Mt Kilimanjaro with clouds and sunset

Travel Inspiration 16 Interesting Facts About Kilimanjaro

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Fascinating Facts and Lesser-Known Revelations About Mount Kilimanjaro

Climbing Kilimanjaro was one of the very first trekking holidays Kandoo Adventures launched, way back when. Tanzania and Mount Kilimanjaro hold a particular place in our hearts and every new member of the Kandoo team gets the opportunity to conquer this spectacular mountain as part of their staff training. For all you need to know about the mountain Kilimanjaro and what to expect on your Kili trek, check out our blog, ‘Beginners Guide to Kilimanjaro’. But for all those lesser-known titbits, interesting facts and little-known revelations, check out our list of interesting facts about Kilimanjaro below and maybe you’ll see why we are so fond of this awesome African peak.
Mt Kilimanjaro with clouds and sunset

1. How high is Kilimanjaro?

Mount Kilimanjaro is 5,895m high and is both the highest mountain and the highest point on the continent of Africa. The height of Kilimanjaro has affectionately given the mountain the title of the ‘roof of Africa’ and the views from the top of this unique freestanding volcano are extraordinary.

2. Where did the name Kilimanjaro come from?

It is not definitively known where the name ‘Kilimanjaro’ came from but there are several theories that Kilimanjaro translates to mountain of greatness, mountain of caravans or the mountain that defeats or is unclimbable. The language of the Bantu people of central Africa includes Swahili or Kiswahili and ‘Kilima’ translates to mountain, where ‘Njaro’ could mean greatness, or ‘jaro’ means caravan. Possibly the name could come from the Kenyan Wakamba words ‘jajeu’ or ‘kyeu’ both meaning whiteness.

The name Kilimanjaro could come from a mixture of origins from the ethnolinguistic people of the east African region but it was generally accepted during the German east African occupation as ‘Kilima-Ndscharo’, drawing on the most popular Kiswahili interpretations of the region at the time, becoming the Kilimanjaro we know today.

3. Why is Kilimanjaro unique?

Mt Kilimanjaro is unique as it is the largest single freestanding mountain in the world and the highest volcano in Africa. This breathtaking behemoth can be seen from hundreds of miles away and due to its equatorial proximity, it is often possible to glimpse the snow-capped summit in all its glory free from cloud cover unlike many other iconic peaks.

Another reason the Kilimanjaro climb is unique is that it is one of the easiest trekking peaks in the world to trek up. The path is well established, there are no technical sections and so long as you have a reasonable level of fitness, positive attitude and allow plenty of time for acclimatisation, this is one of the most accessible trekking mountains to climb.

4. Kilimanjaro is one of the seven summits

The seven summits are the tallest mountains on each of the seven continents. Kilimanjaro is the fourth highest of the seven summits, behind Mount Everest, Aconcagua and Denali. Climbing Mount Everest is a costly, physical and technical challenge whereas trekking Kilimanjaro or Aconcagua requires no technical mountaineering skills just a good level of fitness and plenty of time to acclimatise to the high altitudes.

The Seven Summits

  • Mount Everest – Asia - Nepal – 8,848m
  • Aconcagua – South America - Argentina – 6,961m
  • Denali/Mount McKinley – North America - USA – 6,194m
  • Kilimanjaro – Africa - Tanzania – 5,895m
  • Elbrus – Europe – Russia - 5,642m
  • Vinson – Antarctica – 4,892m
  • Kosciuszko – Australia – 2,228m

5. Kilimanjaro is a stratovolcano

There are several different types of volcano, which are formed by the differing viscosity of the lava and ash emitted during an eruption. Stratovolcanoes, or composite volcanoes, are typically cone shaped with steep sides and pointed profiles as the matter from these volcanoes cools and hardens quicker forming composite layers as opposed to shield volcanoes which have a much lower, sprawling profile due to the less viscose lava and ash travelling further.

6. The ecology of Kilimanjaro

Climbing Kilimanjaro is one of the most enjoyable trekking experiences you can have. Not only is Tanzania a fascinating and varied country to explore before and after your trek, but the mountain itself offers an almost unrivalled journey through five separate ecological zones, each with its own distinct and beautiful features.

