Three in one

It is alpine desert up here.

It is alpine desert up here.

I look back from the Lava Tower trail to the Shira Plateau. I stand on one volcanic cone and gape through the clouds to another. Kilimanjaro is not one volcano after all, but three: Kibo, Shira, and Mawenzi (see our stories on this stuff here and here).

All three of these stony blisters were born in different geological moments, but all three are centered on the same crustal weakness. That weakness is located about 80 kilometers to the east of Africa’s Great Rift.

Geologists tell us that this landscape began to take its current shape about 500,000 years ago. Molten lava pushed to the surface, elevating a corner of the earth’s crust. Shira was created first, and then collapsed. Mawenzi (not pictured here) followed suit. Finally, mighty Kibo topped the other two calderas and grew into the iconic outline that most folks today call Mt Kilimanjaro. Together, this volcanic trinity forms the largest freestanding mountain on the planet.

Kibo, incidentally, is still active (it fumes and puffs), although it has not erupted in the last 200 years.


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