The Kilimanjaro is an epic place. Writers have described it, all sorts of climbers have reached its summit, and in ancient times local people created a legend that a terrible monster would live hiding on its summit. The name of the monster is NJARO and this reminds us of the name of the mountain. In Swahili njaro means ‘greatness’ and kilima is the word to describe a ‘small hill’.
For the ancient Swahili peoples, the Waswahili, who led the caravans of slaves and ivory, Kilimanjaro meant ‘landmark’. Last but not least, we cannot forget that the region has always been traditionally inhabited by the Chagga tribe and also in this case we have their interpretation: for them njaro means ‘caravan’. Easy to understand, there are many options for establishing the origin of the name of this giant, the highest mountain in the entire African continent, and it will always remain a mystery which of these options is the right one.
One thing we can be more certain of is its geological origin, certainly linked to the formation of the Rift Valley and datable millions of years ago. From the beginning, the three craters that we can still admire today were SHIRA, MAWENZI and KIBO. They all had a height of around 5,000 meters, but while Shira and Mawenzi went extinct, Kibo remained active, continued to erupt and covered the other two leaving what we now call SHIRA PLATEAU and THE SADDLE, a volcanic plain
Kibo is currently an inactive stratovolcano with rare fumaroles coming out of the so-called ASH PIT and occasional strong sulfur vapors. Climbing Kilimanjaro begins at about 1,350 meters above sea level, where various types of crops are found, and covers a number of ecosystems. Between 1,800 and 2,800 meters there is the forest with its luxuriant vegetation as a result of heavy rains. From 2,800 to 4,000 meters there is the moor, always immersed in haze if not even in the fog. The temperature is cool and the sunlight is starting to get quite intense. Two plants are endemic to this area, the heather and the giant senecio of Kilimanjaro.
At 4,000 meters, you enter the alpine desert and here the greatest challenge begins. The temperature variations are enormous with cold nights, days that can exceed 35 degrees and strong radiation. The water is very scarce and only mosses, lichens and some eternal plants can survive. The summit is located between 4,900 meters up to UHURU PEAK at 5,895, where conditions are arctic: freezing at night, scorching sun during the day. The air is very thin. Lichens are the only present living things.
It is very important to assess the climate before deciding to climb Kilimanjaro. This part of Tanzania is affected by two rainy seasons. The small rains run from mid-November to the end of December and the big rains from April to the end of May. Among these there are two long dry seasons, but the climatic conditions are also influenced by the mountain itself and by the altitude.