Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and it has three volcanic cones, Shira, Kibo and Mawenzi, its a dormant volcano in Tanzania with its summit of 5,895 metres or 19,341 feet above sea level. Below we have listed other highest mountains in Africa.
When you picture the landscape of Africa, the scorching desert of the Sahara and the rolling plains and savanna’s of the Serengeti come to mind. As it turns out, some of the most spectacular mountains in the world are found on the African continent, rivaling the Swiss Alps in terms of beauty, the magnificent Rocky Mountains as far as jagged, snow-topped peaks, and even Mt. Everest in terms of climbing prestige.
Many of the mountains on our top ten list are volcanic in origin, while others are the result of ruptured plates on the earth’s crust. Some can be climbed with determination and a day’s worth of supplies while others require specialized equipment and extensive climbing experience.
A few lie in ravaged, war-torn areas where political strife threatens everyday life. Each has a compelling story to tell.
Before we get started, there is legitimate confusion about the use of specific terminology. When it comes to the word “mountain,” it seems to be used interchangeably with the terms “peak” and “summit” quite liberally.
However, for the sake of geological accuracy, these terms are distinct, and each has a specific meaning:
Additionally, there are various ways to list mountains by elevation. Many lists are made by sheer altitude without regard to whether a mountain is truly a mountain or simply a named peak. In this regard, the following list ranks actual mountains with a minimum prominence (distance from the summit to the lowest immediately surrounding terrain) of 1,300 feet (about 400 meters).
Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa also happens to be its most famous and iconic, the poster child of many African tourism brochures and campaigns, and with good reasons. Mount Kilimanjaro is an awe-inspiring sight rising above the plains and grasslands of northeast Tanzania. It is one of the largest freestanding mountains in the world, dominating the Tanzanian horizon for miles and miles.
Mount Kilimanjaro’s summit consists of three primary peaks, which are all volcanoes; the highest of the three is Kibo (dormant), followed by Mawenzi (dormant) and Shira (extinct). Kilimanjaro, as this mountain is affectionately called by native Tanzanians, is in select company as Africa’s representative in the Seven Summits, which are the highest peaks on each of the seven continents.
At an elevation of 19,341 feet, Kilimanjaro is over 2,000 feet higher than Mount Kenya. It is also incredibly massive in terms of sheer size, measuring approximately 25 miles across and occupying roughly 500 square miles at its base. There are five Mount Kilimanjaro climatic zones from its base to its summit: rain forest, heath land, moorland, alpine desert, and arctic.
Tens of thousands of adventurers and tourists descend upon Kilimanjaro each year with their sights set on reaching its summit. Because of this immense popularity, the trail system on the mountain is well established, and six major routes start from the base and ascend to a circular trail consisting of two circuits. From these circuits are smaller trails that are used to finish the climb to the summit.
The hike from the base to the circular trail is not technically demanding (i.e., no special climbing gear required), but it is physically taxing. Aside from its undeniable beauty, this is one the reasons why Kilimanjaro is so famous; its summit is more reachable than neighboring mountains such as Mount Kenya, which requires climbing skills and specialized gear such as crampons and anchors.
While many reach the circular trail that lies beneath the summit zone, only a few manage to reach the actual summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, which is over three and a half miles above sea level. Acclimatization to altitude is the major challenge (only 10% of attempts to the summit are successful), and altitude sickness can start to occur at elevations above 4,000 feet.
As our list reaches the final two, we bid farewell to Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the majestic Rwenzori mountains, and cross over to Kenya, where Mount Kenya awaits. The second highest mountain in all of Africa is an extinct volcano. It has two primary peaks,Batian and Nelion, which are typically snow-capped.
Although it sits near the equator, Mount Kenya receives a substantial amount of snowfall each year. In fact, unlike most other mountains of its stature in Africa, Mount Kenya serves an incredibly vital role in the area’s ecosystem. It supplies fresh water to nearly seven million people in Kenya. Although the majority of this comes via annual rainfall and snow melt, there is concern that the once-mighty glaciers and ice banks will soon melt away.
