Kili's flattop

We beat the sun to Stella Point, but not by much.

I found a comfortable rock and sank into it like a sofa. A local appeared out of nowhere and extended a plastic cup my way. I couldn't remember his face. Was he from our group?

"Hot tea?"

I mumbled a thank you, took it from his hand, and tested it with a sip. It was tepid at best, but still more welcome than the slush in my water bottle. In a single swallow it was gone.

I handed the cup back to him so he could continue his ministry of sharing.

It was frigid on that rim, but like that tea, I knew it hadn't always been that way. 

  Features of Kibo's summit. Image courtesy of Google Earth.

Features of Kibo's summit. Image courtesy of Google Earth.

Kibo was born in a roiling boil, a Pleistocene paroxysm (read: recent by earthy standards). Multiple eruptions along a mammoth fracture in the earth's crust built the cone higher and higher. The growing mound smothered portions of its elderly neighbors Shira and Mawenzi. Always the overachiever, Kibo continued to blast, burp and sputter into modern times, eventually earning the rank of highest free-standing mountain in the world.** Recent activity produced a series of parasitic cones as well as Reusch Crater, the ash pit near the summit (see my blog here on the good Reverend Reusch.). Gas continues to whisp from this telescoping port and as recently as 2003 it was determined that magma simmers a mere 1,300' below.*** Despite this stewing action, Kibo is considered a dormant volcano. Some speculate that a massive collapse, akin to what happened to St Helens in Washington State, may be one possible future for the mountain (Incidentally, I was in Portland Oregon on that epic morning when little ol' St Helens blew; I can't imagine what a behemoth like Kili would produce!).

  Mount St Helens in Washington State erupted on May 18, 1980. It was a day I'll never forget. An estimated 540 million tons of ash were propelled into the sky. This fabulous image was found  here  (accessed 2/1/18).

Mount St Helens in Washington State erupted on May 18, 1980. It was a day I'll never forget. An estimated 540 million tons of ash were propelled into the sky. This fabulous image was found here (accessed 2/1/18).

Yes. The tea is tepid at the moment. That makes it a good time to be here. A very good time indeed.

While Kibo appears to have flat top when viewed from the savannah below, it has a bowl shape when viewed from above. That bowl measures approximately a mile and a half across and rises to a rim that is, in places, nearly a thousand feet high. Uhuru Peak, the highest elevation on the mountain, as well as Stella Point, the place where I drank tea, are merely lumps and bumps along this jagged rim.

  This view of Kibo from Nasa's EO-1’s Advanced Land Imager (ALI) was taken less than a year ago on Jan. 20, 2017. It offers a vertical view to Kibo's flattop. Mawenzi photobombs the shot in the lower right.  Here is a link  to this image accessed 12/31/17.

This view of Kibo from Nasa's EO-1’s Advanced Land Imager (ALI) was taken less than a year ago on Jan. 20, 2017. It offers a vertical view to Kibo's flattop. Mawenzi photobombs the shot in the lower right. Here is a link to this image accessed 12/31/17.

Making Stella Point was a enormous victory for our team of seven. At 18,659' it was the highest any of us had ever reached on foot. There were moments in the night when I doubted it would happen.

Now, from my rocky sofa I viewed Kibo's blistered flattop. Just beyond was Reusch Crater. We would not approach the ash pit, but instead continue skirting the rim. Our goal was Uhuru Peak, the highest point on the mountain. Compared to the labor behind us, going forward was practically a stroll in a park. From here, a walk of 45 minutes and about 700 additional feet of elevation gain would bring us to Uhuru.

"Easy peasy," said Robert. "You are already champions. All that is left is to claim the trophy."

Robert must be a soccer coach in his other life.

  A natural amphitheater. I shot this panorama to Kibo's rolling top on on my descent. Reusch Crater rises with snow patches in the center of the image. The highest point on the mountain is Uhuru Peak, off screen, to the upper left.

A natural amphitheater. I shot this panorama to Kibo's rolling top on on my descent. Reusch Crater rises with snow patches in the center of the image. The highest point on the mountain is Uhuru Peak, off screen, to the upper left.

We struggled to our feet and made toward a broad ridge. It was wide enough to walk two or three abreast. As we walked, the sun spilled over the horizon and illuminated the world. Sensing the celebration ahead, our mood tilted. We began talking and laughing again.

The sun inched its way up and illuminated the southern ice field. Glaciers once covered the flattop. Today the cap has receded dramatically. We did not bother bringing crampons or axes as the trek does not require it. 

In a short time, the summit of Kilimanjaro came into view.

  The sunrise illuminates the broken summit of nearby Mawenzi. There are not many places (apart from the window of a jet plane) where you can look  down  upon a peak nearly 17,000' feet high.

The sunrise illuminates the broken summit of nearby Mawenzi. There are not many places (apart from the window of a jet plane) where you can look down upon a peak nearly 17,000' feet high.

*The image in the panel at the top appears courtesy of Sergey Pesterv / Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0 (accessed 12/31/2017).

**The claim "free-standing" suggests that Kibo is not a part of a mountain range. 

***As reported by ScienceDaily here (accessed 12/31/2017).