Mount Kilimanjaro is made up of five distinct climate zones. They are as follows; Cultivation, Forest, Heather-Moorland, Alpine Desert and Summit climate zones. Below we will look at each zone and what makes them unique. You will pass through all of these zones on your ascent of the tallest mountain in Africa.
Zone 1 is known as the Cultivated zone it is approximately 2,600 ft to almost – 6,000 ft (800m – 1800m).
This region of the mountain receives the greatest annual rainfall. It also has many rivers formed by glacier run-off from the top of Kilimanjaro. This zone is made up of farmland and small Chagga villages. These villages are where many of the porters and guides you will see on the mountain come from. You will drive through these villages on the way to your climb.
The farmland in this region is mostly used for coffee production. Some of Africa’s best coffee comes from the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. Bananas, avocado, mango and other fruits are also grown on the lower mountain. You will walk through fields of them if your trek exits through Mweka Gate.
Forest or Rainforest Zone
Zone 2 is known as the Forest or Rainforest zone it ranges in elevation from 6,000 ft to just over 9,000 ft. (1800m – 2800m).
This rainforest circles a majority of Mount Kilimanjaro. However, most of the rain on the mountain falls on the south and the east side. The forest is much thicker here than to the north on the Kenyan side of the mountain. The flora and fauna are diverse but the animals are very elusive. Monkeys (both Blue and Colobus) are prevalent on certain routes and while olive baboons, leopards, mongooses, elephants, bushbabies, black rhinoceros, giraffes and buffaloes are known to visit the mountain’s slopes they are rarely seen. If you do see some good wildlife take lots of pictures, you’ll be one of the few people who have! The best places to see wildlife are just above the thinner jungle on the Rongai Route and on the edges of the Shira Plateau.
The rainforest jungle is simply amazing. The colors seem more vibrant than any forest you have ever seen. The trail is flanked by deep gorges of emerald blankets of every shade of green imaginable. Rising majestically out of the forest floor are twisted, ancient trees draped in coats of moss. When there is a break in the foliage, you get views of the clouds weaving their way through the tree tops. The temperatures in the forest are usually mild and if it’s going to rain on your climb, it will be here.
Heather and Moorland Zone
Zone 3 begins with the Heather zone and ends with the Moorland zone. The elevation starts around 9,000 ft and tops out around 13,000 ft. (2800m – 4000m)
The rainforest quickly gives way to the Heather zone. The temperatures here are erratic. The daytime temperature can soar above 100° F (40oC) yet drop below freezing (32° For 0° C) at night. These temperatures combined with less rain, gusting winds, giant heathers, wild grasses and a rocky trail replaces the rainforest very quickly. Some of the heather shrubs can grow to over 30 ft. high. As you climb tall grasses replace the heather as you enter into the Moorland zone. Large fields of wild flower cover sections of the mountain and you will often see clouds floating at your eye level. Expect amazing blue skies at the upper end of this zone. There will be little cloud cover to protect you from the sun’s UV rays. Brings lots of sunscreen.
Now that you are above the cloud line the views of the rainforest below and the top of Kilimanjaro 7,000 ft above are simply breathtaking. Once the sun sets, the stars are overflowing in the night skies and create a truly peaceful environment.
Highland Desert Zone
Zone 4 is known as the Highland Desert zone it’s elevation begins around 13,000 ft. and continues up to 16,000 ft. (4000m – 5000m).
This region of the mountain is a strange place, truly deserving the title of Desert. The annual rainfall is less than 8 inches a year and what plant life exists at this altitude has to put up with the oppressive sun and sub-zero temperatures—all in the same day. This area also shows off its violent past with fields of volcanic rock of all shapes and sizes. You are now close enough to the cone of Kibo to see the vast glaciers that cling precariously to its steep ledges. It has deep gorges on the slopes and breaches in the crater rim where molten lava blasted through during prehistoric eruptions. The landscape is barren and stranger than anything you may have seen before.
Make sure to bundle up at night. at this altitude, the mercury dips well below freezing and you may wake up to frost on the ground in the morning.
Zone 5 is known as the Arctic zone. The elevation begins around 16,000 ft. and continues to the top of Uhuru Peak at 19,340 ft. (5000m – 5895m)
The lower section of this zone is made up of loose dirt and gravel known as scree. Scree is quite difficult to climb. That is part of the reason the summit attempt begins at night when the evening dew has settled and frozen. This allows the scree to knit together making it a more stable path. As you climb, ice will begin to appear in patches and soon in large fields as you approach the lower reaches of the summit glaciers. The traditional summit route takes you up to the rim of the volcano at Stella Point then heads west for one last push.
You will follow the crater rim as it rises beside a massive glacier to Uhuru peak, you finally approach the sign that signifies the feat you just accomplished. You have made it to the Roof of Africa. To the east, the peak of Mawenzi is just visible behind the crater rim and to the north, Kenya spreads out on the horizon.
The Crater is a fascinating place and if you still have some energy in reserve, it’s well worth making the short trip. Inside the inner crater is the Ash Pit and at 1,100 ft. (360m) across by 393 ft. (120m) deep, it’s one of the largest in the world.