Ol Doinyo Lengai
Key information: Ol Doinyo Lengai
- A remarkable active volcano rising nearly 2,000m from the floor of the Great Rift Valley in northern Tanzania.
- Combine the intense experience of an active crater (rumblings and belchings of ash and gas to be expected) with magnificent views across the Rift Valley and across to the extinct remnants of the Avenue of Volcanoes, and along the Gregory's Rift escarpment toward Lake Natron.
- Climb at night to avoid furnace heat and to get the fabulous early morning views.
- This is a tough, steep scramble. Come prepared for a difficult walk and the dangers of an active volcano. Make sure you have an experienced guide. Do not attempt this walk if you are not experienced or have any liability to vertigo.
- Walkopedia rating83
- Natural interest18
- Human interest0
- Negative points5
- Total rating83
- Note: Negs: Towards the top, a very difficult, dangerous scramble (as of 2008).
- Length: 8-10 hours
- Maximum Altitude: 2.960m
- Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
Ol Doinyo Lengai, the Maasai Mountain of God, rises nearly 2,000m from the floor of the Great Rift Valley in Northern Tanzania in a steep, deeply eroded cone of pale sodium and potassium carbonates. Its flanks fall in a perfect, unbroken curve to the sweltering plains of the valley bottom. It is truly magnificent.
Geographically young, but the only active volcano in the region, it rumbles and throws up ashes and gas at its quiet times. It erupted violently from September 2007 to April 2008, sending a column of ash thousands of meters into the air and turning the hills to its west into a ghostly moonscape.
The crater changes constantly. Below its dark shattered cliffs is a huge flat pool of unique pale lava and crusty chemicals from which strange spires protrude. New ash cones are already appearing. Being there is risky: responsible guides equip climbers with a hard hat, goggles and a mask, as the produce of any moment cannot be predicted. You are next to nature at its rawest and newest. In late 2008, it was too dangerous to go into the crater itself, which had to be surveyed from its rim.
The views along the Great Rift Valley, to the other (extinct) constituents of the Avenue of Volcanoes, and over the fumeroles and blow-holes that dot the glassy plain far below, are outstanding. Lengai is a sinister, immanent presence for miles around, and it is not surprising that it has an important place in Maasai lore. Many still visit it to sacrifice and pray.
Getting up there is tough. Before the recent eruption, you scrambled agonizingly up steep, loose ash slopes from the north - one step back for every two taken but this is now deemed too dangerous as it takes you into the active crater. The best route is currently (i.e. late 2008) from the east, but this has its own dangers: while it follows a narrow ridge that perhaps offers a steadier climb, the upper reaches are very steep and now coated in a hard, brittle crust (the result of rain on the ash of the recent eruption) which, while giving a fairly good grip when climbing, is harder to descend and could reward an error with a long unstoppable slide, quite possibly ending in a fall over a cliff. It is currently a place for very experienced scramblers with a taste for risk and a head for heights. A good guide is vital, not least because the trailhead would be impossible to find without a 4WD and a knowledgeable driver.
You should climb Lengai at night, to avoid searing daytime heat and to enjoy the wondrous dawn, which is a gradual but thrilling display, as the plain far below slowly emerges from the soft darkness. A clear sky will make for marvellous stargazing during breaks.
The trail starts up a steep grassy slope onto the long ridge, which leads straight up the mountain between deeply eroded gullies on each side. While it starts with a fairly easy plod through alternating patches of long grass and ash crust, it soon becomes a steep and narrow clamber not exactly a knife edge, but at times not far off, with crisp slopes leading to drops into the invisible ravines to each side. The climb becomes uncomfortably steep at its upper reaches and you will pack away your walking sticks no use when scrambling on hands and knees.
The descent is slow and uncomfortable, half of it likely to be on your derrire, hands and heels. Take thick gloves.
WILLIAM MACKESY'S ACCOUNT
of this walk
Ol Doinyo Lengai, the Maasai Mountain of God, rises nearly 2,000m from the floor of the Great Rift Valley in Northern Tanzania in a steep, deeply eroded cone of pale sodium and potassium carbonates.
Viewed from high on Gregory's Rift, the escarpment forming the western wall of the Rift Valley, its flanks fall in a perfect, unbroken curve to the sweltering plains of the valley bottom. It is truly magnificent.
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
See also expedition planning, including our universal expedition checklist.
