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Mount Kilimanjaro – The Root of Africa
Mount Kilimanjaro – The Root of Africa

Mount Kilimanjaro is the crown of Tanzania. Rising abruptly from the open plains, capped by snow and frequently fringed by clouds, it is one of Africa’s classic images. At 19,344 feet, it is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest walkable summit in the world. The diameter of its base is an incredible 40 miles.

Kilimanjaro is a dormant, but not extinct volcano Ominous rumbles can sometimes be heard – and gases emerge from the fume holes in the crater. Although just three degrees south of the Equator, the peaks of both Kibo and Mawenzi have permanent caps of snow and ice.

During their time on the mountain, climbers pass from a tropical to arctic environment in just a few days. The various trails first pass through lush rainforests before reaching heather and open moorland where giant lobelia and huge, cactus-like groundsel grow. Above this moorland is the almost lunar landscape of an alpine desert which stretches between the two peaks of Kibo, the flat-topped dome at the centre, and Mawenzi, a group of jagged points and pinnacles on the eastern side. Inhospitable as this ‘moonscape’ may seem, animals such as herds of eland thrive there.

The highest point on Kibo, and indeed the whole of Kilimanjaro, is Uhuru Peak, with its spectacular hanging glaciers and stupendous views of the African plains some 20,000 feet below. Also on Kibo is the slightly lower peak of Gillman’s Point. These are the goals for most trekkers. The peaks of Mawenzi are for mountaineers only.

With the help of porters and a guide, it is possible to walk all the way to the summit wiouth specialized mountaineering equipment – or experience – and Kilimanjaro cab be conquered by any reasonably fit person. There are several different routes including Marangu, the easiest climb and therefore the most popular, Machame, Shira, Umbwe and Rongai. The total climb normally takes five to six days and involves four or five overnight stays in comfortable mountain huts. Fees, payable in US dollars, include park entrance and accommodation for climbers, guides and porters but not food and equipment. Many thousands of trekkers reach Gillman’s Point or Uhuru Peak successfully each year without any real difficulty. To avoid altitude sickness and failure, it is important to acclimatize by ascending slowly and steadily. It is best to plan a stay at a Moshi or Marangu hotel – climbing straight after the drive from Arusha is not a good idea.

Kilimanjaro can be climbed at any time of the year but the best time is considered to be from August to October and January to March. It is wet in the rainforest during the rains in April, May, June and November. December through to February are the warmest months.

It is not necessary to be a climber to enjoy a visit to the stunning Mount Kilimanjaro region. Indeed visitors can ascend 12,000 feet to the Shira Plateau of West Kilimanjaro by fourwheel drive vehicle!

The climate at this altitude is conducive to gentle walks through flowering vegetation, past small settlements. Walkers will be entranced by the birdlife, with its vivid plumage, which can be seen all around them.

If they head for the rainforest which circles the mountain visitors will find themselves in a world of enchantment and mystery. Monkeys, birds and antelope abound. Elephants and buffalo range through the forest and even leopards can occasionally be seen.

In its turn the rainforest ensures the fertility of the lush, lower-lying ‘shamba’ country where the Chagga people cultivate their coffee, maize and bananas. A stroll through the plantations will provide a fascinating insight into the lives of the local population. One can visit local wood carvers and observe the vibrant patterns of the beadwork necklaces and earrings.

Nearby, close to the road between Moshi and Taveta, is Lake Chala, an azure crater-lake formed from the waters that drain off Mount Kilimanjaro. Lake Jipe lies on the same road. Sixteen kilometers long by five kilometers wide, it is slightly saline and significantly larger than Lake Chala. On the Tanzania-Kenya border, Jipe is rarely visited so exudes an atmosphere of tranquility.

After a day of gentle exercise and sightseeing, visitors can return to one of the many small hotels in the area offering character accommodation and highly personalized service. They are great places in which to relax, unwind and to view the colours of the sunset reflected on the snow-capped peaks of magical Mount Kilimanjaro – the ‘Roof of Africa’.

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