Kilimanjaro Trek - Things to know before you climb Kilimanjaro

by Kshaunish Jaini

Kilimanjaro -Things to know before you climb

Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa is one of the most famous trekking destinations in the world, offering amazing views and a challenging but awe inspiring climb over many days that attracts over 30,000 trekkers every year. If you’re reading this, you’re probably interested in climbing Kilimanjaro yourself! In this article, we’ll look at some interesting and useful facts about the mountain to prepare you for the adventure! So here are a few things you must know before climbing Kilimanjaro.

What is Mt Kilimanjaro?

One of the most exciting facts about Kilimanjaro is that it is one of the “Seven Summits” - which are the highest mountains in each of the world’s seven continents. It’s the highest mountain in Africa, and found in north Tanzania near the town of Moshi, right next to the Kenyan border. It is the highest free-standing mountain in the world - meaning it stands alone and is not part of a mountain range.

Mt Kilimanjaro is a huge conical volcano with three cones; Shira and Merenzi are extinct, but the third, Kubu, is dormant - although it has not had a major eruption for ! It’s last recorded volcanic activity was over 200 years ago. Kilimanjaro's highest point, Uhuru Peak, sits on the Kubu crater and in 2014 was measured at a whopping 5888 meters above sea level. As trekkers climb to its summit, they actually reach a higher height than when trekking to the Everest Base Camp ! This makes it one of the highest popular treks that can be completed without specialist training in the world. Kilimanjaro is the highest volcano on Earth outside of South America!

History of Kilimanjaro

Of course, Mt. Kilimanjaro is well known amongst the local people, with the mountain boasting several legendary creation stories. We know that people once lived on and around the mountain in ages past from at least 1000 BC. Kilimanjaro’s name comes from what the locals call the mountain in the local Swahili language, although its actual origin is unknown.

The first official report confirming the existence of Kilimanjaro by non-indigenous explorers was back in 1848 by German missionary Johannes Rebmann. However, even before this, other sailors and explorers had mentioned mountains which could be attributed to Kilimanjaro. For over 500 years it served as a navigational aid for explorers and sailors, and attracted the attention of European explorers during the colonial period.

In 1861, the first Kilimanjaro summit attempt by Europeans was made, but failed, only reaching 2500 meters thanks to poor weather conditions. After this, there were many failed summit bids as it attracted the attention of the international exploration community, until 1889 when Kilimanjaro was finally conquered. The victors were Austrian mountaineer Ludwig Pertscheller, who succeeded in climbing Kilimanjaro on his third attempt, accompanied by German geology professor Hans Mayer, who had also struggled in previous efforts to reach the top, with a team of African guides and porters.

In the 20th century, Kilimanjaro’s attraction to adventures and explorers did not diminish, and tourism began in earnest. In 1932, Kibo hut was built to accommodate trekkers and other tourist-friendly operations were starting to emerge on the mountain. Mount Kilimanjaro became an independence symbol for its country around 1960, back then what we now call Tanzania was a sovereign state called Tanganyika, under the control of the United Kingdom, but gained independence in 1961. Tourism continued to increase on Mount Kilimanjaro through the latter half of the century and its popularity soared, thanks to its easy accessibility for such a high mountain and its amazing scenery. It now hosts hundreds of tour operators, guides, porters and established routes and huts up the mountain, attracting over 30,000 visitors a year!

Kilimanjaro has a very diverse environment. Photo by Ninara

Kilimanjaro’s Environment

Part of Mt Kilimanjaro’s appeal is that it contains a variety of ecological environments, meaning that during your Kilimanjaro climb you will pass through at least five or six different types of landscape and four climate zones. These include farmland, rainforest, heath, moorland, alpine desert, and an arctic ice cap at the top. The west side of Kilimanjaro contains impressive gorges and caves, and the famous Shira plateau which some routes cross is one of the highest in the world. The top has glaciers (which are sadly rapidly melting due to climate change) and frequently sees snow and ice. Each climate “zone” sports its own interesting flora and a diverse range from flowers in the dense forest, to massive groundsels in the alpine desert.

Blue Monkey spotted on the Kilimanjaro trek. Photo by kezee

This diverse range of environments means that spotting wildlife is a real possibility, especially on the quieter routes. You might see black and white colobus or blue monkeys in the forest, or hear the calls of bushbabies. Kilimanjaro is especially good for birdlife, including sun birds, mouse birds, alpine chats and seed, hornbills and ravens, to name a few. For bigger beasts, the area north of Kilimanjaro boasts safari wildlife with elephants, antelope and buffalo the most commonly seen, sometimes on the northern trekking routes. Going on safari in the area after your trek is a great way to see anything you missed!

Kilimanjaro Climate and Weather

Kilimanjaro’s seasons can be split into three states through the year: During the dry seasons, there can still be the occasional rain shower, usually in the afternoon, so it’s still important to bring waterproof gear!

Like other huge volcanoes, Kilimanjaro’s size means that it creates its own unique weather systems which can be unpredictable. Temperature varies from very hot (20>45 degrees centigrade in the desert) to freezing cold (-25 degrees on the summit at night), thanks to the massive elevation difference from the top of Kilimanjaro to the bottom.

Temperatures are affected by the season, the time of day and your elevation on the mountain. In general once you get above the forest climate zone, nights are cold, but it warms up once the sun rises. Walking through the common morning cloud can be damp and chilly. The strong midday heat requires sun protection from its powerful rays. So, you need to be prepared for every kind of weather on this trek! To help you do this, we’ve made a handy what to pack for Kilimanjaro article with an attached checklist.

People of all ages and backgrounds trek Kilimanjaro. Photo by Brad

Trekking Kilimanjaro

People of all ages and backgrounds come to climb Kilimanjaro, and with good reason. You don’t need any special technical knowledge to ascend the mountain, it’s effectively a standard hike, covering many days. The duration of a Kilimanjaro trek depends on the route you choose, your own ability and the tour that you are doing. They generally range from the shortest at 5 days to the longest at 10 days.

Trekkers are usually accompanied by English speaking guides and Swahili porters, who carry some of your gear for you and supplies for the expedition, as the mountain is uninhabited. There are seven main routes to climb and descend the mountain, each offering different types of terrain, views, lengths and difficulties.

Some routes are very popular and busy, others (usually the longer ones) much quieter with more opportunities to see wildlife or a wider amount of scenery. Only one route, Marangu, has huts with dormitory accommodation. All the rest are camping only, with porters usually carrying the tents and equipment for the trekkers. You can also learn about the different Kilimanjaro routes and help you decide which one might be best for you.

It is important to realize that climbing Kilimanjaro is not easy. Regardless of the route, you will be hiking for days at high altitudes and climbing for over half of the trip. Many trekkers don’t prepare properly for the Kilimajaro trek and struggle. However, the training for Kilimanjaro climb in advance is straightforward and will leave you well prepared for the challenge. We have an article with some Kilimanjaro training tips that will be useful.

Further Information for Kilimanjaro

Here’s a few little nuggets of wisdom you might find useful for your Kilimanjaro trek!

Get to the Summit!

We hope this article on things to know before you climb Kilimanjaro was helpful and has given you some inspiration for your Kili trip! If you found it handy, check out some of our other articles about Kilimanjaro. Enjoy your trek!

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