KILIMANJARO has three volcanic cones (namely Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira), of which Kibo is dormant (Mwenzi is considered dead as is Shira, which is now a plateau). Kilimanjaro (Kibo) is also the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world – at 5,895 metres (19,341 ft) above sea level. It offers some of the most exhilarating trekking and spectacular scenery in Africa. Mawenzi is precarious with its loose and rugged rock, which is suitable for only the most experienced, technical rock climbers; however Kibo offers a number of picturesque routes for hiking enthusiasts wanting to reach the highest peak in Africa. Shira can be climbed on route to Kibo’s peak, or its plateau offers an extraordinarily beautiful view over Kilimanjaro, and an ideal day’s hiking for those who only want to explore the lower slopes and its wildlife. Kilimanjaro is best defined in zones when describing the ascent. The initial scenery is through the ‘Tropical Forest Zone’ that gives way to the ‘Open Moorlands Zone,’ which in turn changes into Alphine Desert or Rocky landscape (depending on which route one choses). The famous ‘Saddle’ between Kibo & Mwenzi is a spectacular ‘Alpine Desert,’ and the only one of its kind in the world. Above is the glacier covered peak and an inner cone with its abyss reaching down into the unknown!
MERU is an active stratovolcano located 70 kilometres (43 mi) west of Mount Kilimanjaro and it is as unique as it is different to Kili. It most recently erupted in 1910 and it has two main cones with several small cones and craters reflecting numerous episodes of volcanic activity. It has no glaciers on its peak (though its regularly covered in snow during the rainy season), but it is famous for its stunning views down into the volcanic ash cone of ‘Little Meru,’ seen whilst hiking up to Meru’s highest peak. The panorama over Arusha National Park and its 7 lakes is spectacular. Often thousands of pink flamingo can be seen, and the steep, narrow ridge to the peak is incredible. Many regard the climb as more strenuous and challenging that Kilimanjaro, but a climb up either of these mountains should not be taken likely.
OL DONYO LENGAI stands in a class of its own as is the only active volcano in Tanzania. Its steep green and ash coloured walls reach up at a dramatic angle in the shape of a cone. The steepness of the climb is relentless and there is no break until you reach the top! Previously natural funnels spewed molten lava out from deep within; however when the volcano recently erupted in 2007, sending a plume of ash and steam at least 18 kilometres downwind it covered the north and west flanks in fresh lava flows and its famous ‘natural chimneys’ disappeared entirely. Explosive eruptions continued into 2008, building a cone over 100 meters (330 feet) high that enclosed a steep-walled crater and the top of Lengai changed forever. Now a gapping steep cone marks the center where the flat peak floor used to be. Lengai remains active however climbs have successfully resumed. The hike down Lengai is even tougher than the climb up; due to its steepness and the burden put on your knees and feet navigating rugged rock during the incline. It does however remain a classic favorite with hikers offering a dramatic view across the craggy escarpment and the valleys below – including endless, semi desert lunar landscape fringing the shores of Lake Natron and its jade coloured waters. The climb is far shorter than Kili and Mt. Meru, starting at midnight and summiting just before dawn. Time spend descending varies on the individual and can vary from 2 to 41/2 hours.