Thursday, December 25, 2008

Kilimanjaro, Africa







Mount Kilimanjaro rises majestically from a rolling plain close to the Indian Ocean from hot savanna to a barren and frigid 3-1/2 mile high peak. It's the highest mountain in Africa and one of the largest free standing mountains in the world. Climbing Kilimanjaro is a must-do challenge for almost every trekker and mountaineer in the world.
Kilimanjaro National Park takes in the area above the 8,850 feet, or 2,700 meters, on the mountain. It includes the moorland and highland zones, Shira Plateau, Kibo and Mawenzi peaks. In addition, the Park has six corridors or rights of way through the Kilimanjaro Forest Reserve. The Forest Reserve, which is also a Game Reserve, was established in 1921; the Park was established in 1973 and officially opened in 1977.

Kilimanjaro is a giant stratovolcano reaching an elevation of 19,335.6 ft. (5,895 m). Other names for this volcano are: Kilima Dscharo, Oldoinyo Oibor (white mountain in Masai), and Kilima Njaro meaning shining mountain in Swahili. This volcano's highest and youngest cone is named Kibo. Shira to the west and Mawenzi in the east are older cones that make up Kilimanjaro. Kibo has not been active in modern times, but steam and sulfur are still emitted. At the top of Kibo's summit is a 1 1/2 mile (2 1/4 Km) wide crater.
Kilimanjaro is the largest of an E-W belt of about 20 volcanoes near the southern end of the East African Rift Valley. Also prominent in this belt are Ngorongoro caldera - a superb wildlife refuge, Ol Donyo Lengi - a carbonitite volcano, and Meru. Kilimanjaro is a triple volcano with the youngest and central peak of Kibo being 7.5-8.7 miles (12-14 km) from Shira to the west and Mawenza to the east. As all of Kilimanjaro's climbers know the gentle lower slopes steepen to 30 degrees about 13,000 ft.(4 km) elevation.
Shira is topped by a broad plateau, perhaps a filled caldera, and erosion has cut deeply into a remnant rim. In contrast, Mawenzi's summit is a steep rocky peak surrounded by cliffs 1,600 ft.(0.5 km) to 4,900 ft.(1.5 km) high. Erosion has removed the original crater, and a great horseshoe shaped ridge opens to the northeast. Mile-deep gullies with 30-45 degree gradients make many places practically inaccessible. Massive series of radial and concentric dyke swarm make up more than 30-40 percent of the summit area of Mawenzi. Kibo's glacier-clad summit, the highest spot in Africa, is a 1.2 x 1.7 mile (1.9 x 2.7 km) caldera, with an inner crater nearly a mile (1.3 km) wide, and inside that a deep, 1,148 ft. (350 m) wide central pit. Original volcanic forms are preserved at the summit and on many of the flanks, except on the south side where glaciers have cut deeply into the cone. Nearly 250 satellitic cones occur on Kilimanjaro, most following SE and NW trends. Estimates suggest that of a total volume of about 1,150 cu. miles, Mawenzi and Shira each contribute roughly 120 cu. mi. of andesites and basalts, Kibo has the same volume of similar but unexposed rocks, plus an additional 107 cu. miles. Interestingly, more than half of Kilimanjaro's volume is represented by older, basal basalts (672 cu. mi.), so once again- as in Cascade stratovolcanoes - a basaltic shield is the most important, but least conspicuous element of a chemically complex volcano. Kilimanjaro- Africa's largest volcano and among the largest on the Earth is indeed a beautiful and fascinating volcano of the world.

Even though you can climb throughout the year, January, February and September are the best months, with July, August, November and December also being good.
Equatorial to arctic conditions are present on Kilimanjaro. The range begins with the warm, dry plains with average temperatures of 85°F, ascends through a wide belt of wet tropical forest, through zones with generally decreasing temperatures and rainfall, to the summit where there is permanent ice and below freezing temperatures.
The rainiest period is March to June. The fact that most months of the year have so few rainy days makes it possible to climb in relatively good conditions year round. During the rainy period of March to May, clouds tend to pile up and over the summit, dropping snow on top and rain at the base. Visibility can be limited by cloud cover even when no rain falls. The temperature at this time of year is relatively warm. The dry season, beginning in late June and through July can be very cold at night, but usually is clear of clouds. August and September are also cool and can have completely clear days, but usually a dripping cloud belt girdles the mountain above the forest and moorland. The summit can be totally clear and the successful climber looks down on a vast sea of clouds with distant mountain peaks poking through like islands.
The shorter rainy period of October to December often has thunderstorms that pass over the mountain, dropping rain as they go. Typically the clouds disappear in the evening, leaving nights and mornings clear with excellent visibility. January and February are usually dry, warm and clear with brief rain showers which make for good climbing conditions.
Kilimanjaro towers above the Great Rift Valley, possible birthplace of humankind and the site of the Leakey's research in the Olduvai Gorge. This gives Kilimanjaro an awesome mystique. One can imagine the mountain towering above our ancestors, making an early, continual impression on the species. When you walk the mountain, you'll probably encounter some odd, purposeful arrangements of stone. Your guides will claim to not know what they mean. Perhaps they don't.
...on Kilimanjaro, some mysteries may never be answered...
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