THE SUMMIT of Everest, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, will remain beyond the grasp of most mere mortals until the day they hook up a cable-car to the top, which isn't likely to happen in the lifetime of anybody reading this.

Fortunately, though, there's Kilimanjaro. The highest mountain on the African continent, it's one of the world's few really tall peaks which can be climbed without any technical expertise. Its 19,342-foot high summit can be conquered in a few days by any reasonably fit person with a bit of enthusiasm. And there are plenty of tour operators available to help make the task as painless as possible.

It certainly ranks as one of the most extreme walking holidays you'll find: for the lower reaches, you'll need a sunhat; a few days later, in the upper reaches of the mountain where temperatures can drop as low as -10C, a set of thermal underwear is in order. Many trekkers also have to deal with altitude sickness. However, people are accompanied by experienced guides and porters.

Kilimanjaro Adventure Travel offers a number of trips in east Africa, including hikes up two different routes. The first involves a start in the early hours of the morning, which allows climbers to reach the summit by sunrise.

Africa Park East goes one better and is offering people the opportunity to summit Kilimanjaro on 1 January 2000. There is, however, a catch: the round-trip (from the US) comes with a price-tag of $8,000.

Terra Ferma offers similar packages but with a week-long follow-up trip to Zanzibar; a chance, they say ironically, to recover from the gruelling Kilimanjaro experience. And what a way to embrace the extremes of Africa; from arctic to tropical conditions in a few days and a few hundred miles.

n Kilimanjaro Adventure Travel

n Africa Park East

n Terra Ferma