At 5895 metres (19,340 feet) above sea level, Kilimanjaro is Africa's highest peak and the world's highest free-standing mountain which is walkable summit. Rising abruptly from the open plains, capped by snow and frequently fringed by clouds, it is one of Africa's classic images. The diameter of its base is an incredible 40 kilometers. All the main routes for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro are in Tanzania and the town of Moshi at its base has become the climbing centre for all expeditions to the mountain.
The mountain not provides rain for the main crops that are grown on its slopes, it also provides huge employment for the local Chagga people who have become synonymous with the peak in the way that Sherpas are associated with Mount Everest. Thousands of guides, cooks and porters live in the villages on the mountain, and they are both mountain workers and farmers. By Tanzanian standards they are well off, the mountain provides an endless supply of tourism and this northern part of the country is blessed with other natural wonders nearby such as the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, both of which are iconic wildlife safari destinations.Adventure Alternative Tanzania is one of the leading companies for providing good salaries and equitable working conditions for it's workers but clearly there is a history of exploitation, caused in no small part by the fact that the cost of climbing the mountain has increased over the years. Kilimanjaro is one of the most expensive mountains in the world to climb now, on the basis of the daily permit fee. The livelihood of the people who live off the mountain is now in doubt as climate change accelerates the melting of the glaciers. What will happen to the farms and to the thousands of tourists needing water when the rivers and glacial streams eventually run dry?
We want to be part of the solution to the problems facing our region of Tanzania because of tourism, not contributing to its demise. As such our aim is for responsible attitudes towards the environment, the people and the economy. Historically tourism has been criticised for being short termist, but with the guidance and investment from our UK founder and parent company Adventure Alternative, we aim to educate our staff and our clients about ways in which to reduce our footprint on the land and maintain livelihoods.
Kilimanjaro is a dormant, but not extinct, volcano. The last estimated eruption was 200,000 years ago, a mere snip of time in the history of the world, but even today gases emerge from the fumaroles in the crater and the temperature a few feet below the surface in Reusch's pit is volcanic. And yet, the peak of this mountain which is just three degrees south of the Equator has permanent caps of snow and ice. When the first European explorers described this phenomenon, their claims were disregarded as fantastical. Yet over time the glistening white peak became a signpost for the colonialists who came to build railways from the coast to the interior. The name Kilimanjaro translates as "shining hill", kilima meaning hill and ngara meaning shining in the local Chagga language.
The lure of Kilimanjaro is not the fact that it is the highest in Africa; during their time on the mountain, climbers pass through distinct ecosystems from equatorial rainforest through alpine heath, high desert and up to an arctic environment in just a few days. The various trails are a fascinating journey, so much so that each day seems to almost be on a different mountain. Additionally the diversity and uniqueness of the endemic flora makes the climb of Kilimanjaro truly special.
Kilimanjaro used to be one giant stratovolcano, and historians speculate it could have been much higher than Mount Everest before it spectacularly erupted and created three peaks. Shira is now a crumbled indistinct peak with a beautifully pinnacled skyline silhouette which earns it the name 'Cathedral', while Mawenzi on the east side is a rocky peak made up of loose dangerous rock. Between the two is the remains of the volcanic plug, a giant massif called Kibo which has a vast crater as its crown. This crater has a multitude of glaciers on it, blanketing the slopes and draped across the top. Many of them have disappeared now due to climate change but still the famous ones remain - Furtwrangler, Rebmann, Heim to name a few. Some of the routes to the summit have closed now because glaciers like Arrow have disappeared, making the danger of rockfall too much of a risk for climbers.
The highest point on Kibo, and indeed the whole of Kilimanjaro, is Uhuru Peak, which means 'independence' in Swahili. It was so called when Tanganyika gained its independence from British colonial rule in 1961. To celebrate the event a local Chagga guide carried a torch to the summit and it was renamed Uhuru. The story goes that the man was given a house for the rest of his life by the new President Julius Nyerere.
Mount Kilimanjaro is attempted using a five popular routes which are the Marangu Route (the only one allowed to be used for ascent and descent and the only one with hut accommodation), and the other camping routes which are the Machame Route which is also known as the Whisky Route, the Rongai Route which approaches from the north side the Lemosho Route which joins up with the Machame Route, and the lesser used Shira Route.
Each route on Kilimanjaro has its different challenge and landscape but the aim for everyone is to reach to the Roof to of Africa which is Uhuru Peak, which has become a bucket list item for adventurers worldwide.