Mount Kilimanjaro in northern Tanzania is a spectacular natural feature that’s famous the world over. It has many notable and oft-repeated claims, but also some lesser-known traits and stories that are also fascinating. To enlighten all you curious minds out there, we’ve put together a list of 10 interesting facts about Mount Kilimanjaro. And if you know any other facts that you think should’ve made it into the list, please do share them in the comments section. 🙂
1. Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the world’s Seven Summits
The Seven Summits is the name given to the highest peaks from each continent. They vary greatly in height, topography and climbing difficulty. For some, it’s a goal to hike all Seven Summits. Others aim to also visit the North and South Poles and so complete what’s known as the Adventurer’s Grand Slam.
Everest is the most famous of the Seven Summits, of course, with Kilimanjaro probably the next most commonly known. Mount Kilimanjaro, as you can see, is the fourth highest of the Seven Summits.
Mount Kilimanjaro is the fourth highest of the Seven Summits.
2. You can hike Mount Kilimanjaro without climbing gear
Adding to Kilimanjaro’s appeal is the fact that – somewhat surprisingly – you don’t need any mountaineering equipment or experience to climb it. That’s right: you can simply hike up to one of the world’s highest peaks! We refer to Mount Kilimanjaro as a non-technical mountain for this reason. This isn’t the case for countless lesser peaks around the world. And the remaining Seven Summits (even those that are much lower) are all technical mountains.
The fact that you can climb one of the Seven Summits without being a mountaineer is a real treat. It makes a great challenge far more accessible.
There’s more than one route to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. The seven standard routes to the summit, as well as the most common descent route, are all trails that can simply be hiked, no rock or glacier climbing required. In fact, with the notable exception of Barranco Wall, your hands are mostly free throughout the trek. (Although many opt to use trekking poles, and we do recommend doing the same.)
3. Mount Kilimanjaro is the world’s tallest free-standing mountain
Most of the world’s highest peaks are part of mighty mountain ranges. Two notable exceptions are Mounts Denali and Kilimanjaro, which are isolated mountains. But it’s Mount Kilimanjaro that holds the title of the highest free-standing mountain in the world. This is a result of its prominence (or relative height) in terms of the land surrounding it: a whopping 4,900 m.
It is Mount Kilimanjaro’s isolated position and staggering prominence that allow you to see it from so far away. These same features also afford you such spectacularly far-reaching views from the top on cloudless days.
Mount Kilimanjaro has a prominence of 4,900 m. For comparison, the prominence of Table Mountain in Cape Town is just 1,055 m.
4. Mount Kilimanjaro is a volcano, and it has three cones
Not everyone is aware that Mount Kilimanjaro is a volcano. A dormant one, to be precise. And even more folks are unaware that it has three volcanic cones. This means it has vented through three different openings during its history. The cones of Kilimanjaro are:
- Kibo, 5,895 m (19,341 ft) – dormant
- Mawenzi, 5,149 m (16,893 ft) – extinct
- Shira, 3,962 m (13,000 ft) – extinct
The tallest of Mount Kilimanjaro’s cones is Kibo, because this is the cone that last vented. But nobody knows when that was exactly, as it was so long ago.
Mount Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano situated on the East African Rift Valley.
Like all volcanic cones, you won’t find a a neat, tapered point at the top of any of Mount Kilimanjaro’s cones, but rather a crater, or depression. When you hike to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, you’re actually hiking to the highest point along the rim of Kibo Crater, known as Uhuru Peak.
5. Climbing Kilimanjaro is like going from the Equator to the Arctic
Tanzania lies just north of the Equator, meaning Mount Kilimanjaro is situated in a hot region. Yet the summit of the mountain is an unforgiving world of snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures. The climb from the mountain’s base at around 1,000 m above sea level to its summit at 5,895 m therefore involves moving from a tropical climate to an arctic one. And this is why folks often say that climbing Kilimanjaro is like hiking from the Equator to the North Pole.
