Reading passage: Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa

This article is used in the questions and learning activities that follow.

Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. The highest point, Uhuru Peak, rises to an altitude of 5,895 m (19,341 ft) above sea level. There is snow and ice at the top throughout the year, although the ice sheets have been retreating recently, probably due to global warming. The mountain is entirely in Tanzania but the north side slopes down towards the Kenyan border.

The mountain is volcanic in origin and composed of three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo 5,895 m (19,341 ft); Mawenzi 5,149 m (16,893 ft); and Shira 3,962 m (13,000 ft). Uhuru Peak is the highest point on the crater rim of Kibo. Mount Kilimanjaro is the remnants of a giant volcano with several outlets that began forming about a million years ago, and it is linked to the East African Rift Valley zone. Two of its three peaks, Mawenzi and Shira, are extinct while Kibo (the highest peak) is dormant and could erupt again. The last major eruption has been dated to 360,000 years ago, while the most recent activity was recorded just 200 years ago. There are occasional small rumbles of activity each year but these do not cause any damage. Although it is dormant, Kilimanjaro has fumaroles that emit gas in the crater on the main summit of Kibo. Scientists concluded in 2003 that molten magma is just 400 m (1,310 ft) below the summit crater.

There are six official climbing routes by which Mt Kilimanjaro can be climbed and these are Marangu, Rongai, Lemosho, Shira, Umbwe and Machame. Of all the routes, Machame is perhaps the most scenic but it is a steeper route up the mountain and requires about six or seven days. The Marangu route takes five days and there is accommodation in a series of excellent wooden huts built with Norwegian support in the 1970s. The mountain can be climbed independently (with climbers carrying all their own baggage) or it can be climbed with the support of local porters. All climbers are required to have a registered guide with them. People who wish to climb Kilimanjaro are advised to undertake appropriate research and ensure that they are both properly equipped and physically capable. Though the climb is technically not as challenging as when climbing the peaks of the Himalayas, the altitude, low temperature, and occasional high winds can sometimes make this a difficult climb.

Acclimatisation is essential, and even then most experienced climbers suffer some degree of altitude sickness. Kilimanjaro summit is well above the altitude at which high altitude pulmonary edema* (HAPE, water in or around the lungs), or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE, water in or around the brain) can occur and people have died on the mountain, or soon after returning. Most climbers are likely to suffer discomfort including shortage of breath, hypothermia and headaches. Although most relatively fit people can reach the Uhuru summit, a substantial number of them abandon the climb at a lower altitude. Occasionally people have to be rushed down the mountain on a stretcher to alleviate the symptoms of edema.

All climbers register when they enter the national park and fees are paid for each day on the mountain. High-altitude climbing clubs have criticised the Tanzanian authorities for charging fees for each day on the mountain. They claim that this can encourage climbers to climb rapidly to save time and money, while proper acclimatisation demands that delays are built in to any high climb.

Tanzanian Medical Services around the mountain have expressed concern over the number of tourists who apparently perceive Kilimanjaro as an easy climb. However this is not the case. Many individuals require significant attention during their attempts, and many are forced to abandon the climb. An investigation into the matter concluded that tourists visiting Tanzania were sometimes encouraged to join groups heading up the mountain without being made aware of the significant physical demands the climb makes. Some irresponsible companies downplay the demands of the climb. The Kilimanjaro National Park records shows that only 30% of climbers actually reach the Uhuru summit with the majority of climbers turning around at Gilman’s Point, 300 metres short of Uhuru, or Stella Point, 200 meters short of Uhuru. Kilimanjaro is often underestimated because it is not a technical climb. However, it is a high mountain and the last stage is very steep. Many mountaineers consider Kilimanjaro a physically demanding climb. In August 2007 four climbers died within a week underscoring the point that climbing it should not be taken casually. Climbers, porters or guides die on the mountain each year although numbers are small.

Nevertheless, for the great majority of climbers, their experience on Kilimanjaro is an exciting and rewarding one which they treasure for the whole of their lives. Climbers from their early teens to their late 70s reach the summit each year and return safely.

Adapted from Wikipedia 5 April 2011.

‘edema’ is the American English spelling. In British English, it is spelled ‘oedema’.

Activity 1

1. What is the name of the highest mountain in the world? Where is it? How high is it?

2. What is the highest freestanding mountain in the world? Where is it? How high is it?

Activity 2

1. Why do people climb mountains?

2. Have you ever climbed a mountain? What is it called? Where is it? When did you go there? Who did you go with?

3. Would any of you like to climb a mountain? Where? Why?

4. What are the dangers of climbing mountains?

Activity 3

1. What would you like to know about Kilimanjaro?

2. Read the first two paragraphs. Did these paragraphs answer any of your questions?

Activity 4

Use these words to complete the sentences.

extinct – concluded – distinct – rumble / rumbles – composed of – erupt / eruption – molten – remnants – dormant

The moon is not made of cheese but if it were we could say that it was _____ cheese.

When something stands out clearly we can say that it is ____.

The things that are left over; so we can speak of the ____ of our meal last night.

An animal which has completely died out is ____ and we can also use the same word of a volcano which will never be active again.

If something explodes with great violence we describe it as an _____.

A bear that sleeps through the winter is described as being ____ and the same word can be used for a sleeping volcano.

They listened to the evidence and then ____ that the mountain could erupt again.

Our tummies sometimes ____ when we are hungry and volcanic mountains can do this as well.

When a metal or rock is very hot and is in liquid form we say that it is ____.

Activity 5

1. Read paragraphs 3 and 4. What two things must be done on the mountain?

2. What do the park authorities do if someone is diagnosed with water in their lungs or brain?

Activity 6

Read the remaining paragraphs and answer the following questions:

1. In what way has the park authorities been criticised?

2. In what ways are some local companies acting irresponsibly? Why?

3. What percentage of climbers reach the summit?

4. Why is the difficulty of climbing Kilimanjaro sometimes underestimated?

5. What do you think is the one factor which makes Kilimanjaro so demanding?

Activity 7

Find words with the same meaning.

Para 1: completely; all; every part.

Para 2: from time to time.

Para 3: colourful; pretty; good views.

Para 4: reduce

Para 5: tell someone / an organisation that they are wrong

Para 6: see; view; regard

Activity 8

1. Several words in the passage are made by combining other words. One example is ‘downplay’. What other examples can you find in the text?

2. Use each of them in an appropriate sentence.

3. Use the following words to make up as many new words as you can. Use one from the first list and join it to one from the second list. Use your dictiuonary if necessary

List 1: new, news, up, down, post.

List 2: graduate, set, worthy, trodden, turn, fangled, agent, letter, cast, paper, born, reader, market, beat, stairs, shot, flash, comer, hill, right, code.

Examples: news + paper > newspaper; post + graduate > postgraduate.

Activity 9

1. Make a list of 20 things you would take with you if you climbed Kilimanjaro carrying all your own baggage.

2. If you have a friend who is also doing this exercise, look at each other’s list and agree on 20 items you would carry with you.

Discuss how you might reduce that list to the ten most important things to take with you.