Can I Climb Kilimanjaro?

Welcome fellow adventurers! Are you thinking about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and wondering if you can actually do it?

Yes, you can! Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, is scaled by thousands of people every year. People just like you.

Men and women, teenagers and seniors, novices and experienced mountaineers – they all come to Tanzania to test their abilities the mountain. It is estimated that half of those who try, fail.

But who makes it and who does not, may surprise you.

Everything you Need to Know

This site is dedicated to providing anyone who is considering an ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro everything they need to know about a Kilimanjaro expedition and more. This section covers GeologyHistoryFacts and Regulations

Geology

Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the largest stratovolcanoes in the world. A stratovolcano is formed by a series of layers of ash and lava laid on top of each other as a volcano goes through different eruptive phases. 

It is also known as a composite volcano comprising numerous layers of lava, tephra (cinder) and volcanic ash. This is the world’s highest free standing, snow-covered equatorial mountain. It is the highest mountain in Africa, rising 4,877 meters (16,000 feet) above the surrounding savanna plains to 5,895 meters (19,340 feet) and covers an area of about 388,500 hectares. It stands alone and is the largest of an east-west belt of volcanoes across northern Tanzania.

Kilimanjaro has three main volcanic peaks of varying ages lying on an east-southeast axis.

To the west, the oldest peak Shira (3,962 m/12,998 ft) of which only the western and southern rims remain, is a relatively flat upland plateau of some 6,200 hectares. About one million years ago molten lava started to burst through the fractured surface of the Rift Valley at the location of Kilimanjaro. The initial lava flows were thin and low viscous magma. Because of this the lava spread out and created a gently sloping base for Kilimanjaro. Over time the lava become cooler and more viscous. The huge pressures behind the eruption pushed part of the Earth’s crust skywards, creating the Shira volcano, the oldest of the volcanoes forming the Kilimanjaro massif. Around 500,000 years ago Shira ceased erupting and collapsed forming the Shira Plateau.

The rugged peak of Mawenzi (5,149 m/16,893 ft) lies to the east. The volcano known as Mawenzi formed as a result of another eruption within the Shira caldera. Mawenzi has eroded over the last millennia but has kept some of its volcanic shape. The top of its western face is fairly steep with many crags, pinnacles and dyke swarms. Its eastern side falls in cliffs over 1,000 m (3,280 ft) high in a complex of gullies and rock faces, rising above two deep gorges, the Great Barranco and the Lesser Barranco.

Kibo (5,895 m/19,340 ft) is the most recent summit, having last been active in the Pleistocene. Around 460,000 years ago, a massive eruption barely west of Mawenzi produced Kibo. Continual subterranean pressure forced the earth’s crust even higher and caused Kibo to erupt several more times. This forced the summit ever higher until reaching a maximum height of about 5,900 m (19,356 ft).

A further huge eruption from Kibo 100,000 years later led to the formation of Kilimanjaro’s characteristic shiny black stone – which in reality is just solidified black lava, or obsidian. This spilled over from Kibo’s crater into the Shira caldera and around to the base of the Mawenzi peak, forming the so-called Saddle. Later eruptions created a series of distinctive mini-cones, or parasitic cones, that run in a chain south-east and north-west across the mountain, as well as the smaller Reusch Crater inside the main Kibo summit. The last volcanic activity of note, just over 200 years ago, left a symmetrical inverted cone of ash in the Reusch Crater, known as the Ash Pit, that can still be seen today. It consists of two concentric craters of 1.9 x 2.7 kilometers (km) and 1.3 km in diameter with a 350 m (1,148 ft) deep ash pit in the center. Between Kibo and Mawenzi there is a plateau of some 3600 hectares, called the Saddle, which forms the largest area of high altitude tundra in tropical Africa. There are deep radial valleys especially on the western and southern slopes.

The mountain is a combination of both shield and volcanic eruptive structures. Over time different flows have produced a variety of different rock types. The predominant rock types on Shira and Mawenzi are trachybasalts; the later lava flows on Kibo show a gradual change from trachyandesite to nephelinite. There is also a number of intrusions such as the massive radial and concentric dyke-swarms on Mawenzi and the Shira Ridge and groups of nearly 250 parasitic cones chiefly formed from cinder and ash.

