Because Mount Kilimanjaro is vanishing.
Well, sort of. Although the world’s greatest peaks do at times rise and fall from tectonic pressures and the like, I should stress that Mount Kilimanjaro isn’t actually going to disappear into the surrounding African plains anytime soon.
The famous snows atop the famous mount, though, are altogether another story. Kilimanjaro is not merely the highest mountain in Africa, but it ranks among the highest stand-alone peaks anywhere on the planet. Not part of a chiselled range of competing summits but a single dormant volcano that rises powerfully and elegantly from the tawny savannah, with nothing around it to distract the eye.
Kilimanjaro is about as impressive a mountain as you will find anywhere, and it’s virtually impossible not to be awestruck by your first glimpse of its muscular shoulders soaring 4,877 metres (16,000 feet) from its southern base.
You don’t have to be a scientist to know that Africa’s highest peak won’t be crowned with ice for much longer
At 5,895 metres (19,341 feet) above sea level, Kilimanjaro can’t really compare with the Himalayas or even the highest peaks of the Andes—but Tanzania’s gem has an allure that few others can match, and a large part of that draw is its snow. There’s just something about standing in equatorial heat, sipping a gin and tonic, surrounded by elephants, giraffes and lions, and gazing skyward at the glistening snowcapped peak.
Blindingly-white during the midday sun and glowing pink at sunset, it’s a vision that inspired Ernest Hemingway to write his famous story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” for Esquire magazine in 1936. Alas, that famous snow is disappearing. And fast. Unlike other environmental changes in the world, you don’t have to be a scientist to know that Africa’s highest peak won’t be crowned with ice for much longer—just compare a photo from 10 years ago to one from today!
For those who like numbers—in the late 1880s the glacier that covered Kibo (one of the mountain’s three volcanic cones) measured a whopping 20 square kilometres. Today, the entire mountain’s icecap measures only 1.76. Between 2000 and 2011, 40 percent of Kili’s ice disappeared and scientists think that by 2040 none will be visible—20 years after that, no ice or snow will be left on the mountain at all.
So, whether you want to climb the peak yourself and dip your boots in the equatorial snow or simply stand below and gaze up, you had better do it quick. In less than a quarter of a century there will be no snow left to see, and it certainly won’t return during our lifetime!