September 18, 2013
Hans Meyer was the first European to reach the summit of Kili, in 1889, but he certainly wasn’t the first to try. Before his successful summit, a string of daring adventurers attempted the climb, starting with:
Baron Karl Claus von der Decken (1862) When Johannes Rebmann wrote of a snow-covered mountain near the equator in 1848, the only real response from the international community was derisive laughter. But some 14 years later, Baron Karl Claus von der Decken confirmed Rebmann’s sighting, and attempted a climb. He made it to about 14,000 feet before a snowstorm forced him to turn back.
Of course there could have been other reasons for his failure; the Baron reportedly worked his way through the magnum of champagne he’d intended for the summit early on, and given his reputation as a bit of a roué, it’s unlikely that was the only adult beverage he tucked away—and into—during the climb.
While he didn’t successfully summit, von der Decken’s trek finally confirmed the existence, and nature, of Kilimanjaro to the Royal Geographical Society.
Baron Karl Claus von der Decken didn’t make it to the top of Kili, but he celebrated anyway
Charles New (1871): In the Africa of the 19th century, there were two types of westerners: intrepid explorers and missionaries. New was of the latter variety, and his dedication to Kilimanjaro was as unflagging as his attempts to spread his religion (which lasted for several years, and ended in his premature death).
That dedication managed to get him to the snow line, around 14,500 feet at the time, but not to the summit. As he ascended higher and higher, his guides left him one by one, the last memorably telling New that “the ascent of this mountain is nothing to me, but I do not want you to be beaten.”
A lovely, but ultimately ineffectual, sentiment.
New’s book “Life, Wandering, and Labours in Eastern Africa” details his time there, including his attempted climb
Joseph Thomson (1883): A lifelong wanderer, Joseph Thomson went on to make a name for himself as the first outsider to cross Maasailand (a journey he details quite interestingly in his book, Through Masailand).
On Kili, though, he didn’t even make it past 9,000 feet before the effects of altitude forced him to turn back “picking up at intervals [his] broken-down followers.” Apparently he’d been trying to run up as much of the mountain as he could in as short a time as possible. If only he’d had a porter to remind him to go pole, pole.
Roguish dandy? Check. Kili? Not so much.
Count Samuel Teleki von Szek (1887): At the urging of his close personal friend, Crown Prince Rudolph (son of His Imperal Majesty Franz-Joseph I, Emperor of Austria), this Hungarian count set out to explore the lands Thomson had recently written about, accompanied by Czech naval officer Ludwig von Höhnel.
While there, the pair impulsively decided to “take in” Kili. While camping on the Saddle (between Kibo and Mawenzi), they worked their way through a good amount of red wine. That might explain why the following day, after reaching an altitude of 17,387 feet, less than 2,000 feet from the summit, Teleki von Szek decided he felt too sleepy to do anything but return to camp.
After a brief stop there for more wine, he and von Höhnel continued down the mountain.
Live fast, explore hard
September 11, 2013
There are plenty of things you know to bring to Kili (like your coat and hiking boots), and a bunch of things we’ll tell you to bring that you might not have thought of (like waterproof mitten shells), but there are a few little things that you’ll tuck into your bags, not thinking much of them until halfway up the mountain, when that pack of your favorite kind of chewing gum suddenly seems like THE thing that’s keeping you going.
So when you’re packing your bags, don’t forget to bring the items that helped the Thomson trekking staff make it to the top:
Ear Plugs: The further you get up the mountain, the more you’ll value a good night’s sleep. But the changing temperatures, terrain, and the unfamiliar setting (no matter how comfortable we make our tents, it’s never as easy to sleep away from home!) sometimes make it difficult to stay well-rested on Kili.
That’s why you need a good pair of ear plugs. As Rachel notes, the tents are warm and dry, “but they’re not sound-proofed. You’ll still hear your neighbors moving around, the porters setting up or breaking down camp, and people unzipping tents to go to the bathroom in the night.”
A good pair of ear plugs tunes all that out, though, and putting them in helped Rachel mentally get into “sleep mode.”
Body Wipes: Thomson adds all kinds of comforts for guests trekking Kili, but we can’t bring just anything up the mountain. Hot water to rinse off in the mornings? We’re on it. A full-on shower stall? That’s gonna have to wait until you return to civilization.
