At the end of a dotted line on the Kilimanjaro map at the top of the mountain is a sign. The first line on the sign reads, “MOUNT KILIMANJARO.” This is the wooden sign that meets all those who dare…. and those who finally arrive at Kilimanjaro’s summit – 19,340 feet up.
For the first 15 years that I climbed Kilimanjaro there was no sign – just a Tanzania national flag flapping in the thin air, as well as an aluminum box which contained a book that everyone signed. You can see a picture I took of this book in 1986. The flag is long gone, and so is the book, but the box is still there, and serves as an occasional trash can, which most climbers never use.
Roughly 25 years ago, the national park authorities decided it would be wise to erect a sign, to indicate that after all the heavy breathing and altitude sickness – that you, the climber have reached the summit, and the highest point in Africa. I’m not sure why they felt they needed to erect a sign. The flag and book seemed more traditional and much more significant. Somehow, climbers know when they’ve reached a summit. On Kilimanjaro the guide always tells you way in advance where the summit is. In fact, it’s the only one of the seven summits that has a sign. So maybe we shouldn’t call Kilimanjaro a seven summit, but a one summit. Granted, Kosciusko in Australia has a stone monument, and Aconcagua has a cross, but not a sign.
This latest iteration of “the sign” is the third sign that has been erected. The first sign was made out of wood, and developed so much character after weather exposure and tourist exposure, that the Tanzanian authorities decided to pull it down. Then in January 2012, replaced the good old wooden sign with a green plastic sign which I felt resembled the type of signage they put up outside of a new construction site, or road project to identify the project underway. It was hard to read, and had no character. But fortunately the sign gods and the park authorities heard the climbers’ groans and replaced the plastic sign with a wooden sign which resembles the old one. This latest sign was erected in July this year.
We climbers are big on tradition, and we grew to like that old sign, in spite of it being the only one on a seven summit. It had character. Now we have one that will develop character over time. The gods smiled down on us and as a result we have third sign on the dotted line.