The Beauty of Kilimanjaro

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Tanzania and climbing the very magical Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in continental Africa. We decided to take the less traveled and very beautiful Machame route to the summit.

-Daniel van Starrenburg, President and CEO

Besides the challenge that this climb offered, the diverse vegetation was a real treat. At the foot of the mountain are farms which cultivate banana trees & other food crops growing in the fertile volcanic soils, interrupted by an occasional patch for grazing livestock. Soon we entered a wide band of extremely beautiful mountain forest that circles the whole of Kilimanjaro, complete with river gorges flanked by dense sycamore figs, palms, albizia & macaranga trees. This dense rain forest has bearded lichens hanging from limbs, which are further encased with mosses and ferns making efficient use of every bit of light that trickles through the tree canopies. Orchids & violets can be found, but more common are the different varieties of native impatiens. The Impatiens kilimanjaro, with its scarlet & yellow flowers, grow nowhere else in the world.

Higher up we transitioned into the heath & moorland zone characterized by giant heather (Erica arborea) that grow as tall as 30 feet near the upper forest and up to 9 feet higher in the upper moorland. Many other varieties of heather and similar shrubs grow in this zone with striking contrast created by the fresh green of Hyperium revokitum with its bright yellow blooms. Wild flowers are everywhere and the distinctive protea (a flower similar to a white globe artichoke), which I had only seen in exotic table arrangements, is everywhere!

The moorland has a distinctive aroma consisting of a delicious mix of fragrances from many different plants. The higher elevations (12,000 feet) are characterized by clusters of giant Lobelias & Senecious which are typically found in valley bottoms & bedside streams. We also see our last bit of evidence of large game (perhaps Elands), in the form of tracks & droppings which disappear as we head up to the highland desert. With the extreme temperature fluctuations, nights below freezing and days as high as 72 degrees Fahrenheit, only the hardiest of plants can exist. The landscape is almost eerie & moon-like where the occasional wildflower takes you by surprise. Further along, record amounts of precipitation created a thick & deep blanket of fresh snow on the entire mountain above 17,000 feet.

After five days of sometimes grueling hikes, we reach the summit and find ourselves standing on top of a mountain so powerful, reflecting back to when we were at its foot doubting our abilities. It was a very emotional moment; worn out, dizzy & sick from altitude; some of us cried and others just lay in the snow. After taking a classic summit photo, we started our descent knowing that going down is often more difficult than going up-but with every step the amount of oxygen in the air would increase.

On day seven, the last day on the mountain, we celebrated by running down through the heath and racing with the porters into the forest like children just let out for recess. With the thick oxygen & our primed muscles, we felt we could run all the way across the continent.

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