So in the meantime, bring your body wipes. For Michael, these were “the best alternative to a shower” on the mountain, and he noted that “getting semi-clean always makes you feel more comfortable.”
Speaking of staying clean, make sure you pack your…
Extra Hiking Socks: There’s nothing as satisfying as peeling off your shoes and socks at the end of the day…especially if they’re getting a little damp from all the climbing effort.
Not having to put them back on the next morning? That’s the sort of thing that can make all the difference on the mountain. Of all the things Katie packed on her trek, a pair of hiking socks for each day was the one she was “beyond happy” to have.
But no two trekkers are the same. That’s why Paul recommends…
Sock Liners: Rather than bulk up his bag with multiple pairs of hiking socks, Paul preferred a pair of thin liner socks per day, and just a few pairs of hiking socks (which he’d change every 3-4 days) worn on top of them.
While Katie can’t get on board the liner-sock train, since they “make her feet slip around too much,” Paul loved them for blister prevention. To him, they’re “worth their weight in gold.”
Reasonable people can disagree on which sock option they’d prefer, but all the trekkers in the Thomson office thought you should pack one item:
Ziploc Bags: You’ll be sweating on your way up the mountain, and by the end of your trek, that shirt from day 1 might be smelling a little ripe (let’s not even THINK about the socks). So pack several Ziploc bags (or other sealable sandwich bags) to quarantine stinky, sweaty items once you’ve let them dry out.
And make sure to cover your nose when you crack ‘em open back home!
Chocolate: After a hard day of hiking, you deserve a little treat. More importantly, it can be hard to maintain your appetite at altitude, even though you’ll be burning through thousands more calories daily than you do back home.
So pack something especially tasty to stoke your appetite, like chocolate, a favorite junk-food snack, or for Paul (our resident Brit), Kendal Mint Cake, a “brick of sugar” which he justifies by noting that “the minty flavor is refreshing, and Sir Edmund Hilary took it to the summit of Everest.”
That’s good enough for us!
September 4, 2013
It may be cold at Uhuru Peak these days, but that wasn’t always the case. Kilimanjaro is made up of not just one but three dormant volcanoes, and while they haven’t erupted any time recently, the mountain’s explosive history isn’t as far in the past as you might think!
Situated near the fault-line of two tectonic plates, Kilimanjaro began to build itself up around 750,000 years ago, via thousands of years of lava explosions from the volcanic cones of Shira, Mawenzi, and Kibo. One by one, the three cones died out: Shira was the first to go, collapsing once it had reached around 16,400. Kibo and Mawenzi continued to erupt, forming the ridge now known as “the saddle,” before Mawenzi died out at a height of about 18,000 feet. Kibo continued to explode until somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago, by which point it had reached the 19,341 foot elevation we know today (it’s possible Kibo reached even higher back then; since Kilimanjaro stopped erupting, the biggest change in its height has come from erosion by the elements).
The Somalia Plate and the African Plate have been slowly pulling apart for hundreds of
thousands of years, which caused volcanic activity along the Great Rift Valley
(including at Kilimanjaro)
Photo: Basement Geographer
But just because the peaks had stopped building themselves up, that didn’t mean Kilimanjaro was going to settle down into a quiet middle age. Though there haven’t been any major eruptions in a very long time, steam and sulfurous gasses still escape from fumaroles near Kibo’s peak, and in 2003, scientists reported that molten magma still flows just 400 meters beneath the summit.
Eventually, Kili could erupt again (or collapse), but scientists don’t expect any volcanic activity from Kili in the foreseeable future. So trekkers have nothing to fear…except maybe those sulfur-smells near the top!
August 28, 2013
With such a striking profile, it’s no surprise Kili made it big in Hollywood. Watch the White Mountain’s star turns in:
The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Based on the Hemingway story of the same name, The Snows of Kilimanjaro features Gregory Peck as Harry Street, a writer laid up with a possibly-fatal wound, reflecting on a life he’s come to see as wasted.
Though the film begins in a base camp at the foot of the famous mountain, the majority of the action takes place in flashback, in places like Paris, Cairo, and Spain. Some filming was done on location in Kenya, which is closer to Kilimanjaro, but in reality, a film whose framework is set in Kili’s foothills never made it near the actual mountain!