The base of the mountain begins with the dry cultivated zone where local people have farmed the land into a green patchwork and the rich volcanic soil is perfect for growing crops such as coffee, beans, maize and supporting self-sufficient homesteads for farmers and their families.

Above this cultivated band of lowland farms where there is little natural vegetation, you next come across the rainforests of Kilimanjaro where dense, lush plant life is plentiful. This begins around 1,800m and is a stark contrast to trekking through farmland.

Above the treeline, the next ecological zone is moorland which begins around 2,800m where it is much drier, colder and less humid than the rainforest. There is still foliage here, but the landscape is coloured in dusty shades of brown and plant life is much shorter at this higher altitude. At around 4,000m the moorlands give way to alpine desert after which you experience the artic icy summit zone above 5,000m.

The diversity of the landscapes on Kili make your Kilimanjaro climb a fascinating journey from start to finish. Different routes up Kilimanjaro will vary in trekking time and sights, but each will inevitably trek through these contrasting terrains up the beautiful slopes of this biodiverse mountain and are one of the main draws for many travellers looking for more than just another summit to bag.

7. There is snow on Kilimanjaro

You could probably guess from the previous section regarding the origins of the name of Kilimanjaro, that there is in fact snow on Kilimanjaro. More than that there is actually a glacier near the summit of Kilimanjaro called the Furtwangler Glacier. The high altitude makes the summit region perpetually cold, but this impressive glacier is fast receding due to increased global temperatures and it is predicted that it will have largely melted by 2040.
Kilimanjaro ascent

8. The first ascents of Kilimanjaro

The first documented ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro was made by a German geology professor, Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller,  an Austrian mountaineer on 6th October 1889. It was Meyer’s third attempt to conquer Kilimanjaro and its ultimate success was due to the establishment of camps at the higher stages of the route, serviced by local porters who brought food supplies so the trekking party didn’t have to descent to restock. They reached the summit of the volcano Kibo, the highest point on Kilimanjaro, and were the first to confirm that Kibo had a crater.

Sheila MacDonald was the first woman to summit Kilimanjaro on the 31st July 1927 although she never set out to climb the mountain when she left London for Kenya. A chance encounter on the boat over to Africa saw her strike up conversation with an Alpine Club member who invited her to join him and his party.

A full 18 years previously, Gertrude Benham had reached the summit of the third highest point on Kilimanjaro, known now as the Mawenzi crater, but as Kibo is recognised as the highest point, she was never credited with being the first female to conquer Kilimanjaro despite her incredible achievement.

9. The fastest ascent of Kilimanjaro

The same person holds the record for the fastest ascent of Kilimanjaro and the fastest ascent and descent of the mountain. Karl Egloff is a Swiss-Ecuadorian mountain guide who having guided a group of trekkers to the summit in the preceding days, ran from the Umbwe Gate at 1,600m to the summit in 4 hours and 56 minutes and back down again to the Mweka Gate in 6 hours and 42 minutes. It is likely that his previous trek in the days prior to his world record attempt contributed to his ability to acclimatise to the altitude much quicker the second time around. Egloff set this record on 13th August 2014, beating the previous record set 4 years previously by around half an hour.

10. Unusual Kilimanjaro world records

Did you know that the youngest person to climb Kilimanjaro was just six years old?! Despite the fact that permits have an age-limit of 10 years, Coaltan Tanner, a young American boy summited Kilimanjaro in 2018 at six years and one month of age. Before this, the record for the youngest person to climb Kilimanjaro was another American boy aged 7.

In addition to these intrepid young men, Mount Kilimanjaro has been summited by wheelchair users, amputees and even an 89 year old woman, Anne Lorimor, who first set the record when she was 85 years old in 2005. When her record was beaten, she broke her previous record and the new one in 2019 at the ripe age of 89. What a woman!

11. Kilimanjaro and climate change

In 2022 the UN published a report that estimated the last glaciers would have left Africa, and many other World Heritage Sites, by 2050. The ice cap on Kilimanjaro has already shrunk by an astounding 85% between 1912, when it was first surveyed, and 2011. Not only have rising global temperatures contributed to the melting of the glaciers on Kilimanjaro, but changing weather patterns are also causing problems. The wet seasons used to bring plentiful rain which brought snow to the peak and filled the rivers and tributaries on the mountain, providing drinking water for locals and trekkers alike. The changing weather means the rains visit for shorter periods each year, with longer dry spells in between, which is massively affecting both wildlife and plant life on the mountain, as well as the farms that make a living on the lower slopes of Kilimanjaro.

