View of Mt Kilimanjaro at sunset from plains

Height and prominence of Kilimanjaro, and altitude gain when climbing it

Jul 12, 2022
Reading time: 6 minutes

Kilimanjaro rises a whopping 5,985 m (19,431 ft) above sea level! Read on to learn the heights of each of Kilimanjaro's three cones, the prominence of the mountain, and your altitude gain when climbing the different routes up it.

What is the height of Kilimanjaro?

The tippy top point of Mt Kilimanjaro is on the rim of its tallest crater and is called Uhuru Peak. Uhuru Peak is thought to be 5,895 m above sea level, and this is the elevation you’ll find written on the sign marking the spot. For those whose minds only compute in feet, that’s 19,431 ft above sea level.

Altitudes of Kilimanjaro's three cones

Kilimanjaro isn't a neat triangle of a mountain. Rather, it has three, spaced out volcanic cones:

  1. Kibo is the highest cone and the one you summit on a Kili climb, and thus reaches to 5,895 m (19,431 ft) above sea level
  2. Mawenzi is the second highest cone at 5,149 m (16,893 ft)
  3. Shira is the lowest cone at 4,005 m (13,140 ft)
The Kibo and Mawenzi Cones of Mt. Kilimanjaro, attrib David D Turner

This fabulous shot by David D. Turner shows Kibo Crater (left) and Mawenzi Crater (right)

Debate over the exact height of Uhuru Peak

The official height of Kilimanjaro's Uhuru Peak up until 1952 was actually 5,892 m. That figure had been assigned to the mountain by German cartographers during colonial times.

Kilimanjaro 1930 photo by Swiss aviation pioneer Walter Mittelholzer

This 1930 photo of Kibo Crater was taken by Swiss aviation pioneer Walter Mittelholzer

In 1952, however, British cartographers mapped the mountain and adjusted Kilimanjaro's elevation to 5,895 m. This is the figure most use when thinking and talking about Africa’s tallest mountain. 

That said, we should point out that the United Nations Environment Programme claims the height of Kilimanjaro as 5,893 m. Hardly a big difference, to be sure, but there you have it. 

The world’s tallest free-standing mountain

Whatever the exact height of Kilimanjaro, it’s undoubtedly the world’s tallest free-standing mountain (meaning it’s not part of a mountain range). Kilimanjaro, a volcanic mountain, rises up out of the north Tanzanian plain. Not far away is a neighbouring volcanic mountain, Mt Meru 4,566 m (14,980 ft), also popping up out of the plain. You can see Meru when you’re high up on the southern slope of Kilimanjaro.

Kilimanjaro campsite at night with tents lit up from inside and a view of the town lights far below and Mt Meru in the far distance

In this photo taken halfway up Kilimanjaro, the black conical splodge directly above the illuminated tent is Mt Meru

It's hard to comprehend the enormity of Kilimanjaro, and it's only when actually climbing it that you fully appreciate its immense scale.

Kili is #4 of the Seven Summits

As you can see in the infographic below, Kilimanjaro is the fourth highest of the Seven Summits (the tallest mountains of each continent). Perhaps because it's not part of a large snowy range, many folks don't realise just how tall Kilimanjaro is. But as you can see, it's far taller than any mountain in Europe.

Seven-Summits-1.jpg

Infographic of the world's Seven Summits

Prominence of Kilimanjaro

The prominence of Kilimanjaro is about 4,900 m (16,100 ft). What this means is that the base of Kilimanjaro is around 1,000 m above sea level, and Kilimanjaro itself rises about 4,900 m from its plateau base.

As you can see in the map below, Kilimanjaro is far from the Indian Ocean coastline. So it's unsurprising that it's prominence is not its full altitude.

