Mapping Africa's highest mountain - A trek up Mount Kilimanjaro

In this story, Trek View shares their experience trying to map Africa's highest mountain during a time when international travel has been significantly curtailed.

In January 2020, the team here at Trek View were planning a big trip; to “Map the Mountain”.

The mountain being Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa, the highest single free-standing mountain in the world at 5,895 metres, and one of the seven summits.

Then travel restrictions kicked in. Like everyone else, we quickly realised we’d need to work (and explore) remotely.

So we teamed up with a worker first and environmentally conscious travel company, Altezza Travel, who organise guided treks up the mountain and from time-to-time organise special projects on Kilimanjaro.

Before we jump into the imagery, I’d like to point out one of the most important aspects of any expedition; planning.

The trail up the mountain is made up of five distinct climate zones;

  • Farmland
  • Rainforest
  • Moorland
  • Alpine desert and,
  • The glacial summit

A full trek up Kilimanjaro following one of the seven major trekking routes generally takes 6-8 days, with 7-8 hours spent walking each day.

Not only did we need a rugged camera for the varying conditions, we also needed 42 hours of battery life, at the very least.

The Kit

The Trek View kit

The GoPro MAX supports both video and still image photography. At present we use still imagery to create panoramic tours (versus video). This is for 3 reasons:

  1. Video is energy intensive and quickly drains the battery
  2. Video files are large and are hard to edit without professional equipment (and the required GoPro Player app only supports GPS on Mac)
  3. Video files produce lower quality images (.mp4 video = 8.5MP // .jpg photo = 16.6 megapixels)

In timelapse mode, the GoPro MAX will shoot images at a minimum interval of 2 seconds.

We aim to capture imagery with a distance of 5 meters spacing. Assuming an uphill hiking speed of 4.5km/h (1.25 m/s), in 5 seconds our guide would cover 6.5 meters. Not ideal, but higher frame rate would have a higher power consumption.

Set to a 5 second interval on a mild day (16°C), a fully charged battery can support roughly 2.5 hours of shooting. Whilst the GoPro MAX batteries are removable, this would require a total of 17 batteries. Not feasible.

The battery charger

Given the GoPro MAX supports external power whilst in use, external battery packs are ideal when shooting multi-day trips. Our go-to pack is the Anker PowerCore+ 26800 (the equivalent of about 17 GoPro 1600MaH MAX batteries).

The kit when it is nice and snug in the backpack

By ensuring the wire is snug to the side of the camera and monopod it will fall outside of the lens’ field of view, and thus won’t be visible in the stitched images.

The only thing we needed now was a Trek Pack operator. Say hello to Joshua.

Joshua, the Kilimanjaro trekker

Our kit and setup instructions are all well documented online, so once we posted all the kit out to Tanzania, and waited almost two months for it to clear customs, Joshua was ready to start using it immediately for the treks.

Summiting Kilimanjaro

Given there are seven major trails up Kilimanjaro, I’ve shown some of the highlights from each of the climate zones across the routes below.

Rainforests (1,800m)

Moss-covered trees, seas of ferns and elusive monkeys abound in the rainforests that surround the mountain.

It is humid, about 20 to 25 °C (around 68 to 77 °F), and occasional rainfalls are common, especially in the afternoon.

Up in the trees you’ll see groups of monkeys making their way through the leaf canopy every now and then.

Moorland (3,000m)

The thick rainforest starts to thin out. At an altitude of almost 3,000 meters (around 9,800 ft) you have arrived at the beginning of the moorland.

Shorter trees as well as an increasing number of ferns and mosses are typical for this vegetation zone.

Alpine desert (4,000m)

Now you have arrived at an altitude of about 4,000 meters (around 13,100 ft). The ascent is mostly less steep than before, and you’re walking on paths across seemingly endless expanses and scree fields.

The vegetation in the stone desert is altogether quite sparse. However, at the border to moorland you will see unique plant species such as giant groundsels (dendrosenecio kilimanjari), a type of plant that can become hundreds of years old.

Volcanic Craters (5,000m)

Kilimanjaro has three volcanic cones: Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira.

Kilimanjaro is a large dormant stratovolcano composed of three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo, the highest; Mawenzi at 5,149 metres (16,893 ft); and Shira, the lowest at 4,005 metres (13,140 ft). Mawenzi and Shira are extinct, while Kibo is dormant and could erupt again.

Uhuru Peak (5,895m)

Congratulations you are now at Africa’s highest point, Uhuru Peak, Tanzania (5895 AMSL).

Time for a rest!

/David Greenwood - Trek View

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