Kilimanjaro: the name itself is shrouded in mystery and magnificence. Mount Kilimanjaro is the largest free-standing mountain in the world and Africa’s highest mountain, with its snow capped Uhuru Peak looming 19,341 feet above the savannah plains like a beacon to nature’s most mind-blowing phenomena. Standing in its presence, it’s not difficult to understand why this epic three-coned stratovolcano—the Rooftop of Africa—has come to represent the compelling beauty of East Africa and a powerful life force for the native people.

Yet there is so much more to Kilimanjaro than her imperious summit. From base to peak, Mount Kilimanjaro encompasses a climatic world tour through five wholly singular ecosystems. Even before crossing into the Kilimanjaro National Park boundary, the lower cultivated foot slopes give way to a beautiful montane forest belt, rich in elusive and endangered wildlife populations, including elephant, leopard, buffalo, colobus monkeys, prolific birdlife, and the endangered Abbot’s duiker. Higher still lies the moorland zone, where a massive cover of heather is studded in giant lobelias. From there, the surreal alpine deserts of moss and lichen are the final vestiges of vegetation before arriving at the summit’s winter wonderland of snow and glacial ice.

While the origins of Kilimanjaro’s moniker remain yet unknown, the name itself has sparked droves of adventurous souls to its slopes. More than 75,000 people climb Kilimanjaro every year, attracted to its less arduous trails and fairly high summit success rate. Despite its accessibility for the average traveler, the mountain remains a considerable feat of human endurance, with approximately five days of pure climbing and less than half the amount of sea level’s breathable oxygen at the top. There are seven official trekking routes to and from Uhuru Point, the highest summit on the crater rim of the topmost Kibo volcanic cone, as well as various other more demanding mountaineering routes. No matter the path, anyone who attempts the behemoth Kili does so with the promise of standing atop the summit of Africa, the overseer of the continent.