Kilimanjaro: The First Ascent

September 16, 2014 at 10:18 pm Leave a comment

German missionary and explorer Johannes Rebmann is credited as the first European to discover Kilimanjaro. Though his discovery was published in 1849 it was disregarded as a mere tale. The Geographical Society of London scoffed at the idea that there was a snow capped mountain in those latitudes and chalked it all up to a malaria-stricken missionary.

Expeditions by the Germans between 1861-1865 in the then emerging colony of Tanganyika (present-day Tanzania) confirmed Rebmann’s discovery. The Chagga tribesmen of course always knew the presence of this massive dormant volcano capped by glaciers. They thrived in the mountain’s lower bush country and forests and their legends and stories reflect their respect for the majesty of Kilimanjaro.

For the Europeans, however, Kilimanjaro tugged at their colonial and intellectual curiosities. There were still many mysteries this mountain possessed. Since no one had scaled the mountain, its height or what was even at the very top were still unknown. These questions and a good dose of German nationalism is what drove Hans Meyer to summit Kilimanjaro in 1889.

Meyer learned much from the failed climbs of American William Louis Abbott and Austrian-Hungarian Count Samuel Teleki. Both were unable to climb higher than 15,800. Meyer’s first attempt with Baron Von Eberstein was a failure as well. Even though they pushed to 18,000 feet they couldn’t navigate the 100-foot ice walls they encountered. Coupled with the Baron suffering from pulmonary edema, Meyer decided to try again.

Meyer’s second attempt to climb Kilimanjaro in 1888 ended in political disaster. The Abushiri Revolt broke out in Tanganyika and Meyer and cartographer, Dr. Oscar Baumann were taken hostage. Meyer was able to pay a steep ransom and lived to attempt Kilimanjaro again.

In 1889 with the help of Austrian mountaineer, Ludwig Purtscheller, and Chagga villager, Yohani Kinyala Lauwo, Meyer’s attempt was a success. Meyer had a simple and effective plan. He established more base camps so the team could be supplied with food and equipment without delay. He used Abbott’s camp and then established new camps at 14,201 feet (Lava Tower Camp) and 15,260 feet, just below the glacier line. He also chose to climb the southeast slope rather than the northern crater.

On Oct. 3, 1889 the climb on the lower glaciers was long and strenuous. Steep inclines and limited oxygen proved too much to push for the summit. They decided to retreat to base camp. Three days later they reached the rim of Kibo’s crater and summited. They found the top to be a huge crater with a 600-foot drop to an ice floor below. Meyer was able to enter the crater and study it. He named the highest point in Africa, at 19,341 feet, Kaiser Wilhelm Spitz, but with Tanzania’s independence in 1961 it was renamed Uhuru Peak which means freedom in Swahili.

It would take another 20 years for the Kibo crater to be climbed again.

Tales of the first ascent can be exciting—but don’t worry, climbing technology and knowledge has improved! Now, climbing to the top of Kilimanjaro is feasible for almost anyone with passion and a will to succeed. Zara Tours, one of the world’s finest Kilimanjaro tour operators, offers packages that are designed to get nearly anyone to the top. Contact us today with questions.

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Entry filed under: Blogroll, Mt. Kilimanjaro. Tags: , , , , .

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