Walkopedia encourages responsible travel.Guidebooks/maps/background reading
Tanzania and Zanzibar - Cadogan Guides - Annabel Skinner
Tanzania - Lonely Planet Country Guide Mary FitzpatrickOther books
North of South: An African Journey - Shiva Naipaul
The Zanzibar Chest: A Memoir of Love and War - Aidan Hartley
Filosofa's Republic - Thursday Msigwa
West With The Night Beryl MarkhamMaps
Maps can be obtained locally, or on http://www.stanfords.co.uk/. There are no detailed up-to-date maps of Lengai.
Between June and early October. Beware that the rainy season (April and May) can make access unpredictable and be aware that the weather can be unpredictable late October to March although the landscape will be lusher during this period.Weather
Generally fine in season, but it gets very hot during the day. A night ascent is strongly recommended; it gets cold at night, so come prepared.
How you get to Tanzania will depend on your origin and plans. The nearest international airport is Kilimanjaro International Airport, near Arusha.
You will need a visa to enter Tanzania.
There is no public transport to the start of the Lengai trek, and the roads/tracks get very rough and would be hard to find, so a 4WD with a knowledgeable driver/guide will be necessary.
Those on organised expeditions will be transported from/to arranged start/departure points.
While there are no permits or fees required to climb Lengai, a community payment appears to be required (as of October 2008) for road access; campsite fees are payable.Route(s)
The traditional route from the north (Lake Natron) side was rendered impossible by the 2007-8 eruption.
As of October 2008, a new route has been pioneered by Thomas Holden of the excellent Nature Discovery Safaris, which follows an increasingly steep and narrow ridge straight up the mountainside. You will have to scramble up quite a way on hands and knees and shuffle gingerly down on your bum.
Beware: the interaction of ash and rain had (in October 2008) formed a thin crust above a layer of soft ash. While it provides a generally good grip, you could slide a long way if you do start to slip (which surface grit can cause). With cliffs under the upper end of the ridge, this could be disastrous.
The crater itself can be dangerous; follow your guide's instructions closely and don't try to get clever: if you are told not to go somewhere, it is for good reason.
- Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself. Be prepared for cold night time walking.
- Height and narrow slippery path: dangerous in places (2008); not for those who have difficulty with heights.
- Dangerous or unpleasant animals of all shapes and sizes, including snakes, stinging/biting insects and plants. Take all appropriate precautions.
- This is a remote country: Help will be hard to get if things go wrong.
- Health risks: This is a relatively under developed country and you will not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. There are many potential problems, including malaria. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to Important information for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.Guided or independent?
An experienced guide is essential if you are to find your way up and down in one piece. If making arrangements locally, take care to check out the proposed guide's experience and communication skills. We met a group who discovered their guide had never been up the current (2008) route.
Expedition organisers include:
- Natural High Safaris http://www.naturalhighsafaris.com/ - we used them for our 2008 Tanzania trip and were delighted. Not cheap (nowhere is) but reasonable value.
- Tropical Trails http://www.tropicaltrails.com/ is a local operator.
- Klub Afriko Safaris http://www.klubafriko.com/
- Gametrackers (K) Ltd http://www.gametrackersafaris.com/
- Abacus African Vacations http://www.abacusvacations.com/
- Walks Worldwide http://www.walksworldwide.com/
- Capello Adventures and Safaris - http://www.cappelloadventures.com/
It appears that many reputable organizers have dropped Lengai from their itineraries, presumably as a result of the recent eruptions affecting routes and safety.Accommodation
There is no serious accommodation in the vicinity, so some form of camping will be necessary if you are staying in the area.
Make sure your guide is experienced.
Tip your guide generously if he/she looks after you well.
There are many websites with information on this walk. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
- http://www.wikipedia.org/ Ol Doinyo Lengai (Tanzania)
- Mts Kilimanjaro, Meru and the lesser known Hanang.
- Empakaai Crater, and Empakaai to Natron trek.
- A new trail on the rim of the caldera of Ngurdoto Crater.
- Udzungwa Mountains National Park is tough but beautiful.
- Walking safaris (within a day or, better still, overnight) are the best way to experience the reality of "nature red in tooth and claw". This can be the only option in some of the southern national parks, but it is not allowed within the northern ones. However, superb treks can be made outside the national parks.
- Boating safaris
- Riding safaris
- Driving safaris
Shopping, if you must
We are not a shopping website. But, anything bought from local people must be of some help to this desperately poor area. So, wallets out but try to avoid the more obvious rip-offs and big tourist-focussed set-ups.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
Responsible travel matters, a lot. How you travel will make a real difference - for better or worse. PLEASE consider this when making plans. Read more