Since 1912, the mountain has lost 82% of its ice cap and since 1962, 55% of its remaining glaciers. Kibo still retains permanent ice and snow and Mawenzi also has patches of semi-permanent ice, but the mountain is forecast to lose its ice cap in 2030. Evidence of past glaciation is present on all three peaks. The mountain remains a critical water catchment for both Kenya and Tanzania but as a result of the receding ice cap and deforestation, several rivers have dried up, affecting the forests and farmland below.

History

Humans have lived on or around Mount Kilimanjaro since at least 1,000 BC. Stone bowls have been found and dated back to that time.  It is logical to assume that Kilimanjaro would have been a desirable place to establish a home.  Kilimanjaro is a sustainable source of flora, fresh drinking water and materials for building such as mud, wood, stones, vines etc. Unfortunately not much else other than the stone bowls and the resources in the form of hard evidence or passed down oral accounts has survived.  The pre-colonial history of the region has been lost with time.

Over the last 500 years:

  • the mountain has at various times acted as a navigational aid for traders travelling between the interior and the coast
  • a magnet for Victorian explorers
  • a political pawn to be traded between European superpowers who carved up East Africa
  • a battlefield for these same superpowers
  • a potent symbol of independence for those who wished to rid themselves of these colonial interlopers.

Unfortunately, little is known about the history of the mountain during the intervening two thousand five hundred years. So while we can assume many things about the lives of Kilimanjaro’s first inhabitants, we can be certain about nothing and if Kilimanjaro did have a part to play in the pre-colonial history of the region, that history, and the mountain’s significance within it, has, alas, now been lost to us.

It is generally accepted that the outside world became aware of Kilimanjaro during the first or second century AD.  A hearsay account repeated by Ptolemy of Alexandria, astronomer and the founder of scientific cartography, wrote of lands in East Africa lying near a wide shallow bay and where, inland, one could find a ‘great snow mountain’. While there was a lot of commerce conducted in the form of trade between the natives of East Africa and the world there are very few historical mentions of Kilimanjaro for the next 1200 years.

After 1500 AD the Portuguese displaced the Arabs as the major traders of the land.  They explored the inland more than previous visitors to the region.  The Portuguese made mention of Kilimanjaro in a book, Suma de Geographia, published in 1519, with an account of a journey to Mombasa by the Spanish cartographer, astronomer and ship’s pilot Fernandes de Encisco believed Kilimanjaro to be the source of the Nile river.

The 1800s brought European and British interest in the Mountain. It was accepted belief that the great white mountain a couple of hundred miles from the coast was the source of the Nile. Interest in the ‘dark continent’ was further aroused by the arrival in London in 1834 of one Khamis bin Uthman. The envoy of the then-ruler of East Africa met with Britain’s leading African scholar, William Desborough Cooley. A decade after this meeting, Cooley wrote his lengthy essay The Geography of N’yassi, or the Great Lake of Southern Africa Investigated, in which he not only provides us with another reference to Kilimanjaro – only the fifth in 1700 years – but also becomes the first author to put a name to the mountain:

The most famous mountain of Eastern Africa is Kirimanjara, which we suppose, from a number of circumstances to be the highest ridge crossed on the road to Monomoezi. Two pioneering explorers, Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke set off to find for themselves the source of the Nile, crossing the entire country we now know as Tanzania in 1857. This was also the age of Livingstone and Stanley, the former venturing deep into the heart of Africa in search of both knowledge and potential converts to Christianity.

Yet for all their brave endeavors, it was not Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke to be the first European to set eyes on Kilimanjaro. Rather it would be a young Swiss-German Christian missionary by the name of Johannes Rebmann.  Rebmann worked with another man Dr. Krapf helping convert the native population to Christianity.  Eventually they hear of a land called Chagga with a great mountain called ‘Kilimansharo’. From other sources, Krapf and Rebmann also learned that the mountain was protected by evil spirits (known in the Islamic faith as djinns) who had been responsible for many deaths, and that it was crowned with a strange white substance that resembled silver, but which the locals simply called ‘cold’.

