Hike Ol Doinyo Lengai : East Africa’s Most Challenging One-Day Climb : Ol Doinyo Lengai is a fascinating volcano. It is the only active volcano known to erupt carbonatite lava, a sensational discovery made by scientists as recently as the 1960s: the lavas it erupts are not silica melts but natrocarbonite melts!
As a result, the temperatures of these lavas are much lower, “only” about 600 degrees Celsius, and Lengai’s lava does not emit enough light to glow during the day; only a dull reddish glow that illuminates nothing is visible at night. Also, due to its unusual chemical composition, lava is extremely fluid and behaves similarly to water, with the exception that it is black, like oil. When it cools, it quickly transforms into a whitish powder.
The current cone of the volcano was formed approximately 15,000 years ago. Historically, eruptions were moderate to minor explosive events. In addition to its intermittent explosive activity at years or decades intervals, numerous natrocarbonite lava flows have erupted from vents on the active summit crater’s floor.
The depth and morphology of the active (northern) crater have changed dramatically over time, from steep crater walls about 200 m deep in the mid-20th century to shallow platforms that mostly fill the crater. Long-term lava effusion in the summit crater began in 1983 and had mostly filled the northern crater by the turn of the century; by late 1998 and continuing today, lava had begun to overflow the crater rim.
OL DOINYO LENGAI HIKING EXPERIENCE
Ol Doinyo Lengai is an active volcano in northern Tanzania that offers a difficult night hike to fit and adventurous souls. The prize: a sunrise view of the volcano crater from its rim, as well as a breathtaking panorama of the surrounding landscape!
Climbing Mount Ol Doinyo Lengai at night in northern Tanzania’s remote savannah is an unforgettable experience. It’s also a difficult, steep climb that will reward you not only with spectacular views but also with a tremendous sense of accomplishment for completing East Africa’s most difficult one-day climb!
WHERE IS OL DOINYO LENGAI?
Ol Doinyo Lengai is located near the Great Rift Valley escarpment. So it’s at the crossroads of the highlands and the great plain below. It’s also a short distance from Lake Natron and the Ngare Sero waterfall.
HOW HIGH IS OL DOINYO LENGAI?
Mount Ol Doinyo Lengai is a large crater at the summit of an active volcano in northern Tanzania. The crater rim’s highest point is 3,188 meters (10,459 feet) above sea level.
The climb begins at an elevation of about 1,100 meters (3,600 feet). This means you have to climb two vertical kilometers to get to the top!
WHAT’S THE CLIMB LIKE?
The climb consists of a relatively straight ascent to the crater rim, followed by a lengthy descent back to the starting point. It’s a very steep climb and ascent, and it’s not for the faint of heart!
Ol Doinyo Lengai is also unusual in that it is a night climb. Only the descent is visible in daylight. As we’ll see later, this is done to avoid the hottest part of the day. Setting off around midnight adds a sense of adventure to the whole thing!
Another unique aspect of an Ol Doinyo Lengai climb is that you are at or near the summit when the sun rises. You look down into the crater mouth from the rim. Sulfur can have a strong odor. After all, this is an active volcano!
WHY DO WE CLIMB AT NIGHT?
Because Ol Doinyo Lengai is so close to the Equator, the region is extremely hot for much of the year. The temperature frequently rises above 30°C. Climbing Ol Doinyo Lengai during the day is usually too hot.
You’ll begin the hike shortly after midnight to avoid climbