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Kilimanjaro, with its three volcanic cones, Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira, is an inactive stratovolcano in north-eastern Tanzania rising from its base (and approximately from the plains near Moshimarker), and is additionally the highest peak in Africa at , providing a dramatic view of the surrounding plains. The views of Mount Meru are also dramatic.

Climatic conditions

While Kilimanjaro appears to be dormant volcanically, the response of the top of the mountain to climate change draws global attention. There has been marked retreat of the glaciers, with the most recent ice cap volume dropping by more than 80%.

Sources disagree when the glaciers will be gone due to melting. In 2002, a study led by Ohio State Universitymarker ice core paleoclimatologist Lonnie Thompson predicted that ice on top of Africa's tallest peak would be gone between 2015 and 2020. In 2007, a team of Austrian scientists from University of Innsbruck predicted that the plateau ice cap will be gone by 2040, but some ice on the slope will remain longer due to local weather conditions. Yet another, the California Academy of Sciencesmarker,predicts that the glaciers will be gone by 2050. A comparison of ice core records suggests conditions today are returning to those of 11,000 years ago. A study by Philip Mote formerly of the University of Washingtonmarker in the United States and Georg Kaser of the University of Innsbruckmarker in Austria concludes that the shrinking of Kilimanjaro's ice cap is not directly due to rising temperature but rather to decreased precipitation. In May 2008 The Tanzanian Minister for Natural Resources, Ms Shamsa Mwangunga, said that there were indications that snow cover on the mountain was actually increasing.In January 2006, the Western Breach route was closed by the Tanzanian government following a rockslide that killed four people at Arrow Glacier Camp. On December 1, 2007 the Western Breach route was reopened for climbing.
Mount Kilimanjaro - with Landsat Overlay.
Heights two times exaggerated.

Volcanic conditions

While it is inactive, Kilimanjaro has fumaroles that emit gas in the crater on the main summit of Kibo. Scientists concluded in 2003 that molten magma is just below the summit crater. Several collapses and landslides have occurred on Kibo in the past, one creating the area known as the Western Breach.
View of Kibo, Mowenzi, Shira and Meru in far background


Early good maps of Kilimanjaro were published by the British Government's Directorate of Overseas Surveys (DOS 422 Y742) in 1963. These were based on air photography carried out as early as 1959 by the RAF. These were on a scale of 1:50,000 with contours at 100 ft intervals. These are now unavailable. Tourist mapping was first published by the Ordnance Survey in England in 1989 based on the original DOS mapping (1:100,000, 100 ft intervals, DOS 522). This is now no longer available.http://www.kilimanjaro-summit.comEWP produced a map with tourist information in 1990 (1:75,000, 100 m contour intervals, inset maps of Kibo and Mawenzi on 1:20,000 and 1:30,000 scales respectively and 50 m contour interval). This is regularly updated and in its 4th edition. In the last few years numerous other maps have become available of various qualities.

EWP map sample (1:75,000, summit area) .

Physical features

Mount Kilimanjaro seen from the air, with Mt.
Meru beyond

Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the largest stratovolcanoes in the world. It is a composite volcano, comprising numerous layers of lava and tephra, piled up around the vents in the shape of a cone. The lava flowed as a liquid, while the tephra is material that was sprayed into the air as lava lost its gas content on eruption, and then fell as blocks, cinders and small particles. The lava is rhyolitic in composition (i.e. very rich in silica), and is therefore viscous. Hence, the lava flows do not travel far from the vents, and explosive eruption is likely if much dissolved gas is present in the lava below the surface. Currently the volcano is dormant: there have been no eruptions in living memory. Recent studies suggest the last eruptions on the mountain were between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago.

Relief of Kilimanjaro
Kilimanjaro in the Morning from Amboseli
The volcano is the highest in Africa and covers an area of , Although Kilimanjaro stands alone, it is a part of an east-west belt of volcanoes stretching over Northern Tanzania. It has three main vents, but also has smaller parasitic (or staellite) cones. To the west side of the mountain is the peak Shira ( ), of which only the southern and western rims remain.

To the west, there is a flat tableland. On the edges of this material is later material made by the former eruptions of the mountain, and so it’s a dissected plateau. This is a plateau which has been uplifted by volcanic activity, then been severely eroded, which explains the material around the edge of the plateau. The peak of Mawenzi ( ) - which is rugged and erosion-shattered- can be found in the east of the volcano. Its western face has many features: crags, pinnacles and dyke swarms. Crags are a steep masses of rock projecting upward or outward. Pinnacles are high peaks or points of rock, but in Mount Kilimanjaros case then it’s a high point of rock. A dike (plural dyke swarm) is a type of sheet intrusion that cuts discordantly across. These come in several forms: planar wall rock structures or massive rock formations. On Mawenzi these are formed in igneous intrusions. These form in high aspect ratios, so the thickness is smaller than the other 2 dimensions. The dykes intrude into a cross-cutting fissure. These are linear volcanic vents through which lava erupts, although Mount is dormant so it does not happen.

