About Mount Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro (5896m), the highest mountain in Africa, has less to offer the climber than Mt Kenya. However, some of the climbs are outstanding and the Umbwe route followed by the Heim Glacier is one of the world's great mountaineering expeditions. Uhuru Peak is the highest point on Kibo, the main pudding shaped elevation. Mawenzi (5149m) is just lower than Mt Kenya, more jagged and separated from Kibo by The Saddle, a flat semi-desert area extending for 5km. Both mountains have poor rock. The majestic south-west face of Kibo is steep and heavily glaciated, extending for 5km and broken only by one easy passage - The Western Breach. The well-equipped Marangu route from the east supplies the easiest approach. Splendid forests and moorlands are followed by The Saddle; finally tedious scree leads to the Kibo crater and Uhuru Peak. The south-west side of Kibo is best reached by the remote and demanding. Umbwe or Machame routes - only suitable for experienced mountaineers. The high level Kibo South Circuit links the remote south-west areas with the Marangu route and provides magnificent views of the ice-cliffs. Uhuru Peak was first attained by H Meyer and L Purtscheller in 1889, and named by them after the German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm Spitze.

FLORA AND FAUNA

The lower slopes of the mountains are heavily cultivated, in particular those to the south which receive plenty of rainfall. Elsewhere lower rainfall coupled with porosity of the lava soils makes conditions less suitable for cultivation. The forest belt which completely encircles the mountains and extends from ca1500m to 2900m provides the best conditions for plant life. Above the forest belt the porous soils and lower rainfall result in much sparser vegetation with semi-desert conditions prevailing above 4000m. The cultivated belt contains many small holdings (shambas) where bananas and various vegetables are grown. The area is also suitable for coffee and there are several major plantations. The southern, wetter forests contain camphor, podocarpus, fig and other trees; lush undergrowth harbours many giant ferns and Usnea (old man's beard) drapes everything. Vines, mimulopsis and a multitude of flowers can be found in valleys and in clearer areas. The northern, drier forests contain podocarpus, junipers and olives. In contrast to Mt Kenya few large animals are encountered in this zone, though colobus and blue monkeys can often be seen but other inhabitants such as smaller antelopes and leopards are very shy. Many colourful birds are found here, the most noticeable being the Hornbill and the Turaco with its dark red wing markings.

The forests end abruptly without a bamboo zone as on most other East African mountains. Above, the rapidly thinning giant heather zone leads to the upper moorlands; here the giant groundsels and lobelias peculiar to high altitude tropical mountain zones are seen.

There are few animals other than rodents, though leopard spoor can often be detected. Eagles and buzzards soar high above and smaller birds such as the alpine chat and streaky seed eater can also be seen. In the higher moorland and alpine zones only a few tufts of grass, mosses and lichen are found, together with a few flowers such as the everlasting helichrysums and senecios.

PARK VISIT

Visiting the Park. Kilimanjaro National Park is well organised but very expensive. The average visitor for 5 days pays about $350 (in foreign exchange) before entry. This covers park fees and a mandatory guide. Bookings must be made and paid only through approved Tanzanian tour agents, who invariably offer packages that include a cook, food, porters and guides.

CLIMATE

As on Mt Kenya it is important to acclimatise well to enjoy the ascent of Kibo (see comments on Diamox in the Introduction). Routes start at less than 2000m and it is recommended that at least 3 days are taken to reach the final cone. The weather on Kilimanjaro, though generally drier, follows a similar pattern to that on Mt Kenya. The south-west glaciers have their winter season between May and late October. Snow cover is then at its best though conditions are often misty. The best weather is between January and March but usually by mid February the glaciers are becoming icy and devoid of snow.

ACCESS

Namanga or Taveta are the most convenient crossing points from Kenya.

Access: (i) Tarmac roads to the Marangu park gates. Nairobi to Namanga, 170km. Namanga to Arusha, 110km. Arusha to Moshi, 90km. Moshi to Himo, 27km. Himo to Marangu, 10km. Marangu to Marangu Park Gate, 7km. (ii) For Umbwe take the Moshi-Arusha road; 2km from Moshi dirt roads north lead to Umbwe in a further 14km. A dirt track continues for 3km to Kifuni and the park check point. Vehicles will not be allowed beyond here; the track enters the forest and becomes narrow and steep. (iii) For Machame take the Moshi-Arusha road for 9km to where a tarmac road north leads in 14km to Machame village. It is possible to drive with difficulty for another 6km. The park check point is at the edge of the forest. (iv) For Lemosho Route turn off the Moshi-Arusha road and drive through Ngare Nairobi on to Londorossi and the Shira Route Park Gate. Now a rough track leads into the forest and hence Lemosho Glades. This can be a very difficult drive in wet conditions.

Buses and matatus go from Nairobi to Namanga and on to Moshi regularly. From there, Marangu, Machame and Umbwe are all served by buses, matatus and taxis. Kilimanjaro International Airport lies just off the Moshi-Arusha road, 34km from Moshi. If travelling to or from Mombasa, the Taveta crossing may be used. Good services from Nairobi to Moshi include.