On the one hand, this makes the climb easier as navigating the glaciers isn’t as treacherous but on the other hand the terrain is becoming drier and dustier at certain times of the year and finding water is becoming more challenging during the dry seasons. Despite the changing conditions on the mountain, climbing Kilimanjaro is more popular than ever and Tanzania welcomes visitors who contribute to their growing tourism economy, supporting more jobs than ever before.

12. Kilimanjaro summit success rates

With over 50,000 trekkers climbing Kilimanjaro each year, this is one of the most popular seven summits to bag. Success rates vary wildly from tour operator to tour operator and can typically be anything from 35% - 85%. Kandoo Adventures have one of the highest summit success rates in the industry with over 95% of guests successfully summiting Kilimanjaro on our trips. The reason for this is our strict adherence to the golden rule of managing altitude sickness by climbing high and sleeping low. Our trips, across all routes up Kilimanjaro, factor in plenty of acclimatisation time so trekkers can get used to the altitude. Altitude sickness is the number one reason why climbers fail to summit Kilimanjaro. Our experienced team of guides and porters are able to recognise the symptoms of altitude sickness but are adept at striving to make sure as few people are affected as possible.
Kandoo group summiting Kilimanjaro June 2022

13. The tallest tree in Africa is on Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro climbers may not know that the tallest tree in Africa calls the Kilimanjaro mountain region home. The Entandrophragma excelsum trees are amongst the tallest on the continent of African and the tallest tree measured is a whopping 81.5m tall, reputedly over 600 years old, and is in a remote region on the lower inclines of Kilimanjaro, well away from the trekking routes.

14. Kilimanjaro is a non-technical mountain

The astounding landscapes, unique ecology and native wildlife all make climbing Kilimanjaro a bucket list trek. The fact that the many routes up the mountain are all non-technical appeal to trekkers of all ages and backgrounds. With enough training and a good level of fitness, the trek up Kilimanjaro while not easy, is achievable with the right mindset and an adventure specialist such as Kandoo Adventures to make sure your trip runs smoothly from start to finish. No specialist equipment is needed, beyond perhaps some walking poles, insulative clothing and a good pair of walking boots.

15. There is plenty of wildlife to spot on Kilimanjaro

The rainforests of Kilimanjaro are home to plenty of wildlife although sightings are rare as many of the native species stay away from the trekking routes. The thick vegetation also conceals many of the shy animals that call the slopes of Kilimanjaro home. Quiet trekkers might be rewarded with glimpses of blue monkeys, bushbabies and colobus monkeys, but genets, servals or civets which are all species of cat are incredibly hard to spot. It is said that there are also olive baboons, leopards and bush pigs living on Kilimanjaro too, but sightings are few and far between, even amongst the locals.

Mount Kilimanjaro was once home to black rhino and elephants but as trekking tourism has increased on the mountain the larger inhabitants have moved to quieter habitats away from passing footfall.

16. The indigenous people of Kilimanjaro

The Chagga or Wachagga people have inhabited the slopes of Kilimanjaro for centuries and were historically made up of numerous different clans. Clans were separated by territories separated by natural divides such as ridges, cliffs and cols and spent much of their history at war with each other. Fighting was typically over territory and resources but these days the Chagga people of Kilimanjaro are a much more united group.

Whilst the Chagga inhabited the southern and easter slopes mainly, the Maasai people called the northern and western sides of Kilimanjaro home. Despite fierce competition between the tribes, both the Maasai and the Chagga revere Mount Kilimanjaro, and it is a source of both spiritual and physical sustenance for these indigenous people. The Chagga still bury their dead facing Kibo peak which they believe is the house of God.

More recently, Kilimanjaro is home to people from all over Tanzania, Kenya and other regions of east Africa who come to work in the burgeoning tourism industry supporting Kilimanjaro climbers.

To experience this magical mountain for yourselves, get in touch with the travel experts at Kandoo or check out our Kilimanjaro trekking trips to find your perfect itinerary up this iconic peak.