Obviously the change from a tropical base to an icy summit is gradual. Mount Kilimanjaro actually has five concentric climate and ecological bands. They are, from lowest to highest:
- cultivated band (800 m to 1,800 m)
- rainforest band (1,800 m to 2,800 m)
- Afro-alpine moorland band (2,800 m to 4,000 m)
- alpine desert band (4,000 m to 5,000 m)
- arctic summit (above 5,000 m)
6. Under 50% of climbers reach the summit each year
According to a 2006 survey by Kilimanjaro National Park, only 45% of climbers who attempt to summit Kilimanjaro each year actually make it to the top. This is mostly down to people getting altitude sickness. It’s a sobering statistic, and shows why it’s so important to choose one of the longer Kilimanjaro routes that allows for good acclimatisation.
Those who climb eight-day routes have an 85% summit success rate – a wildly higher stat than the average.
Specifically, the park’s records show that
- Only 27% of climbers hiking five-day routes summited the mountain
- Only 44% of climbers hiking six-day routes summited the mountain
- A far better 64% of climbers hiking seven-day routes summited the mountain
- As much as 85% of climbers hiking eight-day routes summited the mountain
The park didn’t collect data for the nine-day Northern Circuit route, but we know from our own experience that the success rate on this route is very high.
7. Painted wolves were spotted at the summit
In 1962 a pack of painted wolves was spotted at the summit of Kilimanjaro! It’s very, very rare for any animals to wander up into the arctic world of Kilimanjaro’s summit, as it’s an inhospitable place. While a few painted wolves are indeed known to live in Kilimanjaro National Park, can you imagine the trekkers’ surprise upon seeing some at the summit??
The painted wolf is Africa’s second most endangered carnivore (after the Ethiopian wolf).
Incidentally, did you know that the painted wolf has around 10 different names? They include African wild dogs, ornate wolves, hyena dogs, wild dogs, Cape hunting dogs and various mixtures of those names. The name painted wolf comes from the animal’s Latin name, lycaon pictus, which means ‘painted wolf-like animal’.
Similarly surprising to the painted wolves sighting was the discovery of a frozen leopard on the crater rim in 1926.
8. A beautiful flower in Kilimanjaro’s forest grows nowhere else
The striking Kilimanjaro impatiens (impatiens kilimanjari) is a robust perennial that grows in just one place on the globe: the rainforest that encircles lower Kilimanjaro. This pretty, vibrant flower is small in size, but big on wow factor. Its pinkish-red blooms mellow into yellow at the base, which curves like a prawn’s tail. As if that wasn’t spectacular enough, its stamens and pollen are purple! The plant’s wide, serrated leaves are also an attractive deep green.
Kilimanjaro impatiens likes a little humidity and filtered sun or bright shade, so be sure to keep your eyes open for it in such spots when you’re one day walking in the forest on a Kilimanjaro climb.
9. The mountain’s moorland vegetation is otherworldly
Mount Kilimanjaro’s Afro-alpine moorland band (which can be found at roughly 2,800 m to 4,000 m) is arguably the most fascinating of the mountain’s five climate zones. Its vegetation – which is often shrouded in mist – is incredibly striking. Most notable are the following distinctly African plants:
- Giant groundsels (dendrosenecio kilimanjari), which are probably the most mountain’s most iconic plant (see photo above).
- Alpine sugarbushes (protea kilimandscharica), a very pretty type of protea that has reddish-brown and pale yellow blooms (see photo below).
- Thomson’s red hot pokers (kniphofia thomsonii) are a species of red hot pokers that are also known, rather poetically, as torch lilies, for their red, orange and yellow flowers.
- Giant lobelias (lobelia deckenii), which are endemic to the mountains of Tanzania (see photo below).
10. Nobody is certain where the name Kilimanjaro comes from
The etymology of the name Kilimanjaro is blurry. It’s postured that it comes from one or more of the local languages (such as Swahili, Kamba and Chagga) and means ‘mountain of greatness’ or ‘mountain of whiteness’. But too little concrete evidence exists for any of the dozen or so conjectures. We do, however, know exactly where the mountain’s peak got its current name …
In 1964 the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro was renamed as Uhuru Peak. Previously, it had been called Kaiser Wilhelm Spitze (Peak), a name it received when the mountain was part of German East Africa. But when Tanzania gained independence in the sixties, it received the new name of Uhuru Peak, which means ‘freedom peak’.
Uhuru Peak means ‘freedom peak’ – a name given that celebrates Tanzania’s independence.