The cold temperature of the higher regions constituted a limit beyond which they dared not venture. This natural disinclination, existing most strongly in the case of the great mountain, on account of its intenser cold, and the popular traditions respecting the fate of the only expedition which had ever attempted to ascend its heights, had of course prevented them from exploring it, and left them in utter ignorance of such a thing as ‘snow’, although not in ignorance of that which they so greatly dreaded, ‘coldness’.
Still bent on spreading Christianity, and undeterred (or perhaps ignorant) of the scepticism with which his reports in the Intelligencer had been met back in Europe (popular opinion back in Europe, which was influenced largely by armchair academics such as WD Cooley, refused to believe that there could be snow on the African equator – even though they knew of the existence of snow on the equator in South America; for a more detailed description of this controversy, see p93 of the book), Rebmann returned to Rabai-mpia but continued to visit and write about Kilimanjaro and the Chagga region for a few more years.
His second trip, made in November of the same year, was blessed by favourable weather conditions, providing Rebmann with his clearest view of Kilimanjaro, and the outside world with the most accurate and comprehensive description of the mountain that had yet been written:
There are two main peaks which arise from a common base measuring some twenty-five miles long by as many broad. They are separated by a saddle-shaped depression, running east and west for a distance of about eight or ten miles. The eastern peak is the lower of the two, and is conical in shape. The western and higher presents the appearance of a magnificent dome, and is covered with snow throughout the year, unlike its eastern neighbour, which loses its snowy mantle during the hot season.
On this second trip Rebmann was also able to correct an error made in his first account of Kilimanjaro: that the local ‘Jagga’ tribe were indeed familiar with snow and did have a name for it – that name being ‘Kibo’!
A third and much more organized expedition in April 1849 – at the same time as the account of his first visits of Kilimanjaro was rolling off the presses in Europe – enabled Rebmann, accompanied by a caravan of 30 porters (and, of course, his trusty umbrella), to ascend to such a height that he was later to boast that he had come ‘so close to the snow-line that, supposing no impassable abyss to intervene, I could have reached it in three or four hours’.
After Rebmann’s pioneering work it was the turn of his friend Krapf, now risen from his sickbed, to see the snowy mountain his friend had described in such detail. In November 1849 he visited the Ukamba district to the north of Kilimanjaro, and during a protracted stay in the area Krapf became the first white man to see Mount Kenya. Perhaps more importantly, he was also afforded wonderful views of Kilimanjaro, and was able to back up Rebmann’s assertion that the mountain really was adorned with snow.
<< History of Kilimanjaro | First attempts at the summit >>