The Leopard of Kilimanjaro

Dec 10, 2021
Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai "Ngaje Ngai," the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.

ā€“ Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro

I once had a high school teacher who constantly reminded us that passion and curiosity were more important than raw intelligence. CQ + PQ > IQ, he'd say, as shorthand for a "curiosity quotient" and "passion quotient." It was true then and is even more accurate now.

The frozen leopard near the summit of Kilimanjaro is real and surprising. These leopards usually hunt at an elevation 9,000 ft lower. The summit is uninhabitable. Hemingway started his short story, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, with an epigraph about the frozen leopard. The story itself is about Hemingway's fears about mortality and the stories he never got a chance to write. The leopard isn't even part of the story. Hemingway never answers the riddle that he started with: What was the leopard seeking at that altitude?

There's no correct answer. Some might interpret it as Hemingway's self-doubts about his ability to achieve greatness, dying before he could reach the metaphorical summit. A noble animal that lost its way and never reached the summit.

I like to look at it more optimistically. A leopard immortalized near the summit of its journey, searching for some higher meaning and following its curiosity.

We don't question what the hikers were seeking at that altitude when they snapped a photo of the frozen carcass.

A photo of the frozen leopard in 1926.