Kilimanjaro – the Highest Mountain Range in Africa Part 3

Kilimanjaro - the Highest Mountain Range in Africa 3

The height structure of Kilimanjaro

The enormous rise in altitude of Kilimanjaro of more than 5000 m requires a natural spatial differentiation in a very small space. Each of the different altitude regions, which reach into the zone of the eternal ice, are characterized by different levels of vegetation (Fig. 7). These vegetation levels in turn depend on the temperature, the amount of precipitation and the nature of the soil and are determined by special plant species. They run around the mountain, but not always at the same altitude on the western and eastern slopes.

Plants that grow in these zones and animals that live in them are adapted to their habitat.


(Grass, thorn bush and tree savannah)
This dry savannah region extends up to an altitude of 800 m on the western slope of the Kibo and up to 1800/2000 m on its eastern slope. It is suitable for extensive pasture farming as well as the cultivation of corn, beans, millet and cotton as well as sugar cane.

Cultivated land

(Moist savannah)
In this zone (1000 m on the western slope to 2200 m on the eastern slope) the natural vegetation of the wet savannah was destroyed by slash and burn and an intensively used cultural landscape was created.

Wheat, coffee and banana cultivation are predominant, also corn, rice, pineapple, vegetables.

In the upper part of this zone, potatoes and pyrethrum, a species of chrysanthemum, are grown. An effective insecticide made from herbal ingredients (pyrethrins) is obtained from the dried flower heads of this chrysanthemum.

Mountain forest

(Tropical mountain and cloud forest)
The zone of tropical mountain and cloud forest extends on the western slope of the Kibo at an altitude of 2000 m to 3000 m, on the eastern slope at an altitude of 2200 m to 2900 m. In this region there is a high annual rainfall of 2500 mm to 3000 mm and a lot of fog (hence the term cloud forest). Due to the high humidity, lush and species-rich vegetation thrives here with giant trees up to 40 m high (stone slices of the genus Podocarpus, cedar) overgrown with mosses, lichens and various types of ferns and overgrown with lianas and orchids (Fig. 8). There is also an often impenetrable bush of juniper, olives, figs and other bushes.

High grassland

(Heath and moor landscape)
This zone extends from 3200 m to over 4000 m on the western slope and from 2800 m to over 4000 m on the eastern slope. Heathland and moorland alternate in it. The eponymous plants of the heather areas are tree heaths. These heather species form dense bushes up to 10 m high (Fig. 9).

In the moorland, giant cruciferous herbs up to 5 m high (genus Senecio, daisy family) and up to 3 m high giant lobelia (genus Lobelia, family of lobelia) are characteristic (Figs. 10 and 11).

Frost rubble region

(Highland desert)
In this high alpine zone, between 4000 m and 5000 m altitude, there is little precipitation (up to 250 mm) and extreme temperature fluctuations between day (high solar radiation) and night (frost). The plants growing here, mainly grasses and everlasting flowers, form protective cushions. In the upper sections, only mosses and lichens cover the lava blocks.

Nival area

(Snow and ice region)
The summit region extends from 5000 m to almost 6000 m altitude. Lichen in particular can survive here.

Due to the snow and ice surfaces (glaciers), this zone is of particular importance as a water reservoir for the people living on the Kibo.

The vegetation levels on Kilimanjaro are a miniature repetition of what the vegetation zones in the northern hemisphere in Eurasia represent.

The largest part of the massive Kilimanjaro mountain range, from
about 1800/2000 m above sea level, was declared a national park in 1973 and the landscapes, plants and animals are protected. The official opening followed in 1977. The area of ​​the Kilimanjaro National Park today covers approx. 2400 km² (the often published figure of 756 km² refers to the originally protected core area from approx. 3000 meters upwards).

Routes for climbing Kilimanjaro

The ascents to the Kibo are mostly made from Tanzania. There are five routes of varying difficulty available: Shira, Machame, Umbwe, Mweka and Marangu route; At approx. 4500 m, a circle around the Kibo is possible (Fig. 12). There are three heavily frequented huts on the Marangu route: Mandara, Horombo, Kibo. What is otherwise referred to as a “hat” on maps are sheet metal pavilions that are suitable as sheltered fireplaces.

From Kenya you can reach the plateau (saddle between Kibo and Mawenzi) on two routes: Loitokitok and Njara route.

The tour operators prefer the Marangu route. You allow 5 days with 4 nights for the ascent. This has commercial reasons and does not do justice to the unique natural landscape. The resilience of the human organism is often overwhelmed. After all, there are about 5000 meters of altitude to climb and descend again! On such tours you can see severe cases of altitude sickness. Of the participants in these tours, about 20% reach the crater rim at Gillmans Point (5685 m, Fig. 6) and 5% the summit (Uhuru Peak, 5892 m). Because of the heavy use of this route and the side effects, it has been given the nickname “Coca-Cola” or “Wisky Route”.

Kilimanjaro - the Highest Mountain Range in Africa 3