From To The Summit, by Joseph Poindexter...

(a GREAT book given to me by my sister-in-law Jackie for Christmas)


A Greek merchant named Diogenes, returning to his homeland from East Africa, saw them in the first century A.D. In 1848 Johannes Rebmann, a German missionary to East Africa, saw them again; his report dismissed as ludricous until confirmed by a German baron traveling in the area. There are glaciers on the equator, though curiously enough, nowhere else on the continent of Africa. The highest of these spills through a breach in the cratered dome of Kibo, Mount Kilimanjaro's major peak, where it glistens under the equatorial sun.

Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain, consists of three volcanic summits (Kibo, Shira, and Mawenzi) arrayed along a broad plateau and splendidly visable in every direction from a distance of more than 100 miles. Kibo's majestic summit dominates the horizon; 2,444 feet lower, Mawenzi presents a dark and shattered profile some fifteen miles to the east, while Shira, at an elevation of only 13,140 feet, hardly rises above the plateau.

Kilimanjaro was first climbed by Leipzig geographer Hans Meyer with an Austrian guide Ludwig Purtscheller in 1889, shortly after Tanzania had been annexed by Germany. Since Kilimanjaro was now the highest point in the German Empire, Meyer promptly named the topmost peak on the crater rim Kaiser Wilhelm Spitz, in honor of the German emperor. After Tanzania gained its independance in 1963, the peak was renamed Point Uhuru (Swahili for "freedom").

Kilimanjaro's natural environment, shifting from tropical rain forest to alpine rock gardens to sloping fields of lava and glaciated ice, offers climbers unique compensations. Three of the four routes to the summit require some profiency on ice and rock. Fortunately, the normal route, used by nine out of ten climbers, presents no technical difficulties. This route starts from Marangu, elevation 6,400 feet. The first five miles climbs 2,300 feet through tropical terrain to Mandara, an encampment of fourteen huts (jointly built in 1975 by Norwegian mountaineers and Tanzanians from lumbar imported from Scandinavia) that accommodate sixty climbers and forty guides. No one gets lost on Kilimanjaro's normal route, but guides, included in the obligatory permits and fees, can be invaluable in the slow and sustainable pace they set. Fast-drying canvas shoes are recommended on the lower sections of the climb, since afternoon rains can turn the trail into a rushing stream.

From Mandara, the second day (or the third for parties remaining for a day of acclimitization) takes climbers eleven miles to Horombo Hut at an elevation of 12,400 feet. Shortly above Mandara the trail emerges from a dense cloud forest to a vast expanse of alpine meadows and, weather permitting, the first view of ice-capped Kibo. Most people spend a day or two at Horombo, sloughing off nausea and headaches that affect lowlanders at altitude.

The third segment of the ascent covers a little more than nine miles and rises to a height of 15,500 feet -- still 3,800 vertical feet shy of the summit. Trekkers get a brief respite from their labors at the Kibo Hut and then at 2 AM are roused by the guides for the final push up a seemingly endless scree slope to the crater. Gliman's Point, where climbers make first contact with the rim, is officially recognized as part of Kilimanjaro's summit, and anyone who has made it this far is invited to forego a one-and-a-quarter-mile traverse of the rim to Point Uhuru, the true summit 500 feet higher; most accept. The return to Marango generally takes two days.

Kilimanjaro has gained prominence lately as one of the seven summits, the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. But rising in isolation 17,000 feet above the surrounding plain, and the breathtaking climatic transitions, it is an awesome -- and rewarding -- mountain in its own right.