To the eastern side of Mawenzi it falls into cliffs, with a complex system of gullies and rock faces. These rises from two massive gorges: the Great Barranco and Lesser Barranco. Gorges are deep valleys between cliffs that are formed by erosion, and were formed from the plateau that can be found to the eastern side of the mountain. The cliffs form because harder rock strata that are resistant to erosion/weathering remain exposed on the valley walls. The most recent summit is Kibo ( ) which was last active during the Pleistocene. There are still even fumaroles. Even though there haven’t been eruptions for millions of years, there are openings near Kobe in the Earth’s crust which emits steam and gases e.g. Carbon Dioxide, Hydrochloric Acid. It even emits solfatara (Sulphurous gases). They occur along the chaotic clusters and long fissures. The hot igneous rocks react with the groundwater, which makes it release

The highest point on the mountain is the southern rim of the outer crater. Moreover, between Kibo and Mawenzi is the Saddle, in which it contains high altitude tundra. This type of vegetation forms at high levels of altitude because tree growth is hindered by low temperatures and short growing seasons. There is a wide range of vegetation despite being at high altitude such as dwarf shrubs, grasses, mosses and lichens. The ecotone (difference between tundra and forest) is called the timberland. On Mount Kilimanjaro there are radial valleys that can be found on the southern and eastern slopes. They are smaller valleys that flank the mountains main valleys.


It is unknown where the name Kilimanjaro comes from, but a number of theories exist. European explorers had adopted the name by 1860 and reported that it was its Swahili name, that Kilimanjaro breaks Kilima (Swahili for "hill, little mountain") and Njaro, whose supposed origin varies according to the theories—according to some it's an ancient Kiswahili Swahili word for white or for shining, or for the non-Swahili origin, a word from the Kichagga language, the word jaro meaning caravan. The problem with all these is that they can't explain why the diminutive kilima is used instead of the proper word for mountain, mlima. The name might be a local joke, referring to the "little hill of the Njaro" being the biggest mountain on the African continent, since this is a nearby town, and guides recount that it is the Hill of the Njaro people. A different approach is to assume that it comes from the Kichagga kilmanare or kileajao meaning "which defeats the bird/leopard/caravan". However this theory cannot explain the fact that Kilimanjaro was never used in Kichagga before in Europe in the mid-1800s.

In the 1880s the mountain, at that time spelled Kilima-Ndscharo in German following the Swahili name components, became a part of German East Africa after Karl Peters had persuaded local chiefs to sign treaties (a common story that Queen Victoria gave the mountain to Kaiser Wilhelm II is not true). In 1889 the peak of Kibo was named "Kaiser-Wilhelm-Spitze" ("Kaiser Wilhelm peak") by Hans Meyer, on the first ascent to the summit on 5 October 1889. That name was used until 1918, when after World War I the German colonies were handed over to the British empire. When British-administered Tanganyika gained its independence in 1961, the peak was named "Uhuru peak", meaning "Freedom peak" in Swahili.

Trekking routes up Kilimanjaro

There are several routes by which to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, namely, Marangu, Rongai, Lemosho, Shira, Umbwe and Machame. Of all the routes, Machame is by far the most scenic albeit steeper route up the mountain, which can be done in 6 or 7 days. The Rongai is the easiest camping route and the Marangu is also easy, but accommodation is in huts. As a result, this route tends to be very busy and ascent and descent routes are the same.
Caution signs at the Machamé trailhead

Persons wishing to climb Mt Kilimanjaro are advised to undertake appropriate research and ensure that they are both properly equipped and physically capable. Though the climb is technically very easy, the altitude and low temperature make this a difficult and dangerous trek. Acclimatisation is essential, and even then most people suffer some degree of altitude sickness. About 10 climbers die from this each year, together with an unknown number of local porters - figures for these are guessed at between 10-20. Kilimanjaro summit is well above the altitude at which high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) can occur. All climbers will suffer considerable discomfort, typically shortage of breath, hypothermia and headaches, and though most young, fit people can make the Uhuru summit, a substantial number of trekkers will abandon the attempt at a lower altitude.

High altitude climbing clubs have criticised the Tanzanian authorities for charging fees for each day spent on the mountain. This can encourage climbers to climb rapidly to save time and money, while proper acclimatisation demands that delays are built in to any high climb.