Mount Kenya also sustains an incredible array of wildlife, forests, and vegetation and has received African World Heritage Site status to promote conservation efforts in this area. Like so many East African mountains, Mount Kenya has zones that vary with altitude. At the sub-alpine zone are dense forests, vast meadows, and open lands that are home to elephants, buffalo, lions, leopards, antelope, and other animals.
The second highest mountain in Africa Mount Kenya is a popular destination among climbing enthusiasts and mountaineers. It is widely considered a more challenging trek than the mountain occupying the number one position on this list. It presents perhaps the most technical climb in east Africa, if not the entire continent. Climbers and mountaineers can choose specific routes to the summit that require rock, snow, and ice climbing skills.
Sadly, global warming and climate changes are rapidly changing the landscape of many of the world’s mountains, and Mount Kenya is no exception. Where once there were massive glaciers and seemingly permanent ice formations affording world-class ice climbing opportunities, these features are gradually retreating away. Estimates vary on timing, but it may very well take another ice age to replenish glacial ice on African mountaintops.
Mount Stanley is the mightiest among the Rwenzoris and is the third highest on our list of mountains in Africa. Together with Mount Speke (number four) and Mount Baker (number five), these three mountains align into a towering triangle that encloses the Bujuku Valley below. The summit is marked by prominent twin peaks,Margherita and Alexandra, as well as several subsidiary peaks.
The entire region was shaped millennia ago by the presence of extensive glaciers. The Bujuku Valley now lies where a massive glacier once resided. The six highest mountains in the Rwenzori range were once capped by glaciers, but sadly, only the three highest have visible glacial ice remaining, and only Mount Stanley has any of significance. Some studies suggest that by 2025 all Rwenzori glaciers will have melted away.
The persistent mist that shrouds nearly all of the Rwenzori mountains and Mount Stanley, in particular, adds to the serenity that pervades the entire region, from the valleys to the summits. Were it not for the two prominent mountains that occupy the second and first slots on this list, Mount Stanley would certainly enjoy greater fame, prominence, and visitation.
By having the only genuinely glaciered summit among the Rwenzori mountains, Mount Stanley presents unique challenges to those seeking to trek to its highest peaks. Climbing rope is an absolute must, and proper ice climbing gear would be well-advised, mainly due to potentially large crevasses in the ice that must be navigated.
By some accounts, getting to the mountain, whether from the Ugandan or Democratic Republic of Congo side, is quite tricky, often taking days to trudge through thick jungles and wetlands. Once at the base of the mountain, however, trails are decently marked, and as is the case throughout the entire mountain range, huts and shelters are positioned at various elevations.
The fourth highest mountain in Africa is the second-highest in the Rwenzori mountain range. Mount Speke’s summit consists of four peaks, Vittorio Emanuele, Ensonga, Johnston, and Trident. Trekking from peak to peak is treacherous as they are connected via razor-thin ridges and deep gorges with steep walls. To say that you have climbed to the top of Mount Speke puts you in respectable company indeed.
Some of the unique challenges that Mount Speke poses to climbers are shaped by the same forces that sustain the delicate, yet thriving, ecosystems at the mountain’s lower elevations. The Rwenzori mountain range sits within the equatorial belt that encircles the globe. As such, it is subject to seasonal monsoon rains that provide life-giving water to flora and fauna but creates slick, slippery and hazardous conditions for climbers.
Sadly, political instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo and, at times, Uganda, have forced adventurers to think twice before planning their trip. Climbers have reported scrambling up the slopes of Mount Speke accompanied by an escort armed with an AK-47. The typical explanation is that the escorts are there to protect against wildlife, but the understanding is that the animals are not the concern.
Where once ascending Mount Speke would have required extensive snow and ice climbing gear to reach its summit, that challenge no longer exists as you would be hard-pressed to find any ice patches of any significance. The overall going is relatively rocky, with stretches requiring your full attention. Still, overall the technical requirements are minimal, and as one source puts it, one could make the entire ascent “in tennis shoes… if the mud isn’t too bad”.
