THE Mountain

Mount Kilimanjaro or just Kilimanjaro, with its three volcanic cones, “Kibo”, “Mawenzi”, and “Shira”, is a dormant volcano in Tanzania. It is the highest mountain in Africa, about 4,900 metres (16,100 ft) from its base to 5,895 metres (19,341 ft) above sea level. The first European people known to have reached the summit of the mountain were Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller in 1889. The mountain is part of the Kilimanjaro National Park and is a major climbing destination. The mountain has been the subject of many scientific studies because of its shrinking glaciers and disappearing ice fields.

There are seven official trekking routes by which to ascend and descend Kilimanjaro: Lemosho, Machame, Marangu, Mweka, Rongai, Shira, and Umbwe. Of all the routes, Machame is widely proclaimed as the most scenic, albeit steeper, route. This was true until the opening of Lemosho and Northern Circuit routes, which are equally scenic if not more. The Machame route can be done in six or seven days, Lemosho can be done in six to eight days, and the Northern Circuit routes can be done in seven or more days. The Rongai is the easiest and least scenic of all camping routes. The Marangu is also relatively easy, but this route tends to be very busy, the ascent and descent routes are the same, and accommodation is in shared huts with all other climbers.

People who wish to trek to the summit of Kilimanjaro are advised to undertake appropriate research and ensure that they are both properly equipped and physically capable. Though the climb is technically not as challenging as when climbing the high peaks of the Himalayas or Andes, the high elevation, low temperature, and occasional high winds make this a difficult and dangerous trek. Acclimatization is essential, and even the most experienced trekkers suffer some degree of altitude sickness.

The climate of Kilimanjaro is influenced by the height of the mountain, which allows the simultaneous influence of the equatorial trade winds and the high altitude anti-trades, and the isolated position of the mountain. Kilimanjaro has daily upslope and nightly downslope winds, a regimen stronger on the southern than the northern side of the mountain. The flatter southern flanks are more extended and affect the atmosphere more strongly.

Kilimanjaro has two distinct rainy seasons, one from March to May and another around November. The northern slopes receive much less rainfall than the southern ones. The lower southern slope receives 800 to 900 millimetres (31 to 35 in) annually, rising to 1,500 to 2,000 millimetres (59 to 79 in) at 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) altitude and peaking “partly over” 3,000 millimetres (120 in) in the forest belt at 2,000 to 2,300 metres (6,600 to 7,500 ft). In the alpine zone, annual precipitation decreases to 200 millimetres (7.9 in).

The average temperature in the summit area is approximately −7 °C (19 °F). Nighttime surface temperatures on the Northern Ice Field (NIF) fall on average to −9 °C (16 °F) with an average daytime high temperature of −4 °C (25 °F). During nights of extreme radiational cooling, the NIF can cool to as low as −15 to −27 °C (5 to −17 °F).

Snowfall can occur any time of year but is associated mostly with northern Tanzania’s two rainy seasons (November–December and March–May). Precipitation in the summit area occurs principally as snow and graupel (250 to 500 millimetres (9.8 to 19.7 in) per year) and ablates within days or years.

Climate zones

  • Bushland, 800 m – 1,800 m (2,600 ft – 5,900 ft);
  • Rainweald, 1,800 m – 2,800 m (5,900 ft – 9,200 ft);
  • Heath and Moorland, 2,800 m – 4,000 m (9,200 ft – 13,100 ft);
  • Highland Barrens, 4,000 m – 5,000 m (13,100 ft– 16,400 ft);
  • Ice Cap, 5,000 m – 5,895 m (16,400 ft – 19,341 ft).