Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Snow of Kilimanjaro’, published in Esquire magazine in 1936, introduced the world to the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. It was almost a century before when two German missionaries, Johann Ludwig Krapf and Johannes Rebmann were the first Westerners to the see the world’s tallest free-standing mountain in the late 1840s. Their enthusiastic reports were not believed at first and it took another 40 years before Africa’s highest peak was climbed in 1889 by a local guide Yohanas Kinyala Lauwo with his German climbing companion, Hans Meyer.
Today climbers of the only walkable mountain of the Seven Summits (the highest peaks on all seven continents) choose from a number of trails for their journey to the top. Each trail is different in time (5-7 days) and difficulty, but they all take the adventurers through five different climatic zones. The expedition begins on the gentle lower slopes in semi-arid conditions which evolve into lush montane/mountain ecosystems. Here magical forests of juniper trees filter the sunlight to create an eerie glow and the clearings serve as overnight camps. From these clearings, Kilimanjaro reveals spectacular views of the African plains and Mount Meru, Kilimanjaro’s neighbor in the west.
With the increase in altitude, moorland climatic conditions produce low-growing vegetation and heavy fog. As the mountain introduces the highland desert climate, temperatures drop to between -2 °F to 50°F (-18 °C to 10 °C). Finally, at 19,341 feet (5,895 meters) above sea level, the summit transforms into an arctic climate with glaciers and snow all year round, despite the fact that Kilimanjaro is only 3 degrees south of the equator.
The night before summiting is spent in the base camp Barafu Hut. From here the trek to the top often starts at midnight. It is always very cold at this altitude and with clear starry skies, the temperatures make the climb all the more challenging. The last stretch takes 8-10 hours and Uhuru Peak (‘Freedom Peak’ in Swahili) is reached after tackling volcanic craters and harsh black rocks. Climbers always express sheer relief and overwhelming feelings of achievement as they step onto the summit. After a brief opportunity to appreciate the amazing accomplishment, the guides lead the group on the 3-4 hour steep decent back to the Barafu Hut for a snack break before taking on the final decent.
Mount Kilimanjaro is also known as the ‘Roof of Africa’ and in its shadow is the only place in this world where the striking blue gemstone of tanzanite is mined. It is a thousand times rarer than the diamond and was the only gemstone in the 20th century to make the official gemstone list. It is also the birthstone for people who were born in December.
It was first discovered in 1967 by Manuel d'Souza, a tailor, who was prospecting for gold nearby at Lake Victoria. He thought he had found a sapphire, but after laboratory analysis, it was found to be a purple-blue variety of zoisite. It was first called "Skaiblu", which is Swahili for 'Sky Blue', but the scientists were not happy with the German pronunciation of “zoisite” as it sounded too much like the English word for 'suicide'. The gem was taken to Tiffany & Co in New York and was declared a "sensation" and their president, Henry Platt, decided to call it tanzanite after the country where it was found.
In 1961 a torch was planted on the summit of this incredible mountain as a mark of independence, and as Barry Finlay, the award winning author of ‘Kilimanjaro and Beyond - A Life-Changing Journey’ says, “Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.” Mount Kilimanjaro remains a symbol of what can be achieved.