Tanzania is the largest country in eastern Africa. It became a country in 1964, when the countries of Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged. Tanzania is home to more than 39 million people. It is one of the poorest countries in Africa and the world. Mount Kilimanjaro sits in the northeastern part of Tanzania, bordering on Kenya. The mountain is about 170 miles (270 km) west of the Indian Ocean and 220 miles (350 km) south of the equator. The Great Rift Valley lies about 100 miles (160 km) to its west. The forces that created this valley played a key role in Mount Kilimanjaro’s creation.
Mount Kilimanjaro began forming more than 750,000 years ago. The mountain was created as a result of volcanic activity that started deep underground and broke through to the surface. The mountain-building process did not happen overnight. It took more than 250,000 years for Mount Kilimanjaro to form. Shira was the first volcano to emerge. Mawenzi was next. Finally, about 460,000 years ago, Kibo came to be. The lava that flowed from Kibo attached all three volcanoes together, making the mountain that stands today. Over time, the shape of the mountain became more defined. During the course of several ice ages, huge sheets of ice called glaciers cut through the rock, carving it into smooth valleys and sharp ridges.
Due to its massive size, Mount Kilimanjaro is home to five vegetation zones. Each zone occurs at a different altitude and has unique features. The first zone is found on the lower slopes of Kilimanjaro, between 2,300 and 5,900 feet (700 and 1,800 m). At one time, the land in this zone was made up of forest and scrub. Today, the rich soils make it perfect for farming. Wildflowers are common in this zone. At 5,900 to 9,200 feet (1,800 to 2,800 m), the second zone is a humid rain forest. Here, there is an abundance of plant life. Moss drapes the huge fig, juniper, date palm, and olive trees. The third zone occurs at 9,200 to 13,120 feet (2,800 to 4,000 m). Vegetation such as heath, grasses, giant groundsels and lobelias, and wildflowers cover the slopes in this zone.
Few plants can stand the cold, dry conditions at 13,120 to 16,400 feet (4,000 to 5,000 m). The fourth zone is a hot, dry desert during the day, but the ground freezes at night. Only everlastings, moss, lichen, and three types of grasses are able to survive here. Above 16,400 feet (5,000 m), there is even less life. The fifth zone, or summit area, is home only to rocks, snow, and a few lichen.
Mount Kilimanjaro is home to many animals, including 140 types of mammals. Each vegetation zone has unique features that support different creatures. While some zones have a large variety of wildlife, others are inhabited by only the smallest life forms. In the lush rain forest of the second zone, the trees are alive with monkeys and birds. Large animals, including elephants, lions, leopards, and giraffes, travel through the jungle growth. African hunting dogs and birds of prey, such as buzzards, eagles, and bearded vultures, live here as well. The extreme altitude keeps many animals from living higher up the mountain. Lions, wild dogs, and elands have been found living in the third zone. Even fewer animals dwell in the fourth zone. These include birds, rodents, and insects. Animals are unable to survive the harsh climates of the fifth zone.
Johannes Rebmann, a German missionary, arrived in East Africa in 1846. Rebmann traveled the countryside to teach Africans about Christianity. On May 11,1848, he became the first European to see Mount Kilimanjaro. Rebmann reported his find back to Europe. However, few people believed he had found a snow-covered mountain in Africa, so close to the equator. Support for Rebmann’s claims came 12 years later. German explorer Baron Karl Klaus von der Decken and British geologist Richard Thornton surveyed the mountain. They were the first Europeans to see Mount Kilimanjaro since Rebmann had visited the site 13 years earlier. Decken and Thornton attempted to climb the mountain, but bad weather stopped them from climbing very high. In 1862, Decken and explorer Otto Kersten made another attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but poor weather stopped their team at about 14,000 feet (4,267 m). Seventeen years passed before the first Europeans, Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller, reached the top of the mountain.
When Johannes Rebmann first saw Mount Kilimanjaro, the local people told him its summit was covered with a strange white powder that looked like silver. They believed that evil spirits protected the mountain’s treasures, and they would punish any person who tried to climb the mountain. Rebmann soon learned that the silver was snow and that the evil spirits were the extreme cold. Both the snow and the cold could easily hurt a person who was not dressed for the weather. The Chagga people still have great respect for the mountain. To them> it is the home of the gods. Traditionally, the Chagga would bury their dead so that the body was facing Mount Kilimanjaro. They may have believed that the summit led to the afterlife.
Each year, thousands of people attempt hiking to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. There are many routes up the mountain. Most people take four to six days to get to the top. The hike can be done using standard hiking equipment. However, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is still considered to be a huge challenge. Trying to climb the mountain too quickly is dangerous. This is because oxygen levels decrease as the altitude increases. There is half the amount of oxygen at the summit as there is at sea level. Climbers must let their bodies slowly adjust to the decreasing oxygen levels. If they do not, climbers may suffer from altitude sickness, an illness that causes headaches, sleepiness, and muscle weakness that can be deadly. In addition to a lack of oxygen, climbers must cover more than 50 miles (80 km) of land without the use of vehicles. Mount Kilimanjaro is the setting for many athletic events. The Kilimanjaro Marathon is a 26.2-mile (42.2-km) foot race around the base of the mountain.