Kilimanjaro National Park — Reaching an altitude of 5,895 m (19,340 ft) — Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, and on the rare occassion when it is not veiled in clouds, its distinctive silhouette and snow-caped peak form one of the most breathtaking sight on the continent. There are, of course, higher peaks on other continents, but Kilimanjaro is effectively the world s largest single mountain, a free-standing entity that towers an incredible 5 km above the surrounding plains. It is also the highest mountain anywhere that can be ascended by somebody without specialised mountaineering experience or equipment. Kilimanjaro straddles the border with Kenya, but the peaks all falls within Tanzania and can only be climbed from within the country. There several places on the lower slopes from where mountain can be ascended, but most people use the Marangu Route (which begins at the eonymous village) because it is the cheapest option and has the best facilities. The less heavily trampled Machame Route, starting from the village of the same name, has grown with popularity in recent years. A number of more obscure can be used, through they are generally only available through specialist trekking companies. Most prospective climbers arrange their ascent of ‘Kili’ — as it is populary called — well in advance, through an overseas tour operators or online with local operator, but you can also shop around on the spot using specialits trekking companies based in Moshi, Morangu or even Arusha. Kilimanjaro can be climbed at any time of the year, but the hike is more difficult in the rainy months, especially between March and May.
In geological terms, Kilimanjaro is a relatively young mountain. Like most other large mountains near the Rift Valley, it was formed by volcanic activity, first erupting about one millions years ago. The 3,962-metre-high Shira peak collapsed around half a million years ago, but the 5,895-metre-high Uhuru peak on mount Kibo (the higher of Kilimanjaro’s two main peaks) and 5,149-metre-high Mawenzi peak continued to grow until more recently. Shira plateau formed 360,000 years ago, when the caldera was dilled by lava from Kibo after a particularly violent eruption. Kibo is now dormant, and nobody knows when it last dispalyed any serious volcanic activity. The Kilimanjaro National Park, gazetted in 1977, protect the entire Tanzanian part of the mountain above 2,700 m contour, an area of 757 km2.
VEGETATION AND BIOLOGY
There are five vegetation zones on Kilimanjaro: the cultivated lower slopes; the forest; heath and moorland; alpine; and the barren arctic summit zone. Vegetation is sparse higher up due to lower temperatures and rainfall. The lower slopes of the mountain were probably once forested, but are now mainly cultivated. The volcanic soils make them highly fertile and and they support a dense human population. The most biologically interesting aspect of the lower slopes is the abundance of wild flowers, seen between Marangu and the entrance gate. The montane forest zone of the southern slopes lies between the altitudes of 1,800 and 3,000 m. Receiving up to 2,000 mm of rainfall annually, this zone displays a high biological diversity, and still supports a fair amount of wildlife. The most frequently seen mammal are the black-and-white colobus and blue monkeys, white typical forest antelope include three duiker species and the beautifully marked bushbuck. Leopard, bushpig and porcupine are fairly common but seldom encountered by hikers, while eland, buffalo and elepaht are present in small numbers. The forests of Kilimanjaro are less rich in birds (particularly endemics) than the more ancient forests of the Eastern Arc Mountains, but some 40 species peculiar to Afro-montane forest have been recorded. Most forest birds are quite difficult to observe, but trekkers should at least hear the raucous silverly-cheeked hornbill and beautiful Hartlaub’s turaco. The semi-alpine moorland zone, which lies betwwen 3,000 m and 4,000 m, is characterised by heath-like vegetation and abandant wild flowers. As you climb into the moorland, two distinctive plants become common. These are Lobelia deckenii, which grows to 3 m high, and the groundsel Senecio kilimanjarin, which grows up to 5 m high and can be distinguished by a spike of yellow flowers. The moorland zone supports a low density of mammals, butpairs of Klipspringer are quite common on rocky outcrops and several other species are recorded from time to time. Hill chat and scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird are two birds whose range is restricted to the moorland of large East mountains. Other localized birds are lammergeyer and alpine swift. Because it is so open, the views from the moorland are stunning. The alpine between 4,000 m and 5,000 m is classified as a semi-desert because it receives an annual rainfall of less than 250 mm. The ground often freees at night, but ground temperantures may soar to above 30 degrees by day. Few plants survive in these conditions; only 55 species are present, amny of them lichens and grasses. Six species of moss are endemic to the higher reaches of Kilimanjaro. Large mammals have been recorded at this altitude, most commonly eland, but non is resident. Approaching the summit, the arctic zone starts at an altitude of around 5,000 m. This area recieves virtually no rainfall , and little permanent life other than the odd lichen. Two remarkable records concern a frozen leopard discoverd here in 1926, and a family of hunting dogs seen in 1962. The most notable natural feature at the summit are the inner and outer craters of Kibo, surrounding a 129-metre-deep ash pit, and the great Northern Glacier, which has retreatd markedly since Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller first saw it in 1889. Indeed, since that historic ascent, it is thought that Kilimanjoro’s distinctie snow cap has retreated by more than 80% probably as a result of global warming, and some experts predict that it will vanish completely by 2020.