Kilimanjaro is very popular with both experienced hikers and first time adventurers because it is considered to be the easiest of the seven summits. Scaling the mountain requires no technical skills or equipment, such as rope, harness, crampons or ice axe. Therefore, it is a hiking or “walk up” peak, not a mountaineering or climbing peak.
Kilimanjaro is not only Africa’s tallest peak, but also the world’s tallest free standing mountain. The summit, named Uhuru Point, is 5,895 meters (19,341 feet) above sea level.
These are formed in a process called plate tectonics. Below the ground, Earth’s crust is made up of multiple tectonic plates. These plates have been moving since the beginning of time due to geologic activity.
When plates push against each other, the edges crumple, forcing slabs of rock into the air. These are known as fold mountains and are the most common type of mountain. A fault-block mountain range is caused when a fault (crack) in the Earth’s crust pushes blocks of rock up between two tectonic plates. The uplifted blocks become block mountains.
Free standing mountains like Kilimanjaro are usually a result of volcanic activity. Volcanic mountains are formed when molten rock erupts, and piles upon the surface.
Mount Kilimanjaro lies just 205 miles from the equator, in the country of Tanzania. When early explorers reported seeing glaciers on the top of Kilimanjaro, people did not believe them as they thought it was impossible for ice to form so close to the hot, equatorial sun. Scientists now believe that the glaciers shrink and then regrow during the planet’s ice ages.
As mentioned above, Kilimanjaro was formed from volcanic activity. However, the mountain once had three volcanic cones – kibo, shira and mawenzi.
- Kibo (19,340’/5,895m)
- Mawenzi (16,893’/5,149m)
- Shira (13,000’/3,962m)
Kibo is the tallest cone and also the central cone. This is where Kilimanjaro’s summit lies. It was formed 460,000 years ago.
Mawenzi is a craggy peak that ranks as the third highest peak in Africa, after Kibo and Mount Kenya (12,549’/3825m). You will have good views of Mawenzi on the Rongai and Northern Circuit routes.
Shira is no longer a peak. It is estimated to have been about 16,000 feet high before it collapsed, creating the Shira Plateau on the western side of the mountain. The Machame, Lemosho and Shira routes trek across this feature.
While climbing Kilimanjaro, trekkers will experience five distinct ecological zones on their way to the top. These include:
- Bushland/Cultivated Zone: 2,600′-6,000’/800m-1,800m
- Rainforest Zone: 6,000′-9,200’/1,800m-2,800m
- Heath/Moorland Zone: 9,200′-13,200’/2,800m-4,000m
- Alpine Desert Zone: 13,200′-16,500’/4,000m-5,000m
- Arctic Zone:16,500’+/5,000m+
Weather conditions near the base of the mountain tend to be tropical to semi-temperate and are relatively stable all year round. The lower plains are hot and dry. As one heads away from the bushland towards the rainforest, conditions become increasingly warm and humid.
Each zone gets colder and drier as the elevation increases. Plant and animal life also disappear with the rise in altitude through the heath and alpine desert zones.
The summit is in the arctic zone, characterized by ice and rock. At this altitude, categorized as “extreme”, there can be no permanent human habitation as the body is in a state of deterioration (short exposures are OK).