We crack into the top five with Mount Baker while not traveling far from number six Mount Emin. Three of the five highest mountains in all of Africa are found in the Rwenzori mountain range. The story goes that when Ptolemy visited the area many centuries ago in search of the source of the River Nile, he was so struck by the sight of these mountains that he referred to them as the “Mountains of the Moon.”
Like Mount Ras Dejen (number nine on our list), the entire Rwenzori mountain range is an officially designated African World Heritage Site. As is prevalent among so many of Africa’s taller mountains, the ecosystems found on the mountainous slopes beneath the alpine tree line sustain incredibly vast and diverse flora and wildlife, many of which are rare and unfortunately, endangered.
Mount Baker’s sharp and jagged geological features mirror those of the other Rwenzoris given that the entire range consists of fault-block mountains, which are the result of fissures in the earth’s plates forcing large blocks of crust and rock up or down. Of all the Rwenzori mountains, this is one of the most popular among climbers as many trails run alongside beautiful alpine lakes.
Depending on the particular route taken, narrow ridge lines and deep crevasses can pose significant challenges to those trekking up to the summit, and some ice formations remain on the highest peaks.
The 6th tallest mountain in Africa is Mount Emin and is also the sister mountain to Mount Gessi in the Rwenzori range, and the two are separated by a deep, narrow valley that runs in a north-south direction. Whereas Mount Gessi is on the Uganda side of the valley, Mount Emin is situated on the Democratic Republic of Congo side. This mountain is named for well-known explorer Mohammed Amin Asha, who trekked across vast portions of the continent in the late 1800s.
The first documented ascent of Mount Emin was made by Italian explorer and prolific mountaineer Prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of Abruzzi (also a member of the royal House of Savoy), who is credited with climbing a significant number of mountains throughout Africa. Mount Luigi di Savoia in the Rwenzori range is named after him as a tribute to his accomplishments in Africa.
As the northern-most mountain in the Ruwenzori range, Mount Emin presents a sturdy challenge to even experienced climbers. Its twin peaks, named Umberto and Kraepelin, are surrounded by narrow ridges, steep rock faces, and jagged formations. Climbers are advised to pack class 5 climbing gear such as rope, crampons, and protective apparatus to protect the lead climber from a potentially fatal fall.
Like Mount Gessi, the glaciers that once covered the peaks are now gone, but patches of ice (and therefore crevasses) still exist.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park along the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo is home to five of the ten highest mountains on the African continent. Named after Italian explorer Romulo Gessi, who is also credited with discovering the source of the Nile River, Mount Gessi lies in the northern portion of the Rwenzori Mountains National Park.
Like so many of the other African mountains on this list, Mount Gessi is a contrast between lush, green ecosystems full of fauna and flora at lower elevations, and jagged, volcanic formations at higher elevations.
This mountain, along with other summits in the Rwenzori range, once had prominent glacial ice at their peaks, which are now rapidly succumbing to the effects of global warming and climate change.
Established trails and the availability of guides from local tribes make this trek a reasonably straightforward affair to plan and book. Overnight stays on the mountain are made more hospitable with huts and cabins set up on the mountain, and the summit is accessible from the Ugandan and Democratic Republic of Congo sides.
Because of the wet climate in the entire Rwenzori range, many pathways and rock surfaces are slick or covered with slippery moss. Although no specialized gear is required (the ice has mostly melted away), a climbing rope is a must even on more popularly traveled trails. As you climb in elevation, the journey becomes rockier with jagged formations and very steep slabs of rock.
Popular with mountain climbers seeking to acclimatize their bodies to the rigors of venturing up its more famous neighbor, Mount Meru is a stunning destination in its own right. It is located in Arusha National Park in northern Tanzania. Mount Meru is a volcano (opinions vary as to whether it is currently active or dormant), and its last major eruption was 8,000 years ago.
Because it sits within one of Tanzania’s national parks, a visit to Mount Meru also entails a close-up view of the area’s wildlife, including buffalo, giraffes, and elephants. The potential danger that these animals pose to hikers is so real that armed rangers accompany adventurers as they make their trek up Mount Meru’s slopes.
Mount Meru offers its visitors stark contrasts in ecosystems and geological features. Its lower half (up to 9,500 feet/2,900 meters) is blanketed with lush rainforests, which eventually give way to more jagged, rocky features that are typical of volcanic mountains. Those who make it to the summit of Mount Meru (Socialist Peak) are rewarded with a spectacular view of the volcano’s crater.
By all accounts, Mount Meru is as beautiful and spectacular as “that other mountain” in Tanzania. However, because it is much less popular with tourists, it is not nearly as crowded, and it is, therefore, an ideal destination for climbing enthusiasts.
The trails are well marked, and the climbing is not overly demanding until you near the summit, at which point there are a few spots that need to be carefully navigated. Along the way, however, you will be treated to once-in-a-lifetime views of African wildlife, waterfalls, and spectacular views of Tanzania.
Next up on our list is Mount Ras Dejen, the 9th tallest mountain in Africa and the highest point in all of Ethiopia, which is a country on the eastern side of the African continent. It is part of the Simien mountain range in northern Ethiopia and is one of the main attractions of Simien Mountains National Park.
Mount Ras Dejen’s signature features are its sheer rock cliffs and jagged peaks, which are visually contrasted by adjacent deep valleys.
Formed between 20 to 30 million years ago as the result of volcanic activity, this region is renowned for its incredibly rich biodiversity. However, the precarious state of some of its fauna and flora contributed to its listing as an African World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1978.
Of particular concern were dwindling numbers of the Walia ibex which is not found anywhere else in the world but the Simien mountains area. Thankfully this scarce species is now making a comeback thanks primarily to a concerted conservation effort that began with the park achieving World Heritage Site status.
Hiking to the summit of Mount Ras Dejen requires you to be fit and in good health, but no technical climbing skills are needed. The entire journey from base to summit can be accomplished in half a day, provided the pace is steady. A light amount of scrambling across somewhat jagged rock completes the trek, but the reward is well worth the effort as a panoramic view of what seems like all of Ethiopia awaits.
Starting us off at number ten tallest mountain in Africa is Mount Karisimbi, which is in the Virunga mountain range that runs along the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
The Virunga Mountains are volcanic, and stratovolcano Mount Karisimbi is the tallest of them all. It is said that there are no less than eight volcanoes in the Virunga volcanic field, many of them still evidencing craters at their peaks.
Mount Karisimbi lies within Volcanoes National Park, which is world-famous for the mountain gorillas that make their home in its dense alpine forests.
American mountain gorilla conservationist and scientist Dian Fossey founded the Karisoke Research Center in this area in 1967, and half a century later, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund continues her fantastic work.
As with many of the mountains on our list, accompaniment by either an armed park ranger, guide or porter is either strongly recommended or required by local law. Although natural beauty abounds, there are dangers to be wary of, some related to local wildlife and others to human-made causes such as war or political strife.
Many of the organized hikes up Mount Karisimbi are paired with gorilla viewing activities and are thus referred to as gorilla trekking. A straight climb to the summit is typically a two- to three-day affair, with an early morning start in the dense forests at the mountain’s base and overnight camps at intermediate elevations (between 8,000 to 12,000 feet/2,400 to 3,600 meters) before reaching the peak by the third day.
Although it adds substantially to the cost of the trip, adding a gorilla trek may be the opportunity of a lifetime as it may be the only chance to see a mountain gorilla up close. Gorillas that are seen in zoos are lowland gorillas, which are a different species.
If there is one common theme that can be found among the ten mountains on our list, it is the importance of thoroughly researching your African mountain adventure and booking your itinerary with a reputable agency, whether in the U.S. or Africa. The majority of the mountains on this list require climbers to be accompanied by guides or porters. With proper planning, the adventure of a lifetime awaits.
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