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Kilimanjaro: Highest Mountain in Africa

Fast Facts About Kilimanjaro


African elephants are the species of elephants in the genus Loxodonta. Poaching significantly reduced the population of Loxodonta in certain regions during the 20th century.
Gallo Images - Daryl Balfour/Riser/Getty Images
Kilimanjaro: Highest Mountain in Africa

Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, towers over elephants on the Tanzanian savannah.

Photograph copyright Grant Faint/Getty Images
Kilimanjaro: Highest Mountain in Africa

Lakpa Rita Sherpa stands atop Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain.

Photo courtesy Joe Puryear

Elevation: 19,340 feet (5,895 meters)

Prominence: 19,308 feet (5,885 meters); Most prominent mountain in Africa.

Location: Tanzania, East Africa

Coordinates: -3.075844 S / 37.353312 E  or 03°04′33″ S / 37°21′12″ E

First Ascent: Hans Meyer (Germany), Yoanas Kinyala Lauwo (Tanzania), and Ludwig Purtscheller (Austria) on October 5, 1889.



Meaning of Mountain's Name

The meaning and origin of the name Kilimanjaro is unknown. It is thought to be a combination of the Swahili word Kilima, meaning “mountain,” and the KiChagga word Njaro, loosely translated as “whiteness,” giving the name White Mountain. The name Kibo in KiChagga means “spotted” and refers to rocks seen on snowfields. The name Uhuru translates as “freedom,” a name given to commemorate Tanzanian independence from Great Britain in 1961.

Africa's Highest Summit

Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa and fourth highest of the Seven Summits, is considered the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, rising 15,100 feet (4,600 meters) from base to summit. Kilimanjaro is also the most prominent mountain in Africa.

Three Volcanic Cones

Kilimanjaro is composed of three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo 19,340 feet (5,895 meters); Mawenzi 16,896 feet (5,149 meters); and Shira 13,000 feet (3,962 meters). Uhuru Peak is the highest summit on Kibo’s crater rim.

Dormant Stratovolcano

Kilimanjaro is a giant stratovolcano that began forming a million years ago when lava spilled from the Rift Valley zone. The mountain was built by successive lava flows. Two of its three peaks—Mawenzi and Shira—are extinct while Kibo, the highest peak is dormant and could erupt again. The last major eruption was 360,000 years ago, while the most recent activity was only 200 years ago.

Kilimanjaro is Losing Glaciers

Kilimanjaro has 2.2 square kilometers of glacial ice and is losing it quickly due to global warming. The glaciers have shrunk 82% since 1912 and declined 33% since 1989. It may be ice free within 20 years, dramatically affecting local drinking water, crop irrigation, and hydroelectric power.

Kilimanjaro National Park

Kilimanjaro lies within the 756-square-kilometer Kilimanjaro National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the few places on earth that encompasses every ecological life zone including tropical jungle, savannah, and desert to montane forests, subalpine plants, and the alpine zone above timberline.

First Ascent in 1889

Kilimanjaro was first climbed on October 5, 1889 by German geologist Hans Meyer, Marangu scout Yoanas Kinyala Lauwo, and Austrian Ludwig Purtscheller. After reaching the summit, Meyer later wrote that they gave “three ringing cheers, and in virtue of my right as its first discoverer christened this hitherto unknown—the loftiest spot in Africa and the German Empire—Kaiser Wilhelm’s Peak.”

Climbing Kili is a Non-Technical but Challenging Trek

Climbing Kilimanjaro requires no technical climbing or mountaineering experience. It is just a long trek from base to summit. Some parts of the mountain require basic scrambling skills (i.e. the Barranco Wall) but in general, anyone with decent fitness can climb Kilimanjaro.

High Elevation can Cause Acute Mountain Sickness

The challenge is the mountain’s high elevation. As high mountains go, the routes on Mount Kilimanjaro have rapid ascent profiles. Acclimatization opportunities are relatively poor and therefore the incidence of acute mountain sickness (AMS) is rather high. Some studies show that up to 75% of trekkers on summit night suffer from mild and moderate forms of AMS. Deaths on Kilimanjaro are often due to improper acclimatization and the onset of severe altitude sickness rather than falls.

