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5 Myths (and Facts) About Mount Kilimanjaro

One of the most indisputable Mount Kilimanjaro facts is its accessibility. Out of all the Seven Summits — the highest peaks per continent — it’s the easiest to get to and – after you learn more about it – you won’t waste time booking a ticket to Tanzania.

In addition to being Africa’s highest peak, it’s also at the center of numerous local legends. Folklore weaves in the stories of angry gods and vengeful neighbors. The existence of three volcanoes on the mountain — Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira — adds to its mythical status.

What’s real and what’s fake? What’s true and what simply seems true because of repeated tellings?


Myth #1: Climbing Kili is easy

Although not a technical challenge, hiking to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro is far from a walk in the national park. Just because you don’t need an ice ax or crampons and Tusker’s porters do the heavy lifting (food, tents, medical gear), the elevation at over 19,000 feet presents a daunting challenge. On average, about half of trekkers fail to reach Kili’s summit. Altitude sickness and body breakdowns cause the high failure rate. The eight-day hike is slow going over difficult volcanic terrain, and sometimes lungs, knees and ankles don’t hold up – and that’s one of the Mount Kilimanjaro facts that you can take to the bank.

Myth #2: It’s all about summiting

For most hikers attempting Kilimanjaro, the goal of reaching the summit is the be-all and end-all. They think reaching the Roof of Africa will change their lives and nothing else matters.

However, for the thousands who don’t reach the summit, the lessons learned from making the effort can be just as rewarding as bagging the peak. Sometimes it’s just not about you, but about the teamwork of pushing each other upward. Not making the summit can be the litmus test on your mental and physical state, a wake-up call to be stronger for the next shot at Kili’s summit, or that big job, or anything else that might have eluded your grasp. Or you can be at peace with not making the summit and still having the experience of a lifetime making new and deep friendships.

Myth #3: Mount Kilimanjaro’s glacial melt is a recent phenomenon

The glaciers atop Kilimanjaro have been melting since the 1800s and climate scientists are busy debating its causes. Is it global warming or more local factors melting the ice? The rate of melt has increased since 2000 with a 26 percent loss, but there still remains over 700 million cubic feet of ice atop the summit that you will contend with on your Tusker trek. Al Gore attributed Kili’s meltdown to global warming, but several scientists say the cutting of the mountain’s lowland forests leads to less humidity and less precipitation.

As you can see, Kili’s melt is an ongoing debate and phenomena.

Myth #4: There is a snow leopard at the summit

Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” begins with a leopard frozen at the summit. It was an apt metaphor to start his book, but he never saw one. In fact, he never hiked beyond his savanna safari camp but relied on local myths to pen his dramatic lead paragraph.

You are not going to see a leopard atop Kilimanjaro. You may see wildlife in the first days of your hike in the forests, but once above the tree line, there are only mythical felines on the prowl.

Myth #5: You must beware of the Wakonyingo

Chaaga local tribesmen still believe that mountain dwarfs they call Wakonyingo live in caves beneath Kili’s slopes. The Wakonyingo have oversized heads and prey upon those who bring negative spirits to the mountain. The myth could be based on one of the actual Mount Kilimanjaro facts, as there is evidence that pygmies once roamed the mountain.

Rest assured, though, that some dwarf with a big head is not going to hassle you in your tent.

Kilimanjaro is a mythical mountain that spews new and old myths from its volcanic core. The myths are part of the mountain’s mystique that we hope will never end. Now that you know fact from fiction, find out what climbing Kilimanjaro really entails and get ready to create your own story on the world’s tallest free-standing mountain.


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