Most people who think about climbing Kilimanjaro, think about getting to the Summit, seeing the Uhuru Peak signpost for themselves, and taking photographs. However, there is so much more to the top of this mountain than just Uhuru Peak. The Kilimanjaro Ash Pit is the very centre of the volcanic cone.
Uhuru Peak sits at the highest point of the crater rim, below this is the crater. Filled with glaciers and volcanic rock, it is possible to camp on the crater floor, if you are very well acclimatized.
Exploring the glaciers up close is an amazing experience, feeling the cold, hard ice under the blue skies and equatorial sun. Whilst inside the crater, a place where few people go is to the Ash Pit: the very centre of the volcano.
Fumaroles belching forth their sulphurous gases, the raw sulphur on the sides, and the perfectly formed cone reaching down into the depths of the earth. This is where it all came from.
See more: Beyond the Summit: 19 Kilimanjaro Facts
Whilst standing at the summit is an astonishing achievement, for me it doesn’t really stop there. What is this place, apart from just being the “highest mountain in Africa” and the “highest free-standing mountain in the world”?
Sure, there are more dramatic “volcano experiences” in the world, watching active volcanos in Costa Rica, for instance. But once you are on the top of Kilimanjaro, in this inhospitable land of ice, rocks and thin mountain air, seeing the Ash Pit is an opportunity not to be missed.
The second time I climbed Kilimanjaro, I did it so that I could see the Ash Pit. Sure, the summit was great fun and I enjoyed snapping further pictures of my (slightly older) self there. But my mission was to see what lies atop this mountain.
What is the Kilimanjaro Ash Pit?
Kilimanjaro consists of three volcanic peaks. Shira (3962m), Mawenzi (5149m) and Kibo (5895m). Kibo is the youngest of these three peaks, it’s most recent activity being in the Pleistocene era. What remains of both Shira and Mawenzi have been partially covered by volcanic material from Kibo. Only on Kibo can you see the concentric craters still intact.
At the top of Kibo is the Kibo Crater, the main crater you see from the summit and aerial photos. Within the Kibo Crater there is the Reusch Crater, and within this lies the Ash Pit. These three are all visible from the summit on a clear day.
All three are concentric craters, and the Ash Pit forms a perfect circle. The closer you get to the Ash Pit, the stronger the ‘rotten eggs’ smell of sulphur is. Which is not great if you are already feeling a bit nauseous from the altitude!
The Ash Pit is 395ft wide and is composed of shale and large boulders which have rolled down. Fumaroles, vents that emit sulphur and steam are found at the base of the Ash Pit, and it’s estimated that the temperature of these vents is that of boiling water.
The Reusch crater was named after a missionary who famously found a leopard frozen in the snow and cut of it’s ear as a souvenir. This leopard was the inspiration for the opening lines of Hemingway’s book The Snows of Kilimanjaro.
So why doesn’t everyone see the Ash Pit?
From the Crater floor, you have to climb up this steep slope to get there!
Normally, visiting the Ash Pit requires a night to be spent in Crater Camp. And you’ll only be able to do that if you are well enough acclimatized to sleep at over 18,000 feet. And your operator will have had to make the logistical arrangements for you to do so.
This can be costly, and it’s dangerous to sleep up there. Mostly it’s the high-end operators that offer it, on a longer trek to ensure good acclimatization. Sometimes an operator will take you to the Ash Pit after you’ve reached the summit before heading back down the mountain. Obviously this would only be possible if you were feeling fit, strong and well-acclimatized.
If you are looking for something a bit more than just getting to the top, then I highly recommend a night in the Crater and a visit to the Ash Pit.
Walking from Crater Camp, it will take about 30-40 minutes to get to the Ash Pit. You hike across the crater floor, past the glaciers, and up the ridge of the Reusch Crater. Once you get there, don’t lean over too far, if you fall down this, you won’t be getting out again!