends continue, the glaciers could be completely gone by 2030.

Kibo Peak

Mawenzi Peak 

The Shira Plateau

Fact 2: Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world

At 19,341 ft (5,895 m), Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. The mountain is located in northeastern Tanzania, about 50 mi (80 km) from the Kenyan border. It is part of the Kilimanjaro National Park and is a popular destination for climbers from all over the world. The journey to the summit takes between five and seven days, and temperatures at the top of the mountain can be below freezing even in midsummer.

The snowy peak of Mount Kilimanjaro

Fact 3: The origin of the name “Kilimanjaro” is uncertain

The name, “Kilimanjaro,” is a westernized version of its origins and the name may derive, according to one of the most accepted hypotheses, from a combination of words in Swahili and a local language spoken by the Chagga tribe. The Swahili word, “Kilima,” which makes up the first half of the volcano range’s name, means “mountain.” In the local language of the Chagga tribe, “Njaro,” the second half of Kilimanjaro’s name, means “whiteness.” If we combine the two words, we get “Kilimanjaro,” or “white mountain”.

Fact 4: The summit of Mount Kilimanjaro is known as Uhuru Peak

Uhuru means “freedom” in Swahili and was named by Tanzanian nationalists in 1961 when the country gained independence from Britain. Today, Uhuru remains an important part of Tanzania’s country brand, and it is often used to promote tourism in the country.

Fact 5: The mountain is home to five distinct ecological zones

There are five main ecological zones on Mount Kilimanjaro, which are defined by altitude: the cultivation zone, the montane forest, the heath and moorland zone, the alpine desert, and the arctic summit. Each zone has its own unique climate and vegetation. Some climbers will be happy to know that they need to be prepared for extreme weather conditions as they move up through the different ecological zones.

The cultivation zone

The cultivation zone is the lowest and most densely populated of the five zones. It extends from 1,000 to 5,000 ft (300 to 1,500 m) and has a tropical climate. The vegetation in this zone is mostly farmland used for growing crops such as maize, coffee, and bananas.

The montane forest

This tropical forest zone starts from 3,280 ft (1,000 m) and ends at about 9,180 ft (2,800 m). While trekking this zone, you might see a number of small mammals, such as hyrax and bush babies venture amongst the crops, as well as birds such as bulbul and boubou.

A slightly scary hyrax

Rain forest

The heath and moorland zone

From the lower reaches of the moorland, around 9,840 ft (3,000 m), one notices an increase in Erica and broom scrub, and some arguably impressive giant heathers. This is the heath zone where walking becomes a little more challenging as the air becomes thinner.

Crossing into the moorland zone between 9,840 ft (3,000 m) and 13,120 ft (4,000 m), you mostly see senecios and lobelias, as well as some groundsel and everlasting flowers. Most visitors to Kilimanjaro will have their first experience of altitude sickness in the moorland zone.

Dendrosenecio kilimanjari, a giant groundsel found below 13,000 ft

Alpine desert

From 12,120 ft (4,000) meters, it’s mostly rock and sand as the mountain enters its alpine desert phase. In this ecosystem, few plants can survive.

Somewhere in the alpine desert zone

The arctic summit

The final destination for most climbers is Uhuru Peak, the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro at 19,341 ft (5,895 m). This is the arctic summit, a literally cool place where you will find only a few plants, such as lichens and mosses. Temperatures can fall below freezing even in midsummer, so it is important to be prepared for extreme weather conditions, just in case you reach the peak.

You will know when you have reached the Uhuru Peak

Fact 6: Uhuru Peak is one of the most popular trekking destinations in the world

Uhuru Peak attracts thousands of visitors each year who come to experience its striking summit. To decide whether Kilimanjaro is right for you, it’s worth noticing that there will be days when you will hike for up to 16 hours.

Fact 7: Mount Kilimanjaro is thought to have first been summited in 1889

For many years, it was thought to be an impossible peak to summit, due to its great elevation and the surrounding jungle. However, in 1889, the German geographer, Hans Meyer, and the Austrian mountaineer Ludwig Purtscheller succeeded in reaching the summit. Whether they were the first to successfully reach the summit or not is unsure. For example, before climbing the mountain, Meyer came to the nearby villages searching for a guide, and one of the locals who accompanied him to the summit was Yohana, an 18-year-old member of the Chagga tribe. By some accounts, Yohana had already reached the summit several times before we went climbing with the two European explorers.

Fact 8: Around 25,000 people attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro every year, but only slightly more than half succeed

Every year, around 25,000 people attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Of those who attempt the summit, approximately 60% are successful. The climb is difficult and treacherous, and many climbers underestimate the challenges they will face. The air is thin and cold, and many suffer from altitude sickness along the way.

Fact 9: You can hire a porter to carry your gear for you

If you don’t fancy lugging all your gear up the mountain yourself, you can always hire a porter. Porters are experienced climbers who will carry your gear up the mountain for a fee. Prices vary depending on how much gear you have and how far you need the porter to carry it.

