Tonight you have an overnight climb of Ol Doinyo Lengai.
Why this early or nocturnal ascent, you wonder?
Quite logically, the cool of these early morning hours must be exploited, because during the day the heat on the mountain would be unbearable. You have to understand, you are going to climb loose lava slopes, no tree, no bush, and even with very little grass; with this lack of shade climbing in the heat of day would be too much.
If you feel the full ascent of Ol Doinyo Lengai by the following description is too long and too hard, you can also make a partial ascent of the volcano; which in itself is worth it as you already would of climbed about 300 meters above sea level and therefore have breath taking views of the Rift Valley below you and you can enjoy the majestic sunrise. We leave it up to you to decide how high and when you return.
So about the climb; it will take about 6 to 8 hours for the ascent, you will after all climb about 1,800 meters in altitude, for the descent, around 4 to 5 hours. Although no mountaineering skills or technical climbing are required, you should be reasonably trained and comfortable with climbing at these heights, the slopes of Ol Doinyo Lengai are in fact quite steep, they have on average a gradient between 40 and 45 degrees.
As every mountain you should think about the cold winds at the summit and dress accordingly so you are warm and protected. In your day pack you should take 2 liters of water and we will pack you a lunch box and all the personal things that you need during the climb such as: mosquito repellent mosquito protection, sunglasses, sunscreen (SPF 20) and rain poncho (just in case!). Also important is a hat against the cold and the later descent into the hot sun. Mandatory are trekking poles (at least one per person), which protect your knees during ascent and descent and give you security in the exposed summit passages. (These you can get from us.) Wearing gaiters as protection against rubbish coming into your footwear is also useful. As the ascent is before sunrise in the cool night hours, a head torch is essential.
The approach to the western foot of the mountain, where your trek begins from the camp takes about half an hour (14 km!). You will be accompanied by a Maasai leader, as the “holy mountain of the Maasai” should not be attempted without a representative of this ethnic group. Even today, the Maasai bring live sacrificial offerings of goats to the mountain.
At the beginning of your ascension, the air is still cool, but it can sometimes be quite damp and humid. In the morning coolness you should gain as much height as possible. The road runs in a south-easterly direction as far to the foot of Ol Doinyo Lengai zoom until the track is impassable or too steep and eventually narrows down to a grassy path.
After you leave the vehicle, you follow the first path through tall elephant grass, which will be quite wet with dew. In the light beam of your headlamp, the ascent travels more or less straight up, which helps to rise quickly but there are no easy routes. Slowly but steadily is what we recommend and keep going if possible stopping only if you really need a break. I would not go so far as to say that the ascent of Ol Doinyo Lengai is purely a mental thing, but if it starts with the right mental attitude, you will find the climb easier.
The path becomes quite narrow at times and requires your highest concentration. The vegetation disappears as you travel higher and higher. Soon you are walking on lava, the lava lumps dissolve more often under your hiking boots on the loose ground and roll with increasing speed as bouncing balls down the mountain. Small trees with twisted trunks, which are completely withered by the last drought protrude here and there out of the ash slope. Heaped lava mounds rise above you and come into focus.
Eventually, the vegetation becomes more sparse and eventually stops altogether. Now it runs only on gravel, volcanic ash and lava ash that the volcano has ejected in its last major eruption in September 2007 and March 2008. The entire summit is covered by a layer of gray, soda ash. The last eruption ejected rocks which are broken into sharp pieces and are scattered everywhere.
The path leads you over quite narrow cooled lava flows or in lava channels in an almost direct rise inexorably upwards to the top of Ol Doinyo Lengai. Finally, the path then goes only over bare rocks and lava sand up to the crater rim. In this area you must follow the guide in single file as deep gullies reach to the side. Above you sparkle millions of stars, the Southern Cross glitters directly above the approximately 2,950-meter summit.
After half way up this final steep section, your steps becomes increasingly difficult. In parts you are a little frustrated when you slip a step back for every two steps up. Therefore, crampons would certainly not be wrong or at least very good hiking boots. In the last 200 meters finally you come to the bare rock summit, some bits it is easier to climb on all fours. Therefore, it is advisable to wear leather gloves for this last part, because the cooled lava is hard as cement and sometimes quite cracked or with sharp edges. You have to understand, the entire top is covered as if with concrete as the lava flowed out.
The lighter it is, the more you realize what you’ve committed to. The slope of the mountain will be now determined as you see where you have travelled. If you are lucky enough to climb by the light of the full moon, the scenery around you would have made rather an enchanted and magical impression.
From now you can also estimate about when sunrise will be and if you can reach the summit for it. In the end, your path swings steeply through a rock arch called “Pearly Gates” to the peak. This rock gate you see already on the march from below, so to speak, as a path in the more even-crater wall. It is the sign that you are nearly there. This final section through the rock arch to the summit takes place over a fairly narrow, Lava bridge, it is therefore not without danger. From now on it is no longer really thinking about any risks, because soon you are indeed arrived at the destination. The summit calls!! On all fours, despite the extreme slope and the signs of exhaustion.
Soon you have the redeeming smell of rotten eggs in the nose, because it signals you that you have reached the top!! The views, which you have from up here, compensated for the difficult climb. Still breathless, but happy that you summited, you make a few peaks photos of the sunrise and look for the first time properly at where you are: It is you absolutely fascinating landscape, a magnificent 360-degree panorama of a super location: a carpet of green and brown waveforms in the West, sometimes folded, then fanned again extends to the horizon; behind this crisscrossed by numerous furrows and the 300 m high ridge of the East African Escarpment.
In the southwest you can see more volcanic sites, such as Empakai the crater, the Olmoti Crater and the Ngorongoro Crater, together with the Oldeani Mountain. From this mountain, the vast Serengeti extends westward level.
You travel around the Ol Doinyo Lengai crater rim and look north and see the flat valley of Lake Natron, the blue sky reflected on its surface with the clouds. At its northern edge, already lying on the Kenyan side of the lake you can sometimes make out the Shombole mountain (1564 m). In the northeast you look at the slopes of the extinct volcano Gelai with its many flank cones. Have you caught a particularly clear day, over 100 kilometers away Mt. Meru is as visible as its big brother, Kilimanjaro on the African savannah, behind this the sun has just risen, a wonderful show !! A look down is of course very rewarding and you may see some game such as, antelopes, giraffes, baboons, zebra and Thomson gazelles.
You have earned a picnic break and a few decent sips of water. You then enter the former southern crater area, where there were many volcanic vents before the last eruption. There is now a 100-meter high cone crater which was formed, consisting mainly of cooled lava and volcanic ash. It is more or less circular and its depth is estimated at about 150 meters. Exhausted but happy you stand on the edge of this huge crater. Sometimes you can hear a loud noise coming from the Ol Doinyo Lengai crater hole. Hot steam and carbon dioxide-sulfur gases rise and it stinking and you breath away; overall it seems to be a pretty hostile environment, as if on another planet. The crater area is covered with fine white or grey ash completely dry; when you stand on it you sink several centimetres deep. Up here, there are no plants and no animals, not even insects, at least none that are apparent.
Deep inside the crater is a lava lake of pitch-black lava, which, looks like dirty waste oil. This black lava is called carbonatite lava, due to the high proportion of dissolved soda. The weathered lava flowed out upon contact with atmospheric moisture or rain water very quickly and crumbles into a snow-white powder. The steam that rises from the crater hole, spreads not only sulphur gases, but also a slightly pungent odour similar to that of ready-mixed mortar. The high rising sulphur fumes can affect your breathing so just make sure that the wind blows away from you. The total crater area is covered with white reflective streaks of deposited sodium and calcium carbonate.
Have a look at this link to see the crater http://www.volcano.si.edu/volcanoes/region02/africa_e/lengai/3405odl5.jpg . Maybe you lay on your belly to look down into the crater hole. The crater is almost exactly the color and texture of elephant skin and seems to have no bottom. It is a perfect cone, as it were, swallowed the previous summit of Lengai.
Since the Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano has an eruption temperature of 500 degree – in contrast to the normal basaltic volcanoes which have a lava temperature of 1,200 degrees – you can go right next to the crater hole, without it being too hot. The lava down in the hole has an extremely low viscosity and as soon as it is ejected, it passes over the landscape like water (and not like porridge), that is very fast flowing. Once these black lava has coming into contact with air, it stops pretty soon, it stops flowing and solidifies to form a porous rock, the already mentioned carbonatite. But even this is not very stable, but decays after a short while into white chalk dust, whose streak are everywhere to see here even in the crater area.
Lengai has erupted about 15 times within the last hundred years, and about every 6 years it can be expected to have some degree of activity. When the next will come, no one knows for sure.
After about half an hour summit rest you have to then start back soon. Since it is very hot very quickly on the mountain, the descent of the steep walls is similarly difficult and exhausting as the ascent. At first you have on the way down even a bit bottom shuffling down – please also ensures you wear appropriate clothing – the first vertical meters from the summit down here are damn steep. The main thing with the climb down the mighty Ol Doinyo Lengai, is that you have more loose volcanic scree back on bare rock beneath your shoes and can therefore easily slip and fall. Once you have left behind you all the rugged Lava on the summit area, you can speed up a little. At best you can try and emulate your Maasai guide as he jumps down the mountain like a gazelle, where he shifts his weight from one side to the other, similar to short-skiing. This type of movement will bring you good progress in the loose lava ash, but you should ensure sufficient power have in the knees or wear appropriate kneepads.
About 13 hours after you left the camp (after a partial ascent of course much earlier) you are again reaching the car, exhausted and happy to have done it and have seen the sunrise in this unique way. You’ve probably brought the hardest, longest and wildest walk of your life behind you.
A few years ago the Ol Doinyo Lengai climb was still a relatively easily climbed volcanic mountain whose slopes were covered almost to the summit with grass. But like everything in the world which are also subject to mother earth they go through extreme changes. The Lengai climb has now become higher by several meters and steeper, as well as the earlier migration pathways have filled with lava, so now we are using the ascent route had to be found from the Maasai.
At the bottom you will naturally ask you whether you would you attempt such a climb again. Many of our guests tell us quite simply: Yes. There are few places in the world that seem so out of this world; actually being on a live volcano is also a thrill in itself.