Kilimanjaro National Park, Tanzania
Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. Standing at 5,896 metres (19,340 feet), Kilimanjaro rears up out of the surrounding African plains to form a snow-capped challenge to any hiker!
Previously thought to be extinct, Kilimanjaro has now been confirmed as merely dormant and may still erupt at some point in the future. A young mountain in geological terms, Kilimanjaro was formed around 750,000 years ago as lava flowed from faults in the Great Rift Valley.
Due to its gentle slopes and lack of large cliff faces, Kilimanjaro is one of the few mountains of the world easily tackled by the non-technical climber. Most basically fit people can make it to the peak, although your chances are improved if you take time to acclimatize to the altitude rather than rushing the trip.
There are a number of routes available for climbers, including the easiest and most popular Marangu route, the scenic Machame route, and the steep but fastest Mweka route.
Climbing Kilimanjaro is possible at any point during the year, but it is recommended that you avoid the rainy seasons from late March to early June and again in November. The best months to climb Kilimanjaro are August, September, January and February.
In addition to being a challenge for mountaineers, Kilimanjaro is also a National Park filled with unusual plants and animals that change as you rise in altitude. There are five distinct vegetation zones on the mountain, each with its own appeal.
The first zone is on the lower slopes, from 800-1,800 metres (2,624 Â– 5,905 feet). This zone is outside the park and is used for cultivation and livestock. Human habitation has changed natural scrub and lowland forest into grasslands and farms. You’ll find small animals in this area, such as bushbabies and Genet cats, but very few larger animals. This area is excellent for bird watching however with sunbirds, mousebirds, and robin chats in abundance.
The second zone is between 1,800-2,800 metres (5,905 Â– 9,187 feet) and is mostly covered by forests. Over 96% of the water that falls on the mountain originates in this zone. Frequently covered by fog, the tall date palms, fig trees, junipers and olive trees are festooned with lianas and moss. This area contains the majority of the mountain’s wildlife, with Colobus monkeys, leopard, elephant, bushbuck, reedbuck, duiker and bush pigs all common.
The third vegetation zone, located between 2,800-4,000 metres (9,187 Â– 13,120 feet) is classified as a low alpine zone. Heath, moorland, heathers, tussock grasses and grasses cover this area. Small animals are found in this area; mole rats and other rodents are the most common. Birds of prey often visit this area, with buzzards, eagles and ravens the most often spotted.
Highland desert makes up the fourth zone, ranging from 4,000-5,000 metres in altitude (13,120 Â– 16,400 feet). Only the very hardiest of plants survive in this area where temperatures drop below zero Centigrade at night and frozen ground water uproots plants. Bare, rocky slopes are covered with hardy lichens, the odd tussock grass and moss balls. Very few animals live at these altitudes, with just a few insects and spiders found deep in the tussocks.
The final vegetation zone is the summit area. Starting at 5,000 metres (16,400 feet) and continuing to the peak, this area has Arctic conditions. Crusty lichens and the very occasional spider are the only forms of life in this area where virtually all water is permanently frozen. Bare rocks, snow and ice form the landscape here.
A superb park for hiking, even if the summit is not your aim, Kilimanjaro offers a wonderful experience to all its visitors.
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