Mount Kilimanjaro calls to climbers who dream of scaling Africa’s tallest point.
Not only is Kilimanjaro the highest peak in Africa but, at 19,341 feet high, it’s also the tallest free-standing volcanic mass in the world. Unlike other famous tall peaks, Kilimanjaro isn’t part of a mountain range, which is typical of mountains formed by volcanic activity.
The Extremes of Mount Kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimanjaro is protected inside the Kilimanjaro National Park UNESCO World Heritage Site in the country of Tanzania. Its height is so extreme that the mountain features five distinct ecological zones that climbers pass through as they travel up its trails.
Mount Kilimanjaro sits only about 205 miles away from the equator, and the average temperatures at its base are 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The base of the mountain starts as bushland and develops into lush rain forest that’s home to diverse wildlife, including colobus and diademed monkeys and the wide-eyed nocturnal primates known as bush babies.
As climbers ascend the mountain and pass through the heath ecological zone, the vegetation becomes sparse and the air gets colder and drier as the landscape transitions into alpine desert. Trekkers who reach the top of the mountain enter an arctic zone with a summit that’s capped by 10,000-year-old glaciers.
History of Mount Kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimanjaro was formed millions of years ago as a result of volcanic eruptions. The summit of the mountain is at Kibo, a dormant volcano. While Kibo’s last major eruption was 360,000 years ago, it’s capable of erupting again. The Mawenzi peak is an extinct volcano, and Shira is a volcano that is extinct and collapsed; it now forms the Shira Plateau.
Mount Kilimanjaro and parts of the surrounding area were designated as a forest reserve in 1921. In 1973, that classification changed to National Park. UNESCO declared Kilimanjaro National Park a World Heritage Site in 1987.
The first known group to climb Mount Kilimanjaro ascended its peak in 1889. Today, nearly 40,000 people climb the mountain each year. Many of them do it to mark an accomplishment or change in their lives, like NFL Super Bowl champion Haloti Ngata, who announced his retirement while he was at the summit. He shared a photo of himself holding a flag that said he was “retiring from the NFL on top.”
Only about 50% of people who attempt to climb the mountain succeed at reaching the highest point, usually due to difficulties acclimating to the altitude. The mountain has several routes for climbing, and the trails that get people to the top the fastest are the most difficult. The oldest successful climber of Kilimanjaro is Dr. Fred Distelhorst, a retired orthodontist who reached the summit at the age of 88 in 2017. The youngest person to reach the top to date is Coaltan Tanner, who made it to the summit in late 2018 when he was 6 years old.
How to Get to Mount Kilimanjaro
The closest airport to Mount Kilimanjaro is Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO), which is reachable by direct flight from several international airports in Europe. Most climbs depart from the towns of Moshi or Arusha, both about 40 miles from Kilimanjaro airport.
Climbing the natural wonder that is Mount Kilimanjaro has been likened to walking from the equator to the North Pole in one week. Visiting its national park is a transformative experience that lets people see the world in a new way.