The Snow-Covered Roof of Africa
“Wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun,” wrote Ernest Hemingway in his famous short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” Few mountains offer the majesty and mystique of Kilimanjaro, at 19,340 feet the highest mountain in Africa, dwarfing the region’s other peaks.
The nine-day trek to the mountain’s oddly flat top is 25 miles round-trip, if you ascend by way of the more remote, seldom used Shira Plateau. By avoiding the shorter, five-day, overcrowded Marangu Trail, or “tourist route,” a few days are added on for proper acclimatization, the trek’s biggest obstacle. One third of Marangu trekkers never make it past Gillman’s Point, 600 feet below the summit, because they have not allotted enough time to adjust to the low level of oxygen – approximately half of what humans normally breathe at sea level.
No technical skills, ropes, or crampons are called for, and though it’s no walk in the park, the grade is generally a gentle one. A battalion of porters bolts ahead to pitch tents and set up camp at spectacular sites by the time everyone straggles in. At the summit, your lightheadedness may be a reaction to the thrill and satisfaction of the surreal views – on a clear day the plains of Tanzania and Kenya spread out for hundreds of miles, 3 ½ miles below you.