Mount Kilimanjaro has been wrapped in mythology for a century and there are hundreds of legends and myths. Let’s boil them down to the top five.
1. Kilimanjaro is easy
Although not a technical challenge, hiking to the top of Mt. 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.
2. It’s all about summiting
For most hikers attempting Kilimanjaro, the goal of reaching the summit is the be-all/end-all. They think reaching the Roof of Africa will change their lives and nothing else matters. For 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.
3. Kili’s glacial melt is a recent phenomena
The glaciers atop Kilimanjaro have been melting since the 1800’s 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. Kili’s melt is an ongoing debate and phenomena.
4. 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 tree-line there are only mythical felines on the prowl.
5. 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 reality as there is evidence that pygmies once roamed the mountain. Rest assured 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.