East of Kilimanjaro
Filmed on location in Tanzania (Tanganyika at the time), East of Kilimanjaro weaves a love-plot into a story of…cattle inoculation.
Though the adventure plotline (not to mention the romance) might seem a little far-fetched to us today, the stunning scenery, and the focus on the Maasai (a tribe intimately tied to the cattle they have traditionally herded), is remarkably accurate for movies of the period.
The Mines of Kilimanjaro
A secret archeological discovery, filled with mystical power, which, in the wrong, Nazi-ish hands, could destroy the world.
Sound familiar? That’s because The Mines of Kilimanjaro, complete with a 30s archeologist in a familiar fedora, is clearly an effort to jump aboard the Indiana Jones train. Spoiler alert: this is no Indiana Jones.
Killers of Kilimanjaro
Chock full of dangerous cannibals, terrifying stock footage of every safari animal under the sun, and predictably evil slave traders, Killers of Kilimanjaro is a movie even Robert Taylor can’t make exciting. Reviews at the time dismissed the movie as cliché, and Taylor reportedly called it a failure later in life.
Intriguing as an entry in the annals of charmingly-dated film, Killers of Kilimanjaro is a movie you may laugh at, but probably not with.
The Road to Zanzibar
We know, Zanzibar isn’t even all that CLOSE to Kili, but this Hope & Crosby buddy comedy also includes Bengal tigers, broad swathes of jungle, and an inexplicably non-fatal cage-wrestling match with a gorilla, none of which are all that close to Zanzibar, either.
Like all the “Road to…” movies, this is a goofy, slapstick romp that’s more concerned with the joking banter between its two leads than it is with historical (or geographical) accuracy. It won’t teach you much about the mountain, but it might get you in the positive frame of mind you’ll need to conquer Kili!
Summit on Summit
|Watch Through the Roof
|Watch IMAX film
To the Roof of Africa
August 23, 2013
After months of summer heat, everyone at the Thomson office was ready for a little summer fun. Luckily, in Boston “getting away from it all” only takes about thirty minutes of boating across the harbor to Thompson (no relation) Island!
It was a perfect day to get away from the city; the sun was shining bright, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the breeze off the water made the island a cool retreat.
The staff enjoyed a traditional New England clambake…and a few cold ones! After a day of games, sun, and fun, the Thomson team returned to Boston refreshed.
August 21, 2013
History remembers Hans Meyer as the first person to reach Kilimanjaro’s summit in 1889, but some accounts award the title to another man: Yohana Kinyala Lauwo.
In 1889, when Hans Meyer came to the villages surrounding Kilimanjaro, searching for a guide, Yohana was an 18-year-old member of the Chagga tribe, a Tanzanian ethnic group that still calls the base of Kilimanjaro home.
Meyer assumed he was getting the best of the best, but in fact Lauwo and the teenagers chosen to act as porters were picked as a form of punishment from the tribal elders, who were upset that they’d been poaching. At the time, the tribe believed Kilimanjaro was an impossible journey; the Chagga chief thought sending the troublemakers up the mountain with Meyer would be the last he’d ever see of them.
What the chief didn’t know is that Yohana may have already reached Kili’s peak; some people believe Yohana had summited as many as nine times before. Either way, Yohana successfully led Meyer to the summit, and went on to earn his living as a Kilimanjaro guide, taking others up less perilous routes than the one he forged on that first, uncharted trek.
Now Yohana’s grandson, Pendaeli, is carrying on the family tradition, leading Thomson Safaris trekkers to Uhuru Peak.
How could Yohana’s grandson still be working as a guide, you might ask? Wouldn’t even the grandson of a man born in 1871 be far too old for such a strenuous job?
The answer is that Yohana didn’t just live to tell his tale of Kilimanjaro, he lived to the ripe old age of 125, fathered many children, and only passed away in 1996.
After years as a porter, followed by five years helping trekkers reach the top as an assistant guide, Pendaeli (or “Penda” to his trekkers) was promoted to a head guide position this June.
He’s already proven how great he is at getting trekkers to the top of the mountain. After all, not only does he have years of experience under his belt, reaching Uhuru Peak runs in the family!