Mountaineering is not for everyone; and, yet, some unique mountains transmit a special signal to the world, inviting, like magnets, even those who may not be interested in summiting any other peak. Among these few cases, Kilimanjaro features at the top of the list, and for a good reason. Even if you do not know whether you will (or plan to) ever become a hard-core mountaineer, climbing on Kili may be one of the most thrilling and rewarding experiences you can have in your life, because of the following
- Kilimanjaro is a legend by itself. Since it is one of the Seven Summits, the tallest mountain in Africa, and the highest and biggest free-standing mountain the world, climbing it offers a sense of accomplishment that is most gratifying: an achievement of which one can be proud and content.
- Despite its daunting height, Kili is not a technical mountain. It does not require any mountaineering expertise, and, thus, the aspiring hikers do not have the bear the burden of training with ropes or specialized equipment. The hike is frequently described as a high-altitude trek, though, of course, its challenge should not be underestimated. Additionally, hiking on Kili does not include the risks often encountered on other mountains, like frost bites, avalanches or crevasses. There is no turning back due to bad weather or trail conditions, so success is mostly based on one’s perseverance and commitment.
- Kili is also relatively easy to reach. Although it is remotely located, at the same time, it is well connected with the rest of the world via the airport of Arusha which is more organized than what one might expect. This point may seem trivial; however, it is an important one, especially for the non-frequent hikers who do not get discouraged by the logistics of the trip.
- The trail offers a unique environmental experience, as one goes through four different climate zone and distinct ecological regions, starting with the forest on the lower slopes, moving on to the moorland, the highland desert, and the summit. On the first day, one is surrounded by a dense, forest area, possibly with muddy, forest floors, which is Kilimanjaro’s most fertile zone. Then vegetation becomes shorter, and above 4,000 meters, the landscape is desert-like, with seasons interchanging within the same day: summer by daytime and winter by night. Finally, above 5,000 meters, one faces semi-arctic conditions: subzero temperatures at night and blistering sun during the day. The glaciers at the top constitute another environmental highlight, as their fast deterioration and almost steaming evaporation is being studied as an example of the impact of climate change on the planet.
- Although the combination of the mountain’s challenging height on the one hand and its non-technical requirements on the other have been attracting for years thousands of hikers, the trail remains almost untouched, without showing any of the signs that intense touristic exploitation leaves on different parts of the world. This is not only a pleasant experience for the visitor but,
above all, a reminder that respect towards our planet is a matter of will and not of circumstances.
- Hiking on Kili is also an exceptional cultural experience. The porters and guides are among the most brilliant, smiling, and good-hearted people you will ever meet. They will motivate you, and help you when your stamina gets low, and you will come down singing for months Jambo Bwana (the Kili song), reminiscing of the legends they may share with you. Above all, they are an inspiration, considering how many times they climb to the top of Africa to provide for their family, and if you listen carefully, you may hear a few stories that will bring tears to your eyes. The increased number of hikers attempting to climb Kili has developed a new economy in the area, and it is comforting to remember that, ultimately, every hiker helps the next generation to claim a better quality of life in the future.
- Considering all the above, Kilimanjaro has turned out to be a profoundly transformational mountain. Many people have returned inspired, having gone through an internal shift that is inexplicable, it may be mistaken for subtle, and, yet, it is intense and sincere. Even though Kili is not connected with any spiritual landmark, it has become a pilgrimage on its own: a journey that helps those who are ready and willing discover the hidden parts within themselves that will assist them in their next steps.