The name Kilimanjaro has no certain origin, but one of the most popular theories is that it came from KILMA NJARO meaning “shining mountain” in Swahili. The shiny snow on the peak led nearby residents to believe that evil spirits guarded the mountain. This myth could also explain why some referred to NJARO as a demon that caused cold.

Because they saw fellow tribe members attempt the climb only to disappear or to return deformed from frostbite, the Chagga people—who live at the base of the mountain—for centuries had no desire to climb the mountain they believed was full of evil spirits.

A slave dealer was eventually persuaded to take Rebmann to Chagga in 1848, Krapf was at the time to ill to travel. Rebmann travelled along  a route where caravans typically travelled under armed escort – Rebmann, accompanied by the slave dealer and eight porters, set out for Chagga on 27 April 1848. A fortnight later, on the morning of 11 May, he came across the most marvelous sight:

“At about ten o’clock, (I had no watch with me) I observed something remarkably white on the top of a high mountain, and first supposed that it was a very white cloud, in which supposition my guide also confirmed me, but having gone a few paces more I could no more rest satisfied with that explanation; and while I was asking my guide a second time whether that white thing was indeed a cloud and scarcely listening to his answer that yonder was a cloud but what that white was he did not know, but supposed it was coldness – the most delightful recognition took place in my mind, of an old well-known European guest called snow. All the strange stories we had so often heard about the gold and silver mountain Kilimanjaro in Jagga, supposed to be inaccessible on account of evil spirits, which had killed a great many of those who had attempted to ascend it, were now at once rendered intelligible to me, as of course the extreme cold, to which poor Natives are perfect strangers, would soon chill and kill the half-naked visitors. I endeavored to explain to my people the nature of that ‘white thing’ for which no name exists even in the language of Jagga itself…” ~ Johannes Rebmann from his account of his journey, published in Volume I of the Church Missionary Intelligencer, May 1849

An extract from the next edition of the same journal continues the theme:

The cold temperature of the higher regions constituted a limit beyond which they dared not venture. This natural disinclination, existing most strongly in the case of the great mountain, on account of its intense cold, and the popular traditions respecting the fate of the only expedition which had ever attempted to ascend its heights, had of course prevented them from exploring it, and left them in utter ignorance of such a thing as ‘snow’, although not in ignorance of that which they so greatly dreaded, ‘coldness’.

Rebmann made a second trip to Kilimanjaro in November of the same year and was provided with good weather conditions, resulting in his clearest view of Kilimanjaro. He wrote a most accurate and comprehensive description of the mountain that had yet been written:

There are two main peaks which arise from a common base measuring some twenty-five miles long by as many broad. They are separated by a saddle-shaped depression, running east and west for a distance of about eight or ten miles. The eastern peak is the lower of the two, and is conical in shape. The western and higher presents the appearance of a magnificent dome, and is covered with snow throughout the year, unlike its eastern neighbor, which loses its snowy mantle during the hot season.

On this second trip Rebmann was also able to correct an error made in his first account of Kilimanjaro: that the local ‘Jagga’ tribe were indeed familiar with snow and did have a name for it – that name being ‘Kibo’!

A third and much more organized expedition in April 1849 – at the same time as the account of his first visits of Kilimanjaro was rolling off the presses in Europe – enabled Rebmann, accompanied by a caravan of 30 porters to ascend to such a height that he was later to boast that he had come ‘so close to the snow-line that, supposing no impassable abyss to intervene, I could have reached it in three or four hours.’

In 1889, German geographer Hans Meyer and Austrian mountain climber Ludwig Purtscheller were the first to climb Kilimanjaro, shortly after Tanzania had been annexed by Germany. Since Kilimanjaro was now the highest point in the German Empire, Meyer promptly named the topmost peak on the crater rim Kaiser Wilhelm Spitz, in honor of the German emperor. After Tanzania gained its independance in 1963, the peak was renamed Point Uhuru (Swahili for “freedom”).

Kilimanjaro has gained prominence lately as one of the seven summits, the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. But rising in isolation 17,000 feet above the surrounding plain, and the breathtaking climatic transitions, it is an awesome — and rewarding — mountain in its own right.

