Karl Klaus von der Decken

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1833 – 1865


Who was Karl Klaus von der Decken?

Baron Karl Klaus von der Decken was a German explorer of eastern Africa and the first European to attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Following a stint in the military, von der Decken first travelled to eastern Africa in May 1860. There he explored the region around Lake Nyasa, only a year after David Livingstone had been the first European to reach the area. The following year, von der Decken set out from Mombasa to survey the Kilimanjaro massif. During the journey inland, he met the young English geologist Richard Thornton – who had left Livingstone's Zambezi expedition – and invited him to accompany him to Kilimanjaro. When the massif loomed into view, it was the first time it had been sighted by Europeans since Johannes Rebmann had been the first European to see it in 1848.

Von der Decken and Thornton surveyed the area, accurately estimating Mount Kilimanjaro's height to be around 20,000 feet above sea level. However, when their party attempted to climb the mountain, poor weather kept them from gaining any more than a few thousand feet. On von der Decken's return the following year, this time accompanied by fellow German explorer and chemist Otto Kersten, their party's attempt to climb the mountain reached around 14,000 feet. Once again, however, deteriorating weather conditions prevented the party from climbing any higher. The expedition was not wholly in vain, however, as close observations of Kilimanjaro's snowcapped summit were made.

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Aug 8, 1833
  • Germany
Oct 2, 1865

on July 23, 2013


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