Mt. Kilimanjaro is a vision that has fed the human imagination for eons and has been innately and inexhaustibly symbolic. Writers render it, climbers conquer it, Africans worship it, and at the end of the day its magnetic singularity remains undiminished.
Kilimanjaro truly stands alone among the mountains of the world. The huge, solitary volcano is unaccompanied by any mountain chain. Though its size is immense, it also has one of the world's most accessible peaks. People who are in good shape can make the ascent to its summit, Uhuru peak, in a matter of days, passing through five distinct ecological zones along the way. The lower slopes of the mountain are defined by coffee and banana fields that rise up and end where the mountain's forest begins.
At an altitude of about 9,000 feet, the forest gives way to grasslands and shrubbery, and elephant can sometimes be spotted roaming the high slopes. At about 13,000 feet life begins to recede, a result of extreme weather conditions inhospitable to anything more than small mosses and lichens. Once the summit area is reached, three glaciers and three volcanic peaks sit in lofty, placid contemplation of the tremendous plains over 3.5 miles below.
It is highly advisable to take the mountain slowly. The thin air is a well-known killer of impatient weekend climbers, who misjudge their abilities and ascend too fast. Altitude sickness is common and can be fatal. No climb is permitted without a guide, and there are six routes up the mountain with varying degrees of difficulty. Huts are available at different points along the way, and the final ascent begins near midnight (so melting snow isn't a problem) and culminates with a spectacular sunrise at the peak.