The most glorious views of Kilimanjaro are often on clear mornings during the rainy season. At these moments, when the dust in the air has been washed away and the clouds separate, the whole mountain seems to glow in the sky. Heavy rain often falls on the upper slopes in the form of snow, leaving a thick white topping and creating the impression that all is well with the atmosphere. It is of course an illusion: the glaciers are melting. The solid 10,000-year-old ice that rests on the peaks and once smothered the mountain with an icecap more than 20km across, has been steadily disappearing since Kilimanjaro was first seen by outsiders, and glaciers now cover only about one-tenth of the area they did when German geographer Hans Meyer made the first ascent of the peak in 1889. From the late nineteenth century until the 1980s, the melting effect was slow, reducing the ice cover by about one third over the course of the century; but another third has vanished in the last thirty years, and glaciologists now variously estimate that the mountain is likely to be ice-free at some point between 2030 and 2060.

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