Climb Only with a Guide

Kilimanjaro is not a peak you can climb on your own. It is mandatory to climb with a licensed guide and have porters carry your equipment. This sustains the local economy and allows local people to reap the rewards of tourism. Read more about how to climb Kilimanjaro from local guide and expert Lema Peter.

Fast Ascent Times

The fastest ascent of Kilimanjaro is held by Spanish mountain runner Kilian Jornet, who reached the summit in 5 hours, 23 minutes and 50 seconds in 2010; beating the previous ascent record held by Kazakh mountain runner Andrew Puchinin by one minute! After a short break at the summit, Jornet then ran back down the mountain in a blistering speed of 1:41 to clock a total ascent and descent record of 7 hours and 14 minutes. This smashed the previous record held by Tanzanian guide and mountain runner Simon Mtuy who set the previous record on December 26, 2004 with a time of 8 hours 27 minutes.

Youngest Climber up Kilimanjaro

The youngest person to climb Kilimanjaro is Keats Boyd, an American who trekked up Uhuru Peak at age 7. What's impressive is that he managed to dodge the 10-year-old minimum age limit!

Oldest Climbers Up Kili

The oldest person to summit Kilimanjaro is 85-year-old Swiss-Canadian Martin Kafer who reached the top of Uhuru Peak in 2012, beating Richard Byerley who hiked to the summit in 2011 at age 84. Kafer’s incredible feat is also amazing because his wife Esther became the oldest women to climb Kilimanjaro at age 84. The couple are now duel record holders as the oldest man and oldest women to have successfully climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

Incredible Handicapped Climber Ascents

The allure of Kilimanjaro has led other incredible ascents. In 2011, paraplegic Chris Waddell used a hand-cycle to trek to the summit. Paralysed from the waist down, Waddell took six and half days and 528,000 revolutions of his custom-built wheels to reach the Roof of Africa. This amazing achievement was followed in 2012 by quadruple amputee Kyle Maynard, who took 10 days to crawl on the stumps of his arms and legs to the top.

Mount Meru is Nearby

Mount Meru, a 14,980-foot volcanic cone, lies 45 miles west of Kilimanjaro. It is an active volcano; has a snowcap; lies in Arusha National Park; and is often climbed as a training peak for Kilimanjaro.

6 Routes to Kili’s Summit

Six official routes climb to Kilimanjaro’s summit.

  • The Lemosho Route and Shira Route start on the western side of the mountain.
  • The Machame Route and Umbwe Route begin to the southwest and join hikers on the Lemosho and Shira Routes on day 2.
  • The Marangu Route, also called the “Coca-Cola route,” starts southeast of the mountain and is the only route with hut accommodations for the entire duration of the trek. It also has an unfounded reputation for being the easiest route but in fact has one of the lowest summit success rates since its route profile is rapid and its final summit slopes are steep.
  • Rongai, the last route, begins from the remote northeast side of Kilimanjaro and is flatter, drier, and less busy than the southern and western routes.
  • There are variations on these routes. For example, the Northern Circuit is a popular alternative for trekkers on the Lemosho Route, and the Western Breach provides a challenging climb from a crater camp for trekkers approaching from the west or southwest.

3 Summit Assault Routes

There are 3 main summit routes:

  • The Southern passage via Barafu camp and Stellar Point (used by trekkers on the Lemosho, Shira, Machame and Umbwe Routes).
  • The Eastern passage via Gilman’s Point (used by the Marangu, Rongai and Northern Circuit trekkers).
  • The technical Western Breach, which is mostly used by experienced trekkers who approach from the western and southern routes.
  • The Mweka Route is used for descent only.


Compare prices and buy a guidebook:
Kilimanjaro & Mount Kenya by Cameron Burns
Kilimanjaro & East Africa: A Climbing and Trekking Guide by Cameron M. Burns
Kilimanjaro: The Trekking Guide to Africa's Highest Mountain by Henry Stedman
Explore Mount Kilimanjaro by Jacquetta Megarry

Thanks to Mark Whitman with Climb Kilimanjaro Guide for giving some of the facts in this article.

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