Tanzanian Medical Services around the mountain have expressed concern recently over the current influx of tourists that apparently perceive Kilimanjaro as an easy climb. Many individuals require significant attention during their attempts, and many are forced to abandon the climb. An investigation into the matter concluded that tourists visiting Tanzania were often encouraged to join groups heading up the mountain without being made aware of the significant physical demands the climb makes.


  • Fastest ascent: Bruno Brunod, 5 hours 38 minutes 40 seconds
  • Fastest ascent and descent: Simon Mtuy, 8 hours 27 minutes
  • Youngest person to summit: Keats Boyd, 7-years old
  • Oldest person to summit: Karl Haupt, 79 or Valtee Daniel, 87
  • First ascent: Kinyala Johannes Lauwo (1871-1996). Lauwo, a Marangu army scout, then served as guide to Hans Meyer, who named Johannes Notch after him. In 1989 the West Germanmarker government built Lauwo a house at Ashira Marangu to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first European ascent.
  • First paraplegic to summit assisted: Chris Waddell
  • First Deaf woman to reach the top of Kilimanjaro: Heidi Zimmer

Unique vegetation

Kilimanjaro has unique vegetation such as the water holding cabbage in the tussock grassland and other plants like this all adapted to living in alpine conditions.

Kilimanjaro has a large variety of forest types over an altitudinal range of containing over 1,200 vascular plant species. Montane Ocotea forests occur on the wet southern slope. Cassipourea and Juniperus forests grow on the dry northern slope. Subalpine Erica forests at represent the highest elevation cloud forests in Africa. In contrast to this enormous biodiversity, the degree of endemism is low. However, forest relicts in the deepest valleys of the cultivated lower areas suggest that a rich forest flora inhabited Mt Kilimanjaro in the past, with restricted-range species otherwise only known from the Eastern Arc mountains. The low degree of endemism on Kilimanjaro may result from destruction of lower altitude forest rather than the relatively young age of the mountain. Another feature of the forests of Kilimanjaro is the absence of a bamboo zone, which occurs on all other tall mountains in East Africa with a similarly high rainfall. 'Sinarundinaria alpina' stands are favoured by elephants and buffalo. On Kilimanjaro these megaherbivores occur on the northern slopes, where it is too dry for a large bamboo zone to develop. They are excluded from the wet southern slope forests by topography and humans, who have cultivated the foothills for at least 2000  years. This interplay of biotic and abiotic factors could explain not only the lack of a bamboo zone on Kilimanjaro but also offers possible explanations for the patterns of diversity and endemism. Kilimanjaro's forests can therefore serve as a striking example of the large and long-lasting influence of both animals and humans on the African landscape.

See also


  1. The concept of "free-standing rise" is not completely well-defined; however one definition characterizes it as the rise of the summit over the lowest closed contour line encircling and remaining near the summit. (Compare topographic prominence.) Kilimanjaro is encircled by a contour line at elevation , giving a rise of , which goes no further than from the summit. This is the world's highest free-standing rise attainable within a radius. Higher rises are attainable over somewhat larger distances, namely for Pico Cristóbal Colón, which rises above a contour within , and Mount McKinley, which rises above a contour within . (Sources: SRTM data, USGS National Elevation Dataset.) If points below sea level are considered, Mauna Kea beats Mount McKinley by hundreds of metres with a similar radius. (Source: USGS National Elevation Dataset and Geologic Investigations Series I-2809.)
  2. Recession of Equatorial Glaciers. A Photo Documentation, Hastenrath, S., 2008, Sundog Publishing, Madison, WI, ISBN 978-0-9729033-3-2, 144 pp.
  3. Ice Man: Lonnie Thompson Scales the Peaks for Science
  4. Ice Core Records
  5. Video clip shown at the California Academy of Sciences, title unknown. 8 August 2008
  6. EWP map sample
  7. Nonnotte, P., Guillou, H., Le Gall, B., Benoit, M., Cotten, J., & Scaillet, S. (2008). New K–Ar age determinations of kilimanjaro volcano in the north tanzanian diverging rift, east africa. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 173(1-2), 99-112.
  8. "Kilima-Njaro" (alternate name in 1907), The Nuttall Encyclopædia, 1907,, 2006, webpage: FOB-Njaro.
  9. "SRTM TANZANIA IMAGES" (Kilimanjaro or Kilima Njaro description), NASA, August 28, 2005, webpage: NASA-Tanzania.
  10. Hutchinson, J. A.: The Meaning of Kilimanjaro
  11. Briggs, Philip (1996): "Guide to Tanzania; 2nd edition." Bradt Guides.

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