Northern parks of Tanzania map

Map of northern Tanzania with Kilimanjaro marked

Altitude gain on a Kilimanjaro climb

While Kilimanjaro is 5,895 m above sea level, you don't of course climb all that elevation, since you don't begin your climb at sea level. As mentioned above, the prominence of Kilimanjaro is about 4,900 m. But none of the seven Kilimanjaro routes start at the base of the mountain. Instead, they all start within or just above the forest band of the mountain, which is around 1,800 m to 3,000 m above sea level.

Trailhead elevations of the seven Kilimanjaro routes

Here are the altitudes of the different Kilimanjaro trailheads:

  • Northern Circuit: 2,100 m (6,890 ft) at Lemosho Gate
  • Lemosho route: 2,100 m (6,890 ft) at Lemosho Gate
  • Shira route: 3,414 m (11,200 ft) at Morum Barrier
  • Machame route: 1,640 m (5,380 ft) at Machame Gate
  • Marangu route: 1,843 m (6,047 ft) at Marangu Gate
  • Rongai route: 1,950 m (6,398 ft) at Rongai Gate

As you can see, you start at a very high altitude on the Shira route, while the lowest starting altitude belongs to the Machame.

Lucy Lofton photo of group pics at Lemosho Gate

This pic by Lucy Lofton shows her and her friends looking fresh-faced and excited at Lemosho Gate

Altitude gains of the seven Kilimanjaro routes

So what is the altitude or elevation gain of each of the routes? Here are the numbers:

  • Northern Circuit: 3,795 m (12,541 ft)
  • Lemosho route: 3,795 m (12,541 ft)
  • Shira route: 2,481 m (8,231 ft)
  • Machame route: 4,255 m (14,051 ft)
  • Marangu route: 4,052 m (13,384 ft)
  • Rongai route: 3,945 m (13,033 ft)

The altitude gain in climbing the Shira will therefore be much lower than the altitude gain that comes with climbing the Machame. This might sound at first like a boon (I don't have to climb so far!), but as we discuss in Kilimanjaro altitude sickness, you don't want to ascend to high altitude too quickly.

Kilimanjaro from a distance

Only the Shira route has you start your climb above the rainforest band of Kilimanjaro

A note on elevation vs ascent

We've just looked at your elevation gain when you climb Kilimanjaro. Another name for it is altitude difference.

Elevation (or altitude difference) is different from ascent. Ascent is the total vertical distance of every step upwards that you take on a climb. Given that trails up mountains naturally undulate, your ascent on a climb will be more than your elevation gain.

We don't have ascent figures for the various Kilimanjaro routes. But it's worth pointing out that the really good routes – those that allow you to 'climb high, sleep low' – have noticeably higher ascent values than elevation gains. (You can learn more about the 'climb high, sleep low' strategy in The best acclimatisation for climbing Kilimanjaro.)

After a few days of hiking along the Lemosho and Machame routes, for example, you descend over 600 m from Lava Tower to reach Barranco Camp. This means the next day you'll be 'reclimbing' those 600 metres. Most of the dips on the various routes are not, however, as dramatic as this.

Descent to Barranco Camp, credit Jasmin Jefferies

This snap by Jasmin Jefferies shows her climb group descending to Barranco Camp

Kilimanjaro vs EBC elevation gain

To end, we thought you might find it interesting to hear how Kilimanjaro's elevation gain compares with that of Everest Base Camp, since we compare the two treks in our popular post Kilimanjaro vs Everest Base Camp: which is harder?

On the Everest Base Camp trek, you start hiking at the town of Lukla, which is 2,860 m (9,383 ft) above sea level. And the highest altitude you reach on that trek is not actually Everest Base Camp itself (5,364 m / 17,598 ft), but Kala Patthar (5,644 m / 18,517 ft), the hill you climb for an unobstructed view of Everest.

So what is the elevation gain on an Everest Base Camp trek? It's 2,784 m (9,134 ft).

That means that on all of the Kilimanjaro routes besides the Shira route, you achieve an elevation gain of at least a thousand metres! So there's a little fact for you that will change your life in no ways whatsoever, but is kinda interesting to know, don't you think? 🤓

 

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