Mount Kilimanjaro towers at the far end of the Tanzanian and Kenyan border, virtuously standing as a monument signifying freedom, determination and the spirit of conquering the odds. While it has earned global fame and holds records like the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, there is so much the world is still not aware of. While certain secrets are never spilled unless you make the elusive climb to the top, there are other facts about Mount Kilimanjaro that are lesser known around the globe. These only add to the pre-existing allure and aura of the giant mountain, contributing to its grandeur in more ways than one. Here are some of the lesser-known facts about Mount Kilimanjaro.
WALKING ON A VOLCANO
While Kilimanjaro is already unique in being the tallest free-standing mountain in the world as well as one of the seven summits, it also has an interesting history. It is made up of three volcanic cones: Kibo, Mawenzi (5149 mt.) and Shira (4005 mt.). While one may think of it as a dormant volcano, the last eruption was only 200 years ago! Also, Uhuru Peak (5895 mt.) – the highest point of the summit at the Kibo crater rim, was named after the Swahili word for “Freedom” when Tanzania (erstwhile Tanganyika) gained independence in 1961! It stands for so much in the history of the country that climbing Kilimanjaro puts you in some fine company!
More than 35,000 people attempt the historic climb, but only two-thirds of the climbers make it to the summit. Climbing Kilimanjaro is considered a quite challenging task, but there have been some astonishing achievements by climbers since the first ascent by Hans Meyer in 1889. The diversity of people that make their way to the Uhuru Peak is stunning, and makes for a humbling climb. The youngest and oldest climbers to make the summit range from 10 years old and 88 years old! While Jordan Romero made the climb at 10 years and 11 days in 2006, a 7-year-old as well as a 5-year-old have made the climb in the past. Sadly, the official age to climb Kilimanjaro is 10! The record for the oldest climber was broken just last year by Dr. Fred Distelhorst on 22 July, making him the oldest climber to successfully complete the ascent! If this does not suffice in making you feel part of some fine company, there’s more to the traditions atop Kilimanjaro.
THE SPECIAL CLUB
It is said that every climber that attempts the feat of climbing Kilimanjaro performs a special ritual that has been going on for generations – recording and preserving the tales from your journey. Most climbers that make it to the Uhuru peak write personal experiences from the journey in a special book that is stored in a wooden box atop the summit. Penning down memories in a book shared only by successful summit climbers is quite a motivator for the climb. This should certainly pit you in that special club!
THE OLD MAN OF MOUNT KILIMANJARO
Fondly remembered as the Old Man of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Yohani Kinyala Lauwo was 18 years old when he led Hans Meyer to the Uhuru Peak for the first time in human history. Coming from the Lauwo clan of the Chagga tribe that call Kilimanjaro their home, his employment as a guide for this expedition was accidental. However, it changed his life forever as he pioneered trails to the top of Kilimanjaro for 70 years thereon, also being one of the first men to build hut accommodations along the route up to the Uhuru Peak. Not only this, there was something about the Kilimanjaro air that did wonders for him as he went on to live for a stupendous 125 years!
KILIMANJARO AS A SYMBOL OF ACCOMPLISHMENT
Speaking of special clubs and fine company, the significance that Kilimanjaro holds in peoples’ minds does not stop in Africa. People of various backgrounds from all walks of life have made the climb as a symbol of defeating the odds or overcoming adversity. In 2012, Kyle Maynard became the first quadruple amputee to climb the summit without any prosthetics or assistance. Not only this, the climb was made to raise awareness about the US Military veterans and the range of challenges they face in continuing life after serving for their country. Soon after, Chaeli Mycroft became the first female quadriplegic climber to complete the climb up to the summit when she did it in 2015. Mycroft used a special wheelchair along with a specially made temperature controlling onesie that covered her externally. While being an activist who works in raising awareness about ability levels of people with disabilities, doing the entire climb on the wheelchair at 20 years old is quite an achievement in itself.
STRANGE SIGHTS ALONG THE WAY
Climbing Kilimanjaro is a thrilling experience. It is rightly touted as a climb taking you from the Equator to the North Pole all in a single trek. Ranging from tropical equatorial landscape to sub-arctic scree, the ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro is filled with myriad sights and terrains. This peculiar experience owes to the geographic location and climatic conditions around the mountain. The climb takes you on a journey through these distinct ecological zones separated by altitude. It begins with dusty savannahs at the base followed by dense rainforests as you get into the second day of the trek. The next bump in altitude is accompanied by alpine deserts replacing the forests, finally ending with the glacial face at the summit. Moreover, if the varying terrain was not enough of a surprise, there is a very good chance that your trek will be filled with odd creatures and strangely growing plants. Black and white colobus monkeys, groundsel plants that look completely alien to Earth, honey badgers and bushbucks all reside in the sparsely scattered habitats that they find at the mountain.
Owing to the Earth’s rotation, spin and shape, Mount Kilimanjaro stands to be one of the closest points to the Sun on Earth. Our planet is an oblate spheroid, meaning there is a bulge along the central axis of our planet which is the Equator. Points that lie along this centre are already higher than many points that might be measured according to mean sea level. Owing to this bulge, Mount Chimborazo in the Andes is the closest point to Earth, with Kilimanjaro overtaking most mountain ranges in the world due to its presence on the Equatorial axis. Some calculations suggest it is within the top five points on earth that are closest to space, making the climb to the Uhuru Peak even more memorable!
The entire global ecological experience is complete with stunning glacial deposits serving quite literally as the cherry on top. Unfortunately, human activities have endangered much of the glacial deposits atop Mount Kilimanjaro. Since 1912, Kilimanjaro has lost 82% of its ice cap, and since 1962 it has lost 55% of its remaining glaciers – all due to climate change. It is suspected that the remaining glacier atop Kilimanjaro might vanish much sooner than expected, some suggesting an abrupt end within the next decade, exposing the summit entirely for the first time in recorded history. This serves as another incentive for climbing Kilimanjaro – catch a glimpse of the famous glaciers atop the mountain before they’re gone!