Facts 

Altitude and Size

  • The height of Mount Kilimanjaro is usually given as 5,895 m or 19,340 ft.
  • The most accurate altitude of Kilimanjaro as measured in 2008 is 5,891.8 m or 19,330 ft.
  • Kilimanjaro is the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. It rises 4,877 m above the surrounding plains.
  • It measures up to 40 km across.
  • The base covers an area of about 388,500 hectares.

Geography/Location

  • Mount Kilimanjaro is located in Tanzania in east Africa, in the north of the country, near the border between Tanzania and Kenya.
  • The whole area lies between 2° 45′ to 3° 25’S and 37° 00′ to 37° 43’E (not far south of the equator).

Population

  • The area surrounding Kilimanjaro is heavily populated.
  • The local tribe living in the foothills is the Chagga.
  • The Chagga arrived about 300 years ago as nomads and settled as farmers, terracing Kilimanjaro’s slopes.
  • There are 18 larger “forest villages” in the forest reserve that surrounds Kilimanjaro National Park.
  • Villagers use the forest (illegally) for firewood, farming, beekeeping, hunting, charcoal production and logging.

Geology

  • Kilimanjaro is a giant stratovolcano.
  • Kilimanjaro is classified as dormant, not extinct.
  • It is the largest of an east-west belt of volcanoes across northern Tanzania.
  • Kilimanjaro started forming about 750,000 years ago.
  • Three main volcanic peaks (Shira, Mawenzi and Kibo) and a number of smaller parasitic cones.
  • Shira is the oldest peak, Kibo the youngest.
  • Kibo’s last major eruption occured about 360,000 years ago.
  • The last volcanic activity was recorded just over 200 years ago and resulted in today’s ash pit.
  • Kibo has two concentric craters, 1.9 x 2.7 km and 1.3 km in diameter, respectively.
  • The central ash pit is 350 m deep.
  • Uhuru Peak on the southern rim of the outer crater is the highest point on the mountain.
  • Since 1912 Kilimanjaro has lost 82% of its ice cap.
  • Since 1962 Kilimanjaro has lost 55% of the remaining glaciers.
  • This may be local evidence of climate warming but may also be due to the loss of humidity caused by deforestation and clearing for farms.
  • Today, the total glacier area is about 2.5 km2.
  • The latest forecasts predict that Kilimanjaro may lose the plateau ice within the next 30-40 years, but the slope glaciers may remain much longer.

Climate

  • There are two wet seasons, November to December and March to May.
  • The driest months are August to October.
  • Rainfall decreases rapidly with altitude.
  • 96% of all rain on Kilimanjaro falls below 3000 m.
  • The average yearly rainfall at Marangu Gate (start of Marangu route) is 2300 mm.
  • Above 4500 m the conditions are desert like.
  • The average yearly rainfall at Kibo Huts (highest hut on Marangu route) is less than 200 mm.
  • The northern side of the mountain is a lot drier than the southern side.
  • January to March are the warmest months.

Vegetation Zones

  • The mountain has five main vegetation zones:
  • Savanna bushland (700-1000 m on southern side and 1400-1600 m on northern side),
  • Sub-montane agro-forest (the densely populated farmlands to the south and south east)
  • Montane forest belt (the rainforest, from 1300 m to 2800 m on southern side, above 1600 m on drier northern side)
  • Sub-alpine moorland and alpine bogs (the heath and moorland, 2800-4000 m)
  • Above this is the alpine desert.

Animals

  • 140 species of mammals (87 forest species) live on Kilimanjaro. Species include 7 primates, 25 carnivores, 25 antelopes and 24 species of bat.
  • At least seven larger mammal species have been recorded above the tree line: Kilimanjaro tree hyrax, grey duiker, red duiker, eland, bushbuck, buffalo and elephants.
  • Three primate species live in the montane forests: blue monkey, black and white colobus, Colobus and bushbaby.
  • 179 species of birds have been recorded.

