Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa, making it one of the seven summits. It’s very popular with both experienced hikers and first time adventurers, since it is considered to be the easiest of the seven summits. Since Kilimanjaro is a hiking peak (not a mountaineering one), scaling the mountain requires no technical skills or equipment, such as rope, harness, crampons or ice axe.
Along with Kilimanjaro being Africa’s tallest peak, it’s also the world’s tallest free-standing mountain. The summit, named Uhuru Point, is 5,895 meters (19,341 feet) above sea level. While most high mountains are part of ranges, such as Mount Everest’s Himalayan Mountain Range, free standing mountains like Kilimanjaro usually exist as a result of volcanic activity.
It’s unclear where the name “Kilimanjaro” came from. Some say the name comes from the Swahili word “Kilima” (mountain) and the Chagga word “Njaro” (whiteness). Another theory is that Kilimanjaro is the European pronunciation of a KiChagga expression meaning “we failed to climb it.”
Kilimanjaro is located just 205 miles from the equator, in the East African 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 shrank and then regrew during the planet’s ice ages.
According to geologists, there were once three volcanic cones in Kilimanjaro: Kibo, Shira, and Mawenzi. Kibo is the tallest cone and where the summit lies. Shira has since collapsed, creating the Shira Plateau on the western side of the mountain. Mawenzi is a rugged peak standing 5,149 meters (16,896 feet) tall, and is the third highest anywhere in Africa, after Kibo and Mount Kenya.
Of these three volcanos, Kibo (as a dormant volcano) can erupt again, as opposed to the others (Shira and Mawenzi), which are extinct. Kibo’s last eruption was 360,000 years ago. The most recent activity was 200,000 years ago. The ash pit is a two hour round trip hike from the highest campsite, Crater Camp. Those who visit the ash pit will be greeted by the smell of sulfur from the volcano’s lava.
Mount Kilimanjaro was first explored in 1889 by German geologist Hans Meyer, an Austrian climber Ludwig Purtscheller and a local guide Yohani Kinyala Lauwo – back when Tanzania was part of German East Africa. During Meyer’s first attempt in 1887, he got as far as the base of Kibo, since he did not have equipment for heavy snow and ice. His second attempt (in 1888) was also unsuccessful. It wasn’t until 2014 that the fastest ascent and descent of Kilimanjaro was completed (by Swiss mountain runner Karl Egloff — in just 6 hours and 42 minutes).
Some 50,000 eco-tourists climb Mount Kilimanjaro each year. Tanzania’s Ministry for Natural Resources and Tourism is considering a plan to install a cable car system at the mountain, so that more international tourists can visit the top of Kilimanjaro (including the disabled).