Caused by a mixture of others’ curiosity and our own excitement, Angela and I are being asked multiple times a day about our Kilimanjaro climb. With questions ranging from “What route are you doing?” to “What’s a Kilimanjaro” to “Why is it called Kill A Man?” everyone seems to understand a little more or less about the mountain. While Angela and I have posted a bit about ourselves and our training, we’ve never posted anything about the mountain itself. So, consider this our attempt at answering some of these questions.
Used as a backdrop in many of the movies about Africa (Lion King, Madagascar, etc) Mount Kilimanjaro is an iconic mountain that represents Africa in a way that no other landmark represents any other place on the planet. A place that holds romantic mystery in the way a brilliant sunset captures our hearts. Being a dormant stratovolcano, it stands almost completely alone, rising from an altitude of just 2,609 feet in the nearby town of Moshi, Tanzania (East Africa) to its summit at 19,341 feet above sea level. Our journey embarks at the Machame Gate, which has an altitude of 5,363′ and we’ll spend the following week walking uphill to reach the rim on top of the nearly 1 mile wide crater. During that week, we’ll travel through five distinctly different climatalogical zones, see a diversity of plantlife that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, be captivated by a million stars in the night sky, touch the disappearing ‘Snows of Kilimanjaro’, and see more of the Earth’s surface at one glance than anywhere else on the planet. And the best part is, our experience will be painted by guides and porters born and raised in an environment completely different than anything we’ve ever imagined.
Back in the 1880’s, Kilimanjaro’s summit was entirely covered in ice with glaciers cascading down the slopes. The approximately 1,300 foot deep outer caldera was completely filled with snow and ice with the exception of the innermost Reusch Crater, which is heated by active fumeroles slowly releasing volcanic gasses from the magma resting some 1,400 feet below. Scientists estimate the volcano’s age at 1 million years, with the last major eruption occurring 360,000 years ago, and the most recent activity more than 200 years ago. Since 1912, more than 80% of this ice has disappeared and Kilimanjaro will likely be free of persistent ice sometime between 2022 and 2033. Our route will take us close enough to touch one of these famous glaciers.
As I mentioned earlier, we’ll be starting at the Machame Gate with temperatures likely in the high 80s or 90s, will follow the Machame Route up across the Shira Plateau for the first several days before our trail diverges to the east to the Arrow Glacier Camp the day before our summit attempt. The Arrow Glacier Camp positions us for an assault up through the Western Breach, a spot where the outer crater wall has collapsed. This route allows easier access to the glaciers on the inside of the caldera and finally climbs up the inside of the crater wall to the high point, Uhuru (which means freedom). Temperatures on summit day typically range around 15 degrees, but can feel much less depending on wind chill factor. These cooler temperatures are one of Angela’s biggest worries. That day begins around 2:00 in the morning with the hopes of reaching the summit right around sunrise, and after taking a few pictures will end after decending almost all the way back down the mountain around 4-5:00 that afternoon. Of all the routes on Kilimanjaro, this one is known as one of the more difficult and potentially dangerous on the mountain.
Depsite the question, the mountain never killed a man named Jaro. The most likely translation comes from the ancient Swahili words ‘kilima’ and ‘njaro’, which means “shining hill”. Angela and I can hardly wait to see this shining hill for ourselves, to walk up its slopes, and touch the roof of Africa.