Kilimanjaro National Park

  • Size of the national park: 75, 353 hectares
  • Size of the surrounding forest reserve: 107,828 hectares
  • Mt Kilimanjaro and its forests were declared a game reserve in 1910 by the German colonial government.
  • In 1921 the area was gazetted as a Forest Reserve and in 1973 the mountain above the tree line (2700m) was reclassified as a national park.
  • The national park also protects some of the montane forest, and six access corridors through the forest belt below.
  • Kilimanjaro National Park was opened for public access in 1977.
  • In 1987 the park was inscribed as a World Heritage Site for its natural value.
  • The park is administered by the Tanzania National Parks Authority.
  • The area lies at 2°45′-3°25’S, 37°00′-37°43’E.

Regulations

Climbing Kilimanjaro can only legally be done with a licensed mountain operator as well as taking one of the pre-determined routes on the mountain. Treks are most commonly carried out with groups of 15 or more and they are accompanied by local staff; porters, chefs and the most important, the guide.

For an average of 15 people on a hike there will be no less than 45 support staff and probably more. The staff’s job is to bring your camping equipment up which includes tents, mess tents, tables, chairs and of course the toilet tent which are all highly necessary components of your trek.

There are restrictions to climb Kilimanjaro however, by National Park authority standards the minimum age one is allowed to climb Kilimanjaro is from 10 years. There is no upper age limit on who can climb to Mt Kilimanjaro’s summit as many people in their 70’s and 80’s regularly take up the challenge and are successful in their accent. It certainly is advisable however that if you are over 60 a full medical check is a good idea before embarking on such an arduous challenge.

  • Climb slowly to increase your acclimatization time and maximize your chances of reaching the summit.
  • Take your time and enjoy the beauty of the mountain.
  • To listen to the guides and others who are familiar with the conditions here, follow their advice.
  • Leave the park undisturbed by no leaving, or removing anything, animate or inanimate.
  • If you meet problems, turn back, and use the same route that you and your party had taken up.
  • A pulmonary case ought IMMEDIATELY to be brought down to lower altitudes.
  • Follow the official routes/trails only, when you are walking in the forest. It is easy to get lost. Never go alone if it can be helped.
  • Litter disfigures nature. Please ensure that everyone in party picks up, brings back, or disposes of it at places provided.
  • Do not light, or cause a fire to be lighted. Be particularly careful of live lit cigarette butts.
  • Stick to your plan, by doing so you will not inconvenience others in the huts.
  • Always avoid a rescue by reading the regulations.
  • Get ACCLIMATIZED by avoiding rapid ascent from low altitude to above 10,000. By doing so you may avoid MOUNTAIN SICKNESS, and prevent pulmonary oedema.
  • To avoid altitude sickness, allow a minimum of five nights, preferably even more for the climb.
  • Do not go above 13,000′ if you have a cold.
  • When a rescue is required in your party, report immediately or send a clearly written note to the Parks Gate.

Kilimanjaro National Park Fees

Entry Permit Fee Kilimanjaro National Park per day per person

a) Of or above the age of 16 years: $60 USD

b) Between the age of 5 years and 16 years:  $10 USD

c) Children below the age of 5 years: Free

Camping Permit in Kilimanjaro National Park per day per person

a) Of or above the age of 16 years:   $60 USD

b) Between the age of 5 years and 16 years: $10 USD

c) Children below the age of 5 years:  Free

Huts, Hostel, Rest Houses Fees per day per person

a) Kilimanjaro National Park: Mandara, Horombo and Kibo (Huts and Camping)       $60 USD

Rescue Fee for Mount Kilimanjaro per trip per person. The park is responsible for rescue between the point of the incident and the gate in any route. The climber will take care of other expenses from the gate to K.C.M.C. or any other chosen destination.

a) Rescue fee:  $20 USD

Personnel Fees per day per person     

a) Porters:   $10 USD

b) Cooks:  $15 USD

c) Guides:  $20 USD

Terms and Conditions in Kilimanjaro National Park

It is an express condition of your visit to this Park that the Board of Trustees shall not be responsible for any bodily injury to any visitor arising from an cause: or for or damage to the property of any visitor brought into the park arising from fire, theft or otherwise by whomsoever caused or arising from negligent or wrongful act of any person in the employment of the Board. All visitors are deemed to have contracted with the Board on this basis.

“FEES ONCE PAID SHALL NOT BE REFUNDED”