Kilimanjaro, with its three volcanic cones Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira, is a dormant volcanic mountain in Kilimanjaro National Park Tanzania. It is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the World at 5,895 metres or 19,341 feet above sea level (the Uhuru Peak/Kibo Peak).

Geology

Kilimanjaro is composed of three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo 5,895 m (19,341 ft); Mawenzi 5,149 m (16,893 ft); and Shira 3,962 m (13,000 ft). Uhuru Peak is the highest summit on Kibo’s crater rim.

Kilimanjaro is a large stratovolcano.Two of its three peaks, Mawenzi and Shira, are extinct while Kibo (the highest peak) is dormant and could erupt again. The last major eruption has been dated to between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago.

Although it is dormant, Kibo has fumaroles that emit gas in the crater. Several collapses and landslides have occurred on Kibo in the past, one creating the area known as the Western Breach.

Name

It is unknown where the name Kilimanjaro originates, but a number of theories exist. European explorers had adopted the name by 1860 and reported that it was its Swahili name, with Kilimanjaro breaking into Kilima (Swahili for “hill, little mountain”) and Njaro, whose supposed origin varies according to the theories—according to some it is an ancient swahili word for white or for shining or for the non-Swahili origin, a word from the Kichagga language, the word jaro meaning “caravan”.

In the 1880s, the mountain, at that time spelled Kilima-Ndscharo in German following the Swahili name components, became a part of German East Africa after Karl Peters had persuaded local chiefs to sign treaties (a common story that Queen Victoria gave the mountain to her grandson Kaiser Wilhelm II is not true).When in 1889 Hans Meyer reached the highest summit on the crater ridge of Kibo, he named it “Kaiser-Wilhelm-Spitze” (“Kaiser Wilhelm peak”).That name was used until 1918, when after World War I the German colonies were handed over to the British empire. When Tanganyika gained its independence in 1961, this summit was named “Uhuru peak”, meaning “Freedom peak” in Swahili.

First ascent

According to the famous English geographer Halford Mackinder: “It was the missionary Rebmann of Mombasa who, in 1848, first reported the existence of Kilimanjaro.”In 1861, the German officer Baron Carl Claus von der Decken and the young British geologist Richard Thornton (1838–1863) made a first attempt to climb Kibo,but “got no farther than 8,200 feet”(2,500 meters). In 1862, Von der Decken tried a second time together with Otto Kersten. They reached a height of 14,000 feet (4,280 meters).

In 1887, during his first attempt to climb Kilimanjaro, the German geology professor Hans Meyer reached the base of Kibo, but was forced to turn back, not having the equipment necessary to handle the deep snow and ice on Kibo. The following year, Meyer planned another attempt with cartographer Oscar Baumann, but the mission was aborted due to consequences of the Abushiri Revolt. Meyer and Baumann were captured and held hostage, and only escaped after a ten thousand rupees ransom had been paid.

In 1889 Meyer returned to Kilimanjaro with the celebrated Austrian mountaineer Ludwig Purtscheller for a third attempt. Their climbing team included two local headmen, nine porters, a cook, and a guide. The success of this attempt, which started on foot from Mombasa,was based on the establishment of many campsites with food supplies so that multiple attempts at the top could be made without having to descend too far. After Meyer and Purtscheller pushed to near the crater rim on October 3, exhausted from hacking footsteps in the icy slope, they reached the highest summit on the southern rim of the crater on Purtscheller’s 40th birthday, October 6, 1889. They were the first to confirm that Kibo has a crater, which was filled with ice at the time. After descending to the saddle between Kibo and Mawenzi, Meyer and Purtscheller attempted to climb the more technically challenging Mawenzi next, but could only reach a 5096 m high subsidiary peak (later to be named Klute Peak) before retreating due to illness. On October 18 they reascended Kibo to enter and study the crater, cresting the rim at Hans Meyers Notch. In total, Meyer and Purtscheller spent 16 days above 4,200 m during their expedition.

The summit of Kibo wouldn’t be climbed again until 20 years later (by the surveyor M. Lange in 1909), and the first ascent of the highest (5149 m) summit of Mawenzi was only on July 29, 1912, by the German climbers Edward Oehler and Fritz Klute, who christened it Hans Meyer Peak in Meyer’s honor. Oehler and Klute went on to make the third ascent of Kibo, via the Western route over the Drygalski Glacier.

In 1989, the organizing committee of the 100-year celebration of the first ascent decided to award posthumous certificates to the African porter-guides who had accompanied Meyer and Purtscheller. One person in pictures or documents of the 1889 expedition was thought to match a living inhabitant of Marangu, Yohani Kinyala Lauwo. Lauwo did not know his own age nor did he remember Meyer or Purtscheller, but he remembered joining a Kilimanjaro expedition involving a Dutch doctor who lived near the mountain and not wearing shoes during the 8-day affair. Lauwo claimed that he had climbed the mountain 3 times before World War I. The committee concluded that he had been a member of Meyer’s team and therefore must have been born around 1871. Lauwo died on 10 May 1996 at the thus reconstructed world-record age of 124 or 125 and is now even often suggested as co-first-ascendant of Kilimanjaro.