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Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro

At over 19,000 feet, Mount Kilimanjaro, or Kili, as it is affectionately called by locals, is Africa’s highest mountain and the world’s highest free-standing mountain. The iconic images of its snow-capped peaks are known throughout the world. Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano that has three volcanic cones, Kibo (dormant), Mawenzi (extinct), and Shira (extinct). Scientists estimate the last major eruption was 150,000 and 200,000 years ago. But its peaks are just one part of the story.

The mountain’s lower slopes are cultivated farmland. A tropical montane forest starts between 6,000 and 10,000 feet, and cloud condensation causes this area to be often damp and sometimes drenched. Covered with heather, shrubs (such as Erica Arborea and Stoebe Kilimandsharica), and a number of dramatic looking Proteas, this elevation is inhabited by elusive elephant, leopard, buffalo, the endangered Abbot’s duiker, and other small antelope and primates.

Above 10,000 feet is the moorland zone, and hardy endemic species of Giant Groundsels (Senecio) and Lobelia (Deckenii) thrive here. Above 13,000 feet, a surreal alpine desert supports little life other than a few hardy mosses and lichen. As you ascend even further, the vegetation gives way completely to a winter wonderland of ice and snow.

There are six official trekking routes by which to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, namely: Marangu, Rongai, Lemosho, Shira, Umbwe, and Machame. Of all the routes, Machame is by far the most scenic, albeit steeper, and can be done in six or seven days. Rongai is the easiest but also the least scenic of all camping routes, and it ends with a difficult summit ascent. Marangu is also relatively easy, but accommodation is in shared huts with all other climbers.

Because of its popularity, there is the danger that those wishing to climb Kilimanjaro will underestimate its difficulty. Though the climb is not as technically challenging as the high peaks of the Himalayas or Andes, the combination of high elevation, low temperature, and occasionally high winds make Kilimanjaro a difficult and dangerous ascent in its own right. Acclimatization is essential, and, even then, most experienced trekkers suffer some degree of altitude sickness. Kilimanjaro’s summit is well above the altitude at which high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) can occur. All trekkers will suffer considerable discomfort, typically shortage of breath, hypothermia, and headaches.

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