Mount Kilimanjaro

Kenya, Uganda & Tanganyika - Scott #49 (1935)
Kenya, Uganda & Tanganyika – Scott #49 (1935)

It’s a “random stamp” day and I chose this 1935 issue from the combined entity of Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika portraying Mount Kilimanjaro. Back in my younger days when I dreamt of becoming a mountaineer, I thought that Kilimanjaro would be the easiest of the continental highest peaks (the “Seven Summits”) to climb. Unfortunately, the nearest I got to the region was an archaeological trip in Ethiopia (close to the location that the famous australopithecine skeletal remains known as “Lucy” were discovered). It has been years since I’ve been on a mountain — Thailand’s highest peak, Doi Inthanon (ดอยอินทนนท์), hardly seems worthy of the name at 8,415 feet (2,565 meters) in height with as many as 12,000 tourists “summiting” each New Year’s Day (a Thai tradition). Mount Everest remains on my bucket list as a trek-only option rather than a climbing one but with each year that passes, the likelihood of this ever becoming a reality for me lessens exponentially. Still, I love to look to the peaks.

Mount Kilimanjaro with its three volcanic cones, Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira, is a dormant volcano in Tanzania. It is the highest mountain in Africa, about 16,100 feet (4,900 m) from its base to 19,341 feet (5,895 m) above sea level. The first people known to have reached the summit of the mountain were Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller in 1889. The mountain is part of the Kilimanjaro National Park and is a major climbing destination. The mountain has been the subject of many scientific studies because of its shrinking glaciers and disappearing ice fields. The national park is located 190 miles (300 km) south of the equator in Kilimanjaro Region, Tanzania. It is located near the city of Moshi and includes the whole of Mount Kilimanjaro above the tree line and the surrounding montane forest belt above 5,970 feet (1,820 m). It covers an area of 652 square miles (1,688 km²).

Elephants with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background.
Elephants with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background.
1888 map with
1888 map with “Kilima-Ndscharo” in German East Africa.

Kilimanjaro is a large stratovolcano and is composed of three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo, the highest, Mawenzi at 16,893 feet (5,149 m) and Shira, the shortest at 13,340 feet (4,005 m). Mawenzi and Shira are extinct, while Kibo is dormant and could erupt again. Uhuru Peak is the highest summit on Kibo’s crater rim. The Tanzania National Parks Authority, a Tanzanian governmental agency, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESC) list the height of Uhuru Peak as 19,341 feet (5,895 m). That height is based on a British Ordnance Survey in 1952. Since then, the height has been measured as 19,331 feet (5,892 m) in 1999, 19,327 feet (5,891 m) in 2008, and 19,318 feet (5,888 m) in 2014.

The origin of the name Kilimanjaro is not precisely known, but a number of theories exist. European explorers had adopted the name by 1860 and reported that Kilimanjaro was the mountain’s Kiswahili name. The 1907 edition of The Nuttall Encyclopædia also records the name of the mountain as Kilima-Njaro.

Johann Ludwig Krapf wrote in 1860 that Swahilis along the coast called the mountain Kilimanjaro. Although he did not support his claim, he claimed that Kilimanjaro meant either “mountain of greatness” or “mountain of caravans”. Under the latter meaning, Kilima meant “mountain” and Jaro possibly meant “caravans”. Njaro is an ancient Kiswahili word for “shining”. In the 1880s, the mountain became a part of German East Africa and was called Kilima-Ndscharo in German following the Kiswahili name components.

On October 6, 1889, Hans Meyer reached the highest summit on the crater ridge of Kibo. He named it Kaiser-Wilhelm-Spitze (“Kaiser Wilhelm peak”). That name apparently was used until Tanzania was formed in 1964, when the summit was renamed Uhuru Peak, meaning “Freedom Peak” in Kiswahili.