Fact 10: Most climbers (70-80%) use one of the six established routes to reach Uhuru Peak

There are six established routes that climbers can take to reach Uhuru Peak: the Marangu Route, the Machame Route, the Umbwe Route, the Rongai Route, the Shira Route, and the Lemosho Route.

The most popular route is the Marangu Route, which is also known as the “Coca-Cola Route” because it is the easiest. The route begins at the Marangu Gate and winds its way through the rainforest, heathland, and alpine desert to the summit.

Somewhere on the Marangu Route

The Machame Route is longer than the Marangu Route but some say it is more scenic. The route begins at the Machame Gate and winds its way through the rainforest. After a few days of hiking, climbers reach the Shira Plateau. From there, it is a steady ascent to the summit, with plenty of opportunities to enjoy the scenery.

The Umbwe Route begins in the southwest of the mountain, near the village of Umbwe. This is the most direct path to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, and it is also one of the most challenging. This route is recommended for experienced hikers who are comfortable with steep ascents and long days on the trail.

The Rongai Route begins on the northern slope of the mountain, and it offers pretty views of the Kenyan plains. The route is also known for its relatively gradual ascent, which makes it a good option for less experienced climbers. Although the Rongai Route does not offer the same technical challenges as some of the other routes, it should not be underestimated.

The Shira Route is the longest of the three main routes and starts at the Shira Plateau. The route starts at the Shira Plateau and is named after the plateau, which is actually a wide, open valley situated at an altitude of 12,598 ft (3,840 m). From the plateau, the trail contours around the south side of the mountain before eventually joining up with the Lemosho Route.

The Lemosho Route offers impressive views of the rainforest, alpine meadows, and glaciers. The route also has a relatively low success rate, so hikers who summit via this route can feel a sense of accomplishment. In addition, the route is relatively quiet, so hikers can enjoy some solitude as they hike through Kilimanjaro’s diverse ecosystem.

Fact 11: The best time to climb Mount Kilimanjaro is from late June to early September or late December to early March

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro can be done year-round, but the best time to summit is during Tanzania’s dry season which runs from late June to early September or late December to early March. Climbing during the wet season (November to mid-March) is not recommended as the trails can be slippery and dangerous.

Fact 12: It is not necessary to use oxygen to climb Mount Kilimanjaro

When many people think of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, they imagine an arduous and dangerous journey that requires the use of oxygen tanks. However, it is actually possible to reach the summit without using supplemental oxygen.

While it is true that the air is thinner at high altitudes, the human body is adaptable and can acclimate to less oxygenated air. Climbers who attempt to summit without oxygen can expect to experience symptoms such as headache, dizziness, and fatigue.

However, these symptoms are relatively mild and should not pose a significant threat to a climber’s safety. With proper preparation and acclimatization, it is possible to reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro without using supplemental oxygen.

Fact 13: The biggest danger on Mount Kilimanjaro is not the altitude, but rather the risk of contracting altitude sickness

Reaching the summit requires not only strength and endurance but also a careful acclimatization process to avoid altitude sickness. Although Mount Kilimanjaro is not an excessively high mountain by global standards, the rapid ascent can be dangerous for those who are not prepared.

The most common symptom of altitude sickness is headache, but it can also cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and shortness of breath. In severe cases, it can lead to brain swelling and death. For this reason, it is crucial that climbers take the time to acclimatize properly before attempting to reach the summit.

Fact 14: Huts and camps are located on all the popular routes up Mount Kilimanjaro

Each hut or camp has different facilities, but they all include dormitory-style accommodations and communal dining areas. Some huts also have en-suite bathrooms, while others provide shared ablution blocks.

Most huts and camps are located within walking distance of the next one, so you don’t need to carry all your belongings with you. You will need to bring your own sleeping bag and other personal items, but the porters can carry your main luggage for you.

When you book your trek, you will need to decide whether you want to stay in huts or camps. Huts tend to be more expensive than camps, but they also offer a higher standard of comfort and amenity. Camps are usually only available on the cheaper budget treks. If you decide to stay in a camp, you will need to bring your own tent.

Fact 15: The cost to climb Kilimanjaro is typically in the range of $2,000-$6,000

It is hard to climb Mount Kilimanjaro without paying at least $2,000 and unlikely to climb it for more than $6,000 unless you have very specific needs. The price includes various fees and varies depending on the tour operator you choose and other factors.

You cannot trekk the mountain without the company of a mountain operator. Note that all tour operators need to be licensed and registered by KINAPA, the National Parks Authority in Tanzania. The guiding team may include the hiking guide, porters, and chefs. The minimum age to climb the mountain is 10 years old.

If you are looking to book a guided tour to Mount Kilimanjaro, feel free to check out these offers.

Bottom line: You should go trekking Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro is an amazing mountain with a unique ecology, making it a must-see destination for hikers who aspire to reach the world’s largest peak. Perhaps keeping these facts about Mount Kilimanjaro in mind as you plan your trip will help you make the most of your experience.

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