Mt. Kilimanjaro

Overview

Introduction

Africa's tallest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro is truly one of the most impressive sights on the continent. "Kili" can be seen from various points in northern Tanzania, and even as far away as Tsavo and Amboseli parks in Kenya. Part of its spectacular appeal is that Kilimanjaro is not part of a mountain range—it's a 19,342-ft/5,895-m dormant volcano rising dramatically from a relatively flat plain—it's the world's highest freestanding mountain.

Clouds blanket the famous snowcapped peak most of the time, often dissipating at dusk and dawn to offer stunning views from Moshi and elsewhere in the vicinity. However, the snowcap is gradually melting. Roughly 85% of the ice has disappeared since 1912, so you may want to see Kili sooner rather than later.

Going on an organized trek is compulsory—and a godsend if you get hurt or sick. Mount Kilimanjaro National Park includes the whole of the mountain above the montane forest belt (higher than 5,970 ft/1,820 m) and a daily park entrance fee is required along with the associated costs for guides and porters. Because of its relatively gentle slope, even inexperienced climbers can climb Kilimanjaro—it is the tallest mountain in the world that can be simply walked up. It is still hard work and you need to be fit (consult your physician first, because of the altitude). The climb takes a minimum of five days—four up and one down—but your odds of reaching the summit will be greatly improved if you add an extra night or two on the way up in order to acclimate to the altitude. Going on an organized trek with a guide and porters is compulsory—and a godsend if you get hurt or sick.

The springboard for all climbs is the town of Moshi, 50 mi/80 km east of Arusha. As such, many people combine a climb of Kili with a safari of the Northern Circuit parks and most tour operators offer this option. There are a number of different trails. The most popular is the Marangu trail, which is the recommended route for older people or younger people who are not in peak physical condition. This route makes use of rest huts that are along the way. (Mandara Hut is at 9,000 ft/2,750 m, Horombo Hut is at 12,225 ft/3,790 m and Kibo Hut is at 15,520 ft/4,811 m.) Experienced mountain climbers may opt for the Machame route, a more scenic and considerably more strenuous path up the mountain. On this, and the other routes, trekkers are accommodated in tents carried and set up by the porters. (The Machame route is known as the whiskey route, and the Marangu route is known as the Coca-Cola route. These nicknames are derived from the climbs' hard and soft natures, respectively.)

Several other possibilities are available, including the very gradual Shira Route and the less busy Rongai Route. Whichever route you take, go well-prepared—some 20,000 people attempt the climb each year, but only about half actually reach the summit. Altitude sickness, known locally as mountain sickness, is the primary reason most don't make it to the top—the important things to remember are to go prepared and take it slowly.

Kili is 295 mi/475 km northwest of Dar es Salaam.

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