[url=][img][/img][/url][url=]Kilimanjaro_from_space_2016[/url] by [url=]Mark Jochim[/url], on Flickr
Mount Kilimanjaro as seen from space, 2016

The mountain may have been known to non-Africans since antiquity. Sailors’ reports recorded by Ptolemy mention a “Moon Mountain” and a spring lake of the Nile, which may indicate Kilimanjaro; although available historical information does not allow differentiation among Mount Kenya, the mountains of Ethiopia, the Virunga Mountains, Kilimanjaro, and the Rwenzori Mountains. Before Ptolemy, Aeschylus and Herodotus referred to “Egypt nurtured by the snows” and a spring between two mountains, respectively. One of these mentions two tall mountains in the coastal regions with a valley with traces of fire in between. Martín Fernández de Enciso, a Spanish traveller to Mombasa who obtained information about the interior from native caravans, said in his Summa de Geografía (1519) that west of Mombasa “stands the Ethiopian Mount Olympus, which is exceedingly high, and beyond it are the Mountains of the Moon, in which are the sources of the Nile”.

The German missionaries Johannes Rebmann of Mombasa and Krapf were the first Europeans to try to reach the snowy mountain. According to English geographer Halford Mackinder and English explorer Harry Johnston, Rebmann in 1848 was the first European to report the existence of Kilimanjaro. Hans Meyer has claimed that Rebmann first arrived in Africa in 1846 and has quoted Rebmann’s diary entry of May 11, 1848, as saying, “This morning, at 10 o’clock, we obtained a clearer view of the mountains of Jagga, the summit of one of which was covered by what looked like a beautiful white cloud. When I inquired as to the dazzling whiteness, the guide merely called it ‘cold’ and at once I knew it could be neither more nor less than snow…. Immediately I understood how to interpret the marvelous tales Dr. Krapf and I had heard at the coast, of a vast mountain of gold and silver in the far interior, the approach to which was guarded by evil spirits.” In light of these sources, J. Shearson Hyland’s assertion that Rebmann first saw the mountain in 1840 appears to be erroneous.

In August 1861, the Prussian officer Baron Karl Klaus von der Decken accompanied by English geologist R. Thornton made a first attempt to climb Kibo but “got no farther than 8,200 feet (2,500 m) owing to the inclemency of the weather.” In December 1862, von der Decken tried a second time together with Otto Kersten. They reached a height of 14,000 feet (4,300 m).

In August 1871, missionary Charles New became the “first European to reach the equatorial snows” on Kilimanjaro at an elevation of slightly more than 13,000 feet (4,000 m). In June 1887, the Hungarian Count Sámuel Teleki and Austrian Lieutenant Ludwig von Höhnel made an attempt to climb the mountain. Approaching from the saddle between Mawenzi and Kibo, Höhnel stopped at 16,240 feet (4,950 m), but Teleki pushed through until he reached the snow at 17,400 feet (5,300 m).

Monument to Hans Meyer at Mount Kilimanjaro.
Monument to Hans Meyer at Mount Kilimanjaro.

Later in 1887 during his first attempt to climb Kilimanjaro, the German geology professor Hans Meyer reached the lower edge of the ice cap on Kibo, where he was forced to turn back because he lacked the equipment needed to handle the ice. The following year, Meyer planned another attempt with Oscar Baumann, a cartographer, but the mission was aborted after the pair were held hostage and ransomed during the Abushiri Revolt.

In the autumn of 1888, the American naturalist Dr. Abbott and the German explorer Otto Ehrenfried Ehlers approached the summit from the northwest. While Abbott turned back earlier, Ehlers at first claimed to have reached the summit rim but, after severe criticism of that claim, later withdrew it.

In 1889, Meyer returned to Kilimanjaro with the Austrian mountaineer Ludwig Purtscheller for a third attempt. The success of this attempt was based on the establishment of several campsites with food supplies so that multiple attempts at the top could be made without having to descend too far. Meyer and Purtscheller pushed to near the crater rim on October 3 but turned around exhausted from hacking footsteps in the icy slope. Three days later, on Purtscheller’s fortieth birthday, they reached the highest summit on the southern rim of the crater. They were the first to confirm that Kibo has a crater. After descending to the saddle between Kibo and Mawenzi, Meyer and Purtscheller attempted to climb the more technically challenging Mawenzi but could reach only the top of Klute Peak, a subsidiary peak, before retreating due to illness. On October 18, they reascended Kibo to enter and study the crater, cresting the rim at Hans Meyers Notch. In total, Meyer and Purtscheller spent 16 days above 15,000 feet (4,600 m) during their expedition. They were accompanied in their high camps by Mwini Amani of Pangani, who cooked and supplied the sites with water and firewood.

Mount Kilimanjaro painting, circa 1911
Mount Kilimanjaro painting, circa 1911.

The first ascent of the highest summit of Mawenzi was made on July 29, 1912, by the German climbers Edward Oehler and Fritz Klute, who named it Hans Meyer Peak. Oehler and Klute went on to make the third-ever ascent of Kibo, via the Drygalski Glacier, and descended via the Western Breach.

In the early twentieth century, Mount Kilimanjaro and the adjacent forests were declared a game reserve by the German colonial government. In 1921, it was designated a forest reserve. In 1973, the mountain above the tree line (about 8,900 feet or 2,700 meters) was reclassified as a national park. The park was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1987. In 2005, the park was expanded to include the entire montane forest, which had been part of the Kilimanjaro Forest Reserve.

In 1989, the organizing committee of the 100-year celebration of the first ascent decided to award posthumous certificates to the African porter-guides who had accompanied Meyer and Purtscheller. One person in pictures or documents of the 1889 expedition was thought to match a living inhabitant of Marangu, Yohani Kinyala Lauwo. Lauwo did not know his own age. Nor did he remember Meyer or Purtscheller, but he remembered joining a Kilimanjaro expedition involving a Dutch doctor who lived near the mountain and that he did not get to wear shoes during the climb. Lauwo claimed that he had climbed the mountain three times before the beginning of World War I. The committee concluded that he had been a member of Meyer’s team and therefore must have been born around 1871. Lauwo died on May 10, 1996, 107 years after the first ascent, but now is sometimes even suggested as co-first-ascendant of Kilimanjaro.

There are seven official trekking routes by which to ascend and descend Mount Kilimanjaro: Lemosho, Machame, Marangu, Mweka, Rongai, Shira, and Umbwe. Of all the routes, Machame is widely proclaimed as the most scenic, albeit steeper, route. This was true until the opening of Lemosho and Northern Circuit routes, which are equally scenic if not more. The Machame route can be done in six or seven days, Lemosho can be done in six to eight days, and the Northern Circuit routes can be done in seven or more days. The Rongai is the easiest and least scenic of all camping routes. The Marangu is also relatively easy, but this route tends to be very busy, the ascent and descent routes are the same, and accommodation is in shared huts with all other climbers.

People who wish to trek to the summit of Kilimanjaro are advised to undertake appropriate research and ensure that they are both properly equipped and physically capable. Though the climb is technically not as challenging as when climbing the high peaks of the Himalayas or Andes, the high elevation, low temperature, and occasional high winds make this a difficult and dangerous trek. Acclimatization is essential, and even the most experienced trekkers suffer some degree of altitude sickness.

Uhuru Peak, Mount Kilimanjaro
Uhuru Peak, Mount Kilimanjaro

The Crown colony of Kenya, the inland Uganda Protectorate and the trust territory of Tanganyika became postally grouped on January 1, 1933, under the East African Posts & Telecommunications Administration. On May 1, 1935, a set of 14 definitive, largely consisting of local pictorial views, was issued bearing the portrait of King George V (Scott #46-59). The stamps were engraved with the exception of the 10-cent and £1 denominations which were typographed, in a variety of perforations. The 15-cent red and black (“scarlet” and black in Stanley Gibbons) Scott #49 (SG #113) was designed by G. Gill Holmes and features Mount Kilimanjaro on a recess-printed stamp by Thomas de la Rue Ltd., perforated 13.

German East Africa flag
German East Africa flag
British East Africa (Kenya Colony) flag
British East Africa (Kenya Colony) flag
Uganda Protectorate flag
Uganda Protectorate flag
Tanganyika flag
Tanganyika flag

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