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Ol Doinyo Lengai

Mountain of the Gods
Active volcano, home to the massai gods, you can summit and look down into the lava below.
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This is what safari is all about – endless plains, endless animals and the famous migration.

There is one area of Tanzania that is often overlooked in favour of the draw of the National Parks and Safari zones is the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano.

Ol Doinyo Lengai

Found in the Eastern Rift Valley in the north of Tanzania, Ol Doinyo Lengai means “Mountain of God” in the language of the Maasai people. One of the most interesting things about Ol Doinyo Lengai is that it is the world’s only active volcano that spits out natrocarbonatite lava when it erupts. Ol Doinyo Lengai is the only active volcano in the Eastern Rift Valley and stands at approximately 2886 metres high.

The History of Ol Doinyo Lenagi

Ol Doinyo Lengai is the only active volcano in the East Rift Valley chain, but there are other volcanoes to be found there. The other volcanoes, Ngorongoro, Ketumbeine, Gelai, Shombole, Mosonik and Kerimasi are all extinct.

Composed of alkaline rocks, relatively low in silica and rich in compounds of sodium and potassium, Oldoinyo Lengai was formed by a complex sequence of events. These events included explosive eruptions of tuffs and agglomerates as well as effusive eruptions of lava. The volcano is less than 370,000 years old making it the youngest of the volcanoes in the East Rift Valley chain, however the cone that forms the present day volcano is only about 15,000 years old.

Long-term lava flow in the summit crater began back in 1983 and by late 1998 the lava had begun overflowing from the crater rim. This continues even now. As Ol Doinyo Lengai produces carbonatitie lava, the temperature of the lava is much lower than other volcanoes, around 600 degrees Celsius. What is really interesting about the lava is that it is not bright enough to glow during the day time and only glows a dull red color during the night. The lava also behaves more like water than a viscous, molten rock, due to its chemical composition, it is also black in color when in liquid form, but cools quickly and becomes a white powder.

Visiting and Climbing Ol Doinyo Lengai

Climbing Ol Doinyo Lengai is not a climb that requires any amount of training to be able to do it, however it is recommended that you are fit, strong and determined to reach the summit as it is a demanding scramble in some places and the gradient of the slop can be quite steep.

It is best to attempt to climb Ol Doinyo Lengai from the south, though if you do want a slightly more challenging climb, you can attempt it from the west. It is not recommended that you attempt the climb from the north in Kenyan territory as the path is not maintained and has grown very wild. It is also illegal to cross from Kenya to Tanzania at this point on the border.

In order to reach Ol Doinyo Lengai it is recommended that you rent a 4×4 if you plan to climb on your own or take part in one of the tours that provide experienced guides to take you up and down the volcano in safety. It is highly recommended, especially by those who have regularly climbed the volcano, that you invest in paying for a place on a commercial tour as not only do they know the area, but you will not be left stranded on the side of the volcano with no way of calling for help, plus they know the tracks well and it means you won’t find yourself having to backtrack for an hour because you have come across an impassable section of rock.

Things to take with you to climb Ol Doinyo Lengai

If you are planning on climbing Ol Doinyo Lengai, then you should be well-prepared for what you will face. Climbing an active volcano is not something that should be attempted in flip flops, shorts and t-shirts.

  • Hiking Boots – though you won’t need mountaineering or rock climbing boots, hiking boots that are comfortable and supportive are essential. They should also be in a good state of repair. Your favourite pair of old and worn out boots that you just can’t bear to part with will not protect your feet on the climb.
  • Long Trousers over Shorts – As it will get hot as you reach the summit of the volcano and long trousers may feel too hot, having your legs covered will protect them from being cut by the sharp rocks and prickly vegetation that can be found on the lower slopes of Ol Doinyo Lengai. If you have trousers that can be turned into shorts with the use of zips, these will be extremely useful in making sure you stay protected.
  • Water – Make sure you have plenty of water with you; if you are taking a Tanzania Safari tour up the volcano then they will most likely provide it for you. If you are making the trek on your own, make sure you have more than you think you will need for the climb up and back down again.
  • Sunblock – Splashing on factor 15 won’t protect your skin as you climb up Ol Doinyo Lengai, the higher you get, the more intense the solar radiation becomes and having sunblock that you apply regularly will keep your skin protected.

Other items you may want to take with you include a torch or flashlight, a space blanket, energy snacks and light food to keep your energised on the climb and a camera

Things to remember about Ol Doinyo Lengai

Though the climb up can take 4 – 6 hours and is quite tough, the descent is worse and takes just as long. If you are going to climb Ol Doinyo Lengai, then make sure that you leave plenty of time to arrive at the foot of the volcano long before night starts to fall. The thick grass and deep gullies at the foot of the volcano are not safe to be trying to feel your way around in the dark. Dusk also turns to night very quickly in Tanzania.

If you are scared of heights then climbing Ol Doinyo Lengai is not a sensible idea. There climb is exposed with steep, windy heights. If you do want to see the summit of Ol Doinyo Lengai, you can charter light aircraft from Arusha that will fly you over the volcano.

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