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Climbing Kilimanjaro

The history of climbing Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro’s three peaks were formed after volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. One volcanic cone, Shira, is now extinct and eroded, while the other two, Mawenzi and Kibo, “melted” together after subsequent eruptions. Kibo is now the highest with its famous Uhuru Peak at 5.895m above sea level.

There is no single explanation for Kilimanjaro’s name and there are many theories as to where it comes from. Local peoples have looked at Kilimanjaro with reverence and named it “Mountain of Greatness” (Swahili) or “That which defeats the caravan” (Chagga Tribe Language) or “White Mountain” (Maasai). The Maasai have also called it the “The mountain of Water”, as it is the source of water for the entire area.

Climbing Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro – History timeline:

1000 BC

Kitchen tools such as stone bowls hinted at cultures inhabiting the slopes of the mountain a millennium before Christ.

150 AC

Ptoleny of Alexandria in Egypt mentioned “lands … where barbaric cannibals lived near a wide shallow bay and where, inland, one could find a great snow mountain”.


Arab historian and geographer, Abu’l Fida speaks of a mountain in the interior that was “white in colour”.


Portuguese explorers started arriving on the coast to discover unknown land. In 1519 Fernandes de Encisco said “West of Mombasa (Kenya) is the Ethiopian Mount Olympus, which is very high, and further off are the Mountains of the Moon in which are the sources of the Nile.”


German geology professor Hans Meyer was the first recorded person to stand on top of Kilimanjaro. He needed 3 attempts to make it to Uhuru Peak. He was quite unpopular with his crew as he was a firm believer in corporal punishment.


Alongside Hans Meyer there was a local climber. Yohani Kinyala Lauwo, also known as Mzee Lauwo. He was only eighteen years old when he became the first Tanzanian to ever climb Kilimanjaro. He led Hans Meyer to the highest point of Africa on October 5th, 1889 and can be considered as the first guide. He was born and lived his entire life in the village of Marangu and he knew the forest like the back of his hand. He continued to guide Mt. Kilimanjaro climbs for more than seventy years and died in 1996 at the age of 125!


Gertrude Benham (22 years old) of London reached the top of Kilimanjaro, alone. She was the first woman ever to reach Uhuru Peak. Her porters, scared of melting snow thinking it was bewitched, chose to stay behind. It was thought she was “immune” to mountain sickness.


Pastor Richard Reusch found a dead leopard on the crater rim. Later a glacier was named after the pastor that became famous in Europe for his stories about the beauty of Mount Kilimanjaro.


The Kibo Hut was constructed. It was the first constant hut that was established at high altitude to reach the summit.


58 visitors were climbing Kilimajaro, becoming the first commercial visitors of Uhuru Peak.


A team of the University of Sheffield and the Tanganyika Geological Survey declared the volcano dormant and almost extinct.


Almost a thousand climbers visited the mountain annually.


Tanganyika and Zanzibar united to become Tanzania. A torch was placed on the summit to celebrate independence and unity. To celebrate the new country, the name of the peak was changed to “Uhuru” peak meaning “freedom”.


Kilimanjaro visitors have increased to more than 10.000 climbers per year.


A Tanzanian man climbed from Umbwe Gate to the summit and back in 9 hours 19 minutes. He carried all his gear and took a break to film himself at the top.


Kilimanjaro National Park Authorities recorded 40 000 people on the mountain, the most popular route being the Machame route with 15 000 visitors.


Swiss-Ecuadorian Karl Egloff has set a new speed record for climbing Kilimanjaro, completing the stretch to the summit and back in just 6 hours, 56 minutes and 24 seconds. He went up Umbwe Route and returned via Mweka Gate.

Kilimanjaro Memorial Hans Mayer
First Tanzanian to hike Kilimanjaro Yohani Mzee Kinyala
First Woman on Kilimanjaro Gertude Bertam
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