To climb Mt Kilimanjaro, African’s highest point and one of the world’s most iconic mountains, is an ambition held dear by climbers within the inner circle of the global mountaineering fraternity, initiated hill walkers and inspired amateurs alike. Some say it is because it is easy, others because it is accessible and others because it is cheap. Neither are strictly true, so what is the particular mystique of this premier African climbing destination?
Mt. Kilimanjaro – Queen of the Big Three
The biggest, highest and longest are always the most sought after…and without doubt Kili (only those who have climbed it can call it that…or so they say) towers above any other range in Africa. The Great Rift Valley – the wider geological formation that Mount Kilimanjaro is part of – has also seeded the two sister peaks of Kilimanjaro – Mount Kenya and the Rwenzori Mountains, or Mountains of the Moon as the latter has in the past been fancifully known. Kilimanjaro is significantly higher than both of these, but it is the lower of the three, Rwenzori, that is by far the most difficult to climb, and the middle sister, Mount Kenya, that comes in second.
Mount Kilimanjaro is a relatively easy mountain to climb
This then is probably the main attraction of climbing Kilimanjaro. It requires no technical ability and no special equipment. It is a free standing volcano that rises almost gently out of the Masai Steppe, and with a very forgiving gradient, ultimately reaches an elevation of 19,300 ft. So, assuming that you can cope with the altitude, and assuming that you can put one foot in front of the other, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is a viable proposition for just about anyone.
If anything is going to get you on Kili, altitude will
Altitude is definitely the main leveling factor on Mt Kilimanjaro. Because the main routes to the summit present a limited technical challenge it is possible for a novice climber to reach high altitude very quickly, thus compromising the adjustment process and causing the kinds of problems that will inevitably lead to an early return to base. It is absolutely essential to consider altitude, and your own capacity to adjust to it, as you plan your journey to the summit. Good guiding is essential, personal responsibility no less, and time perhaps the most important factor.
Pole-pole, as they say in Tanzania, slowly-slowly. Drink a lot of water, take one step at a time and keep your eye on the prize.
Summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro: The last push is always the hardest
The summit day on any Mount Kilimanjaro climb is always the killer day. A midnight wake-up call, a hasty breakfast and a slow and almost unending trudge in the freezing darkness and thin air is what is waiting for you. This is usually the moment that separates the winners from the losers. It is at this moment when you draw deepest from your reserves of courage, determination and tenacity. As the sun rises over Mawenzi Peak, and illuminates the Rebmann Glacier in that curious ochred light of the summit, you will know you have made it, and it will be one of those signature moments in your life, a moment you will take with you to your grave…