Mount Kilimanjaro is one of those places everybody knows
It’s epic in some way. Famous writers have written about it, all sort of climbers have reached its summit and in ancient times local people originated a myth according to which a dreadful monster lived hidden on its peak. NJARO was its name and this reminds us the name of the mountain, but the question doesn’t end here.
In Kiswahili, the Tanzanian national language, NJARO means ‘greatness’ and KILIMA is the word for ‘small hill’ and there’s more. For the old Waswahili people, who drove the caravans probably with slaves and ivory, Kilimanjaro meant ‘landmark’.
Last but not least, we cannot forget that the region has been traditionally inhabited by the Wachagga tribe and even in this case there is an interpretation: NJARO means ‘caravan’ in Kichagga. As you can see there are many options for the origin of the name of this giant, the highest mountain of the entire African continent, and it will always remain a mystery which is the right one.
Something we can be a little bit more sure about is its geological origin, undoubtedly linked to the formation of the Rift Valley, and datable millions of years ago.
Since the beginning, the three craters we can still admire today were SHIRA, MAWENZI and KIBO.
They were all about 5.000m, but while Shira and Mawenzi became extint, Kibo remained active, continued to erupt and covered Shira with lava leaving what we now call SHIRA PLATEAU and Mawenzi leaving THE SADDLE, a volcanic plain.
Nowadays, Kibo is an inactive stratovolcano with very rare fumaroles coming out from ASH PIT and occasional strong smells of sulphur fumes.
The climb of the Kilimanjaro starts more or less at 1.350m, where cultivations of many kinds can be found, and covers a numbers of ecosystems.
Between 1.800 and 2.800m there is the FOREST with its lush vegetation as a consequence of heavy rainfalls. At 2.800 up to 4.000m there is the MOORLAND with mist or fog, cool temperature and where sunshine starts to be intense.
Two plants are typical of this part: erica arborea and the endemic giant senecio kilimanjari.
At 4.000m we can find the ALPINE DESERT and here starts the most challenging part. The fluctuations of temperature are huge with nights below zero, days over 35 degrees and intense radiation. The water is very scarse and only mosses, lichens and a few everlasting flowers can survive.
The SUMMIT is from 4.900m to UHURU PEAK at 5.895m where artic conditions can be found: freezing at night and burning sun during daytime. Oxygen is very low. Lichens are almost the only living things.
Taking into consideration the climate before deciding to climb Mount Kilimanjaro is very important. The Northern part of Tanzania is interested by two rainy seasons: the short one from mid-November through December and the main one from April to end of May. Between these, there are two long dry seasons, but weather conditions are also influenced by the mountain itself and the altitude. The warmest months are January, February and March, the summer months, and during winter, in July and August, even if it can be really cold at night, the sky is completely clear.
This general introduction of Mount kilimanjaro has been necessary. Now we can face the next step: the climb.