Here I am pointing to the Whitewashed Roof of the Dark Continent, enroute to the top. I had trekked around the base of this great volcanic cone in the desert dry areas of the Great Rift Valley and in the Thika Highlands of Kenya, and in the well-watered uplands of Tanzania, and had even flown around it staring into the remnants of the snow-filled caldera and glacier at its peak. Think about it! A conical free-standing mountain mass smack on the equatorial beltline of the earth--with ice on top! I obviously had to go there and check it out up close and personal!
To get to the summit of Africa, one must go through a lot of much more typical Africa along the way. There are four ecologic zones through which the climber passes, typically taking about a day in transit through each. First is the rainforest that skirts the base of the mountain, abundantly watered by the rainclouds that the mountain pins down in "making its own weather" as warm air is pushed up the slopes as the equatorial sun heats it up in the great geologic valley of the African Rift. When I had been trekking fifteen years back in areas such as Amboseli in Kenya, walking through the bush at dawn (illegally, as it turns out, since Cape buffalo and the big cats have short tempers for dawn intruders), I could see the stark silhouette of the perfect Kilimanjaro cone before the rising sun caused it to crawl under cloud cover. At those early hours, I could use the magnificent backdrop of a snowcapped peak for such interesting foregrounds as elephants dusting themselves, Maribou storks flapping greedily over some nightkill, and--on one magic occasion, the tail of a leopard dangling from the acacia tree between me and the mountain. Now, I was hiking up through that cloud cover in a dense forest on the Kilimanjaro slopes.
In another thousand meters elevation gain, the second zone of moorland takes over with stunted plants like senecios and groundsels growing along the lava tubes and hardened ridges that were once spewed out of the venting volcano. With another thousand meters elevation, the alpine desert is crossed through windswept regions of the third zone in the saddle toward the base camp for the assault on the peak. You may read about that midnight start on the climb toward the summit ("Pole Pole to the Peak" and the narrative at the site "Kilimanjaro Summitteers") with another 1000 meters elevation to the cold thin air of the summit--arriving near the same dawn time of day when I had admired this same peak from the trekking around the big game lands in the savannas at its base. With around half an atmosphere of scarce oxygen, chilled out despite the exertion, the moments pause to look out over all Africa beneath one's climbing boots is enough to bring out High Fives from the Summitteers of many different nations as they stand a few feet short of 20,000 feet at the 5,985 meter Uhuru Peak.