Towering 19,340 feet above sea level, Mount Kilimanjaro is not only the highest mountain in Africa, but also the highest freestanding mountain in the world (meaning it is not part of a larger mountain range). This mighty, snow-capped landform — rising dramatically from the plains of Tanzania in East Africa — was declared a national park in 1973 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. Given these stats, it’s no surprise that Kilimanjaro is popular with climbers — around 30,000 people attempt to reach the summit each year. Mount Kilimanjaro may be one of the planet’s most famous peaks, but here are eight facts you might not know.
Mount Kilimanjaro Is Formed of Three Volcanoes
Mount Kilimanjaro actually consists of three stratovolcanoes running from northwest to southeast, and its three peaks are volcanic cones. Kilimanjaro’s highest peak, Uhuru, is found on one of these cones, named Kibo. Though the other two cones, Mawenzi and Shira, are extinct, Kibo is technically dormant. Volcanologists believe the last major eruption of Kilimanjaro took place several thousands of years ago in the Pleistocene era, but fumarolic activity within some of Kibo’s summit craters proves that there’s still a slim chance of a future eruption.
It’s Where You’ll Find Africa’s Tallest Tree
In 2016, New Scientist reported that a 267-foot-tall Entandrophragma excelsum tree was discovered in a remote valley on Kilimanjaro, making it the tallest known tree in Africa. Fertile volcanic soils coupled with warm temperatures and ample rainfall have allowed the specimen, and others near it, to thrive. Though it’s dwarfed by the tallest trees in North America and Australia, such heights aren’t the norm in Africa. Scientists are now advocating that territory covered by nearby Kilimanjaro National Park be expanded to include the valley, to better protect the extraordinary trees from threats such as logging.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro Is Part of the Seven Summits Challenge
Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the Seven Summits — the highest peaks on each continent, which form the basis of one of the world’s most prestigious mountaineering challenges. American businessman Richard D. Bass became the first person to summit all seven on April 30, 1985, when he conquered his seventh peak, Mount Everest. Climbers have been trying to reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro since the late 19th century, and a German man named Hans Meyer and his Austrian climbing partner Ludwig Purtscheller made the first documented successful climb to the summit by a European. It was Meyer’s second attempt — two years before that record-breaking climb, a wall of ice prevented him from reaching the top. Together with local guide Yohani Kinyala Lauwo, the two climbers made history at Kilimanjaro’s summit on October 6, 1889.
Summiting Mount Kilimanjaro Is Arduous, but Not as Technical as You Might Think
There’s no question that reaching the top of Mount Kilimanjaro is difficult, but the level of difficulty depends on the path you choose. There are seven routes to the top: Marangu, Machame, Lemosho, Shira, Rongai, Northern Circuit, and Umbwe. Marangu’s popularity stems from its relatively gentle gradient and the availability of accommodations on the trail. Lemosho is considered a much tougher climb, but many say that the scenery is better along the way. Umbwe is short, at just 23 miles, but steep. On the other hand, the Northern Circuit covers 56 miles. If you are reasonably fit, Kilimanjaro is not as technical a climb as some of the world’s taller mountains, though you’ll still need to tackle a diverse range of environments — including forest, moorland, scree slopes, and rock faces — as you ascend.
The Fastest Climb to the Top Was Just Under Seven Hours
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro typically takes between five and 10 days, though it’s often much quicker for elite athletes. In fact, the current record holder is Swiss-Ecuadorian climber Karl Egloff, who managed the round-trip journey to the summit in an incredible 6 hours and 42 minutes. However, racing to the top is not recommended — the risk of debilitating altitude sickness is significantly reduced for those who trek more carefully. And for most people, it’s no walk in the park. Many have failed in their attempts to reach the top, among them former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and tennis legend Martina Navratilova.
Ernest Hemingway Never Actually Climbed Kilimanjaro
In The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Ernest Hemingway opens with the words: “Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.” But Hemingway only viewed Kilimanjaro from its base. His inspiration for this short story came from a photograph taken by a prolific climber named Richard Reusch. In 1926, Reusch stumbled across the animal Hemingway describes at about 18,500 feet above sea level on the crater rim, and captured the moment in a famous photograph. Today, the part of the crater where the creature was spotted is nicknamed Leopard Point.
Kilimanjaro Has Hosted Several Record-Breaking Sporting Events
In September 2014, a group of international cricketers set a world record for the highest-altitude cricket match when they played at Kilimanjaro’s Crater Camp. Among the players who participated were fast bowler Makhaya Ntini, who represented South Africa during his career, and former England spinner Ashley Giles. A few years later, women’s soccer reached new heights with a game played at 18,700 feet above sea level. The 30 players — hailing from 20 different countries — carried goal posts and nets up the mountain and marked out the pitch with flour to minimize harm to the mountain’s precious ecosystem. The 90-minute game ended in a goalless draw.
The Mountain Has Hosted Other Stunts, Often for Charitable Causes
To advertise the opening of the first Pizza Hut in Tanzania in 2016, pepperoni pizza was delivered to employees and guides waiting at the summit of Kilimanjaro. The pizza was cooked in a Dar Es Salaam restaurant and flown to a local airport before being carried up the mountain on foot. An official representing Guinness World Records approved the feat as the highest-altitude pizza delivery ever made. Even straightforward climbs of Kilimanjaro haven’t always been, well, straight forward. Sanjay Pandit from Nepal reached the summit and returned to the foot of the mountain walking backward the entire way.
More importantly, climbing Kilimanjaro can be an effective way of highlighting worthy causes in the media and raising money for charity, particularly when celebrities are involved. Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, climbed dressed as a rhino to raise awareness for the Save the Rhino Foundation. And each year, members of Wings of Kilimanjaro climb the mountain and paraglide back down to raise money for causes such as digging wells and building schools in Tanzania.