Mount Kilimanjaro Facts: 15 Famous People, Treks, and Myths from the Summit
What are the most interesting Mount Kilimanjaro facts you know?
From random trivia tidbits to impress your friends with to record-setting climbs and famous celebrities who’ve tried to conquer the mountain, today we’ll be sharing 15 fun facts about this once-in-a-lifetime journey sure to inspire your next adventure -- or at least help you gush about your upcoming trip over brunch. So, let’s start with the fundamentals.
Mount Kilimanjaro: Facts and Stats About the Climb
Everyone from virgin climbers to well-researched explorers should know these basics about Kilimanjaro:
1. Mount Kilimanjaro isn’t for the faint of heart.
As the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, Kilimanjaro is 19,341 feet high. Freestanding means Kilimanjaro is a standalone mountain and not part of a mountain range like the Himalayas or the Alps. As one of the Seven Summits (the highest peaks on each of the seven continents), the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro is called Uhuru Peak.
To give you an idea of where the Mt. Kilimanjaro elevation falls in comparison to the other Seven Summits of the world, check these numbers:
- Mount Everest 29,029 feet
- Aconcagua 22,838 ft
- Denali 20,157 ft
- Mount Kilimanjaro 19,341 ft
- Mount Elbrus 15,554 ft
- Mount Vinson 16,050 ft
- Puncak Jaya 16,024 ft
Even though hikers scared of heights may be hesitant to take on the quest, reaching the summit is actually considered the easiest of all seven. That’s because you don’t need any technical climbing experience, mountaineering skills or pro equipment (think: ropes, harnesses, and pickaxes) to get there. However, because it’s the easiest, it’s also the most dangerous, according to Dr. Peter Hackett, a renowned high altitude specialist. Those climbers who think it’s easy to underestimate the difficulty of the altitude.
2. Kilimanjaro is not an active volcano.
Despite the myth and the fact that freestanding mountains are typically created as a result of volcanic activity, Mount Kilimanjaro is not active. It is considered a dormant volcano, which is different from an extinct volcano because it means it could erupt again. You will find three volcanic cones on Kilimanjaro: Shira, Mawenzi, and Kibo. Shira and Mawenzi are extinct, but Kibo, the highest peak (and where you’ll climb to reach the summit), was last active 200 years ago.
Don’t worry: the last big eruption happened almost 400,000 years ago.
3. There are seven official climbing routes up Mount Kilimanjaro.
With an original six climbing routes, Tusker Trail has very recently established a new 7th route. Depending on where you want to start your Kilimanjaro hike, you’ll have options that depart from the north, south, west, and northeast sides of the mountain.
Choose from one of seven Kilimanjaro routes: Machame, Umbwe, Marangu, Shira, Lemosho, Rongai and Spiral for your climb. While the Marangu route is considered the most popular, here at Tusker, we prefer the Machame, Lemosho, and our own discovery, the Spiral Route.
There’s an additional route -- the Mweka -- that’s reserved for descents only.
4. Kilimanjaro has almost every type of ecosystem.
Hike Mount Kilimanjaro and you’ll travel through five different climates and ecological zones with their own unique weather, vegetation, and animals.
You’ll traverse cultivated farmlands where coffee is grown, rainforests, moorlands, alpine deserts, and finally the arctic summit at the top. As you can imagine, this results in very interesting things to discover and see along your trek. For example, did you know Africa’s tallest tree was discovered atop Mount Kilimanjaro just a few years ago in 2016? It’s an Entandrophragma Excelsum species that some say may be over 500 years old!
5. Wildlife and animal lovers are in for a treat.
Many people are surprised by all the animal watching they’ll be treated to, including:
- Over 140 different mammal species
- 24 species of bat
- 7 primate species (e.g., blue monkeys, baboons, Colobus, and bushbaby)
- 25 carnivores (like leopards and honey badgers)
- At least 7 larger animals (e.g., buffalo and elephants)
- 25 antelopes (including grey duiker, red duiker, eland, and bushbuck)
- Almost 180 different species of birds
If you really love wildlife, you should consider adding a 1, 3, or 5-day extension to your Kilimanjaro trip by taking a safari through Tanzania's best animal parks.
6. Animals aren’t the only inhabitants of the mountain.
People live around Kilimanjaro, too. Despite the pictures of Kilimanjaro’s vast, isolated grandeur, the surrounding neighborhoods and foothills in the shadow of the mountain are heavily populated by a local tribe known as the Chagga as well as the Maasai tribe in the west.
It’s estimated that the Chagga were nomads who settled as farmers at the Kilimanjaro base around 300 years ago. You’ll find 18 “forest villages” in the reserve surrounding Kilimanjaro National Park where locals live and keep bees, hunt the forest, and make charcoal.
7. If you want to see snow-capped peaks, you better book your trip NOW.
Mount Kilimanjaro, though majestic and splendid, hasn’t been spared from the devastating effects of global warming.
Scientists say Mount Kilimanjaro’s picturesque ice caps have diminished more than 80% since 1912, and the glaciers have lost more than 55% of their mass. Since just 20% of Kilimanjaro’s iconic snow caps remain, many scientists predict that the mountain may lose all its snow and ice as early as the 2020s!
Impressive Mount Kilimanjaro Climbing Records
Though Mount Kilimanjaro can be dangerous, determination and the right planning can lead to a safe, life-changing experience.
8. May the odds be ever in your favor (because they’re not).
Close to 35,000 people attempt to hike Mount Kilimanjaro every year -- but only 40% of them successfully reach the summit.
Your chances of making it to the Uhuru Peak greatly increase the more time you spend acclimatizing to the altitude and hiking the mountain, though. When you’re talking about odds, climbers taking shorter routes have lower success rates than those taking their time:
- 5-Day route: 27% success rate
- 6-Day route: 44% success rate
- 7-Day route: 64% success rate
Here’s the good news: 98% of hikers on the 10+ day Tusker Kilimanjaro trek make it to Uhuru Peak.
9. Kilimanjaro has tasted blood.
Each year between 5–15 people die in their attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. The causes of death are usually due to hypothermia and either pulmonary or cerebral edema which is a condition caused by fluid seeping into your lungs or brain as a result of your body trying to adapt to high altitude. One hiker was even unfortunate enough to get struck by lightning!
The most common reason hikers don’t reach the summit is not an untimely death, though. It’s usually due to complications from the high altitude and acute mountain sickness (AMS).
10. Record-breakers have been drawn to Uluru Peaks for years.
And the records for climbing Kilimanjaro are so impressive they may inspire you and your friends to awaken your own inner greatness:
- The first Mount Kilimanjaro climb occurred in 1861 but the summit remained unconquered until Hans Meyer, a German geologist; Ludwig Purtscheller, an Austrian mountaineer and teacher; and a local named Lauwo became the first people to reach Uhuru Peak in October 1889.
- The fastest climb was made by a Swiss-Ecuadorian mountain runner and guide named Karl Egloff. He completed the ascent and the descent in 6 hours and 42 minutes in August 2014.
- The youngest hiker is Cash Callahan, an American who climbed with Tusker in January 2018. Cash was just seven years old when he reached the peak. His brother, Quinn, was 10. Though park rules say children under 10 are not allowed to climb Kilimanjaro, exceptions are made for certain kids with hiking experience.
- The oldest hiker to reach Uhuru Peak is Angela Vorobeva, who was 86-years and 267 days old when she climbed her way to victory.
- Bonus record: During May 2016, Pizza Hut wanted to set an official Guinness World Record for delivering pizza to the highest altitude on land so they sent a pizza to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. #TrueStory.
11. Many people with disabilities have conquered Kilimanjaro.
Born with cerebral palsy, Bernard Goosen summited Mt. Kilimanjaro twice in a modified wheelchair with no assistance on the trails. His first trek took nine days; his second just six.
Kyle Maynard didn’t let his lack of forearms and lower legs stop him from reaching Uhuru Peak in 2012. And eight blind climbers hiked Kilimanjaro in order to raise money for blind children.
Famous Celebrities and Sports Icons Who Have Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro
Just because you’re famous doesn’t mean Mount Kilimanjaro will be easy.
12. Ann Curry, Today Show host and journalist, attempted to hike Kilimanjaro.
She did it for a special Ends of the Earth documentary highlighting the retreat of the mountain’s glaciers (see fact #7). Bad news: Curry had to turn around near the 16,000 feet mark due to altitude sickness.
Curry says she and her team “were in bad shape.” They took one of the most difficult Kilimanjaro routes up the mountain, hiked in new gear (FYI: you should never wear new hiking boots on Kilimanjaro), and “every moment we had was suffering.”
These are two big mistakes you’ll want to avoid for your journey.
13. A group of celebrities successfully climbed Kilimanjaro for charity.
When Grammy-nominated musician Kenna wanted to raise awareness and money for The Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program, he enlisted the help of actress Jessica Biel, actor Emile Hirsch, and musicians Santigold and Lupe Fiasco to climb Mount Kilimanjaro - while filming a documentary at the same time.
Despite facing rain, sleet, snow, and freezing night temperatures, everyone in the group made it to the summit -- including 248 porters!
14. Ray Lewis, 13-time Pro Bowl linebacker and Super Bowl Champion, did not reach the Roof of Africa.
While climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness for a charity group, Lewis injured his foot and became too ill to continue his trek.
This goes to show that even those in good physical condition can run into problems on the mountain. That’s why it’s so important to properly train for your Kilimanjaro hike.
15. Even elite athletes struggle with altitude.
Just a few months after being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, 54-year old Martina Navratilova - one of the best tennis players in the world and a nine-time Wimbledon champion - attempted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
Navratilova was just 4,000 feet away from reaching the Uhuru Peak when she came down with pulmonary edema. She was given emergency oxygen and then evacuated down the mountain in total darkness. She was lucky she had a doctor accompanying her who knew how to handle a high-altitude emergency safely and quickly.
Stories like this are the reason that all of Tusker’s guides receive a High Altitude First Responder medical course to ensure that they are the most qualified guides on the mountain when it comes to monitoring their climbers at high altitude.
Mount Kilimanjaro Facts: You Need a Guide and Tusker’s the Best
Here’s another fact about climbing Kilimanjaro you probably already know: All hikers must be accompanied by a licensed and registered guide, according to the government of Tanzania and the Mount Kilimanjaro National Park.
With over 40 years of climbing experience, Tusker Trail is a no-brainer for your Kilimanjaro trek. We use more guides per climb than any other hiking company, never subcontract our treks, use all our own gear and equipment, and have an over 90% success rate of reaching Uhuru Peak. Find out why Tusker Trails is the leader in Mount Kilimanjaro climbs now!