The conquest of Kilimanjaro
Early attempts on the summit: Teleki and Meyer
While all this was going on, attempts to be the first to conquer Kilimanjaro continued apace. In 1887, Count Samuel Teleki of the Austro-Hungarian Empire made the most serious assault on Kibo so far, before ‘a certain straining of the membrane of the tympanum of the ear’ forced him to turn back.
Then the American naturalist, Dr Abbott, who had primarily come to investigate the fauna and flora of the mountain slopes, made a rather reckless attempt. Abbott was struck down by illness fairly early on in the climb but his companion,Otto Ehlers of the German East African Company, pushed on, reaching (according to him) 19,680ft (5904m). Not for the first time in the history of climbing Kilimanjaro, however, this figure has been sceptically received by others – particularly as it is at least 8m above the highest point on the mountain!
Both Teleki and Abbott, however, played a part in the success of the eventual conqueror of Kilimanjaro, Dr Hans Meyer: Teleki, by providing information about the ascent to Meyer in a chance encounter during Meyer’s first trip to the region in 1887; Abbott, by providing accommodation in Moshi for Meyer and his party during their successful expedition of 1889.
Hans Meyer was a geology professor and the son of a wealthy editor from Leipzig (he himself later joined the editorial board and became its director, retiring in 1888, one year before the conquest of Kili, to become professor of Colonial Geography at Leipzig University). In all he made four trips to Kilimanjaro. Following the partial success of his first attempt in 1887, when he managed to reach 18,000ft (5400m), Meyer returned the following year for a second assault with experienced African traveller and friend Dr Oscar Baumann.
Unfortunately, his timing couldn’t have been worse: the Abushiri War, an Arab-led revolt against German traders on the East African coast, had just broken out and Meyer and his friend Baumann were captured, clapped into chains and held hostage by Sheikh Abushiri himself, the leader of the insurgency. In the end both escaped with their lives, but only after a ransom of ten thousand rupees was paid.
However, on his third attempt, in 1889, Meyer finally covered himself in glory. Though no doubt a skilful and determined climber, Meyer’s success can largely be attributed to his recognition that the biggest obstacle to a successful assault was the lack of food available at the top. Meyer solved this by establishing camps at various points along the route that he had chosen for his attempt, including one at 12,980ft (3894m; Abbott’s camp); one, Kibo camp, ‘by a conspicuous rock’ at 14,210ft (4263m); and, finally, a small encampment by a lava cave and just below the glacier line at 15,260ft (4578m).