Kilimanjaro (Erik Cleves Kristensen)
Article Words : Jeremy Gane | 03 March

Kilimanjaro explained

Almost 6,000m of mountain is a lot to get your head around. Jeremy Gane, a 21-times Kili summiteer, helps you find your way

Rainforest Belt

Below around 2,800m Kili is very green, especially the southern flank. Redwoods, podocarpus and camphorwoods drip with old man’s beard, and you might spot wildlife – many birds (including the green and noisy Hartlaub’s turaco), plus vervet and black and white colobus monkeys. Rain likely.

Low Alpine Zone

 

This zone circles the entire mountain between around 2,800m and 4,000m; here you’ll find giant heathers, groundsels (such as Senecio keniodendron) and magnificent phallic lobelias.

 

Shira (3,900m)

 

Shira is the oldest and lowest of Kili’s three peaks; the collapsed crater now appears as an eroded ridge. The Shira Plateau campsite is used by trekkers on the Machame and Lemosho Routes.

The final push

The highest flanks of Kili are a long, hard, steep slog up unforgiving scree. Trekkers break the crater rim at around 5,720m; the gradient is gentler from there to the summit.

Kibo (5,895m)

 

The highest of Kili’s three peaks is home to Uhuru Point – the loftiest point on Kilimanjaro, and in Africa; a simple sign marks the spot

What’s on top?

Kibo’s summit is actually three concentric craters, with the Reusch Crater (1.3km wide) in the middle. Inside that is the Ash Pit, sulphurous to the nose and warm to the touch – signs this volcano isn’t dead yet...

Also up top you’ll see the snows of Kilimanjaro – these glaciers (fast receding) are sparkling ice walls and towers, incongruous under the African sun.

High-altitude desert

A majestic and harsh zone where only hardy plants such as everlastings and lichens survive.

The Saddle

8km of high-altitude tundra linking Kibo and Mawenzi; an eerie place, crossed by trekkers on the Marangu Route.

Rongai Route

The increasingly popular Rongai Route is the only approach to tackle Kili from the north-east of the mountain – the Kenyan side.

Mawenzi (5,149m)

 

This craggy peak, the second of the three volcanoes which make up the Kilimanjaro massif, was once a dangerous, technical climb; now it’s off-limits entirely.

The way down

 

Trekkers on the Machame, Umbwe and Lemosho routes head down via the descent-only Mweka Route; those hiking the Marangu and Rongai routes tend to descend via the Marangu Route. On leaving the park gate you will – if you’ve been successful – be given an official ‘I’ve climbed Kili’ certificate.

More like this

Will Kili kill me? Kilimanjaro Q & A | Destinations... More

Everyman's mountain? Climbing Kilimanjaro | Destinations... More

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro: a travel guide | Plan a trip... More

Kilimanjaro: a typical climb | Destinations... More

Climbing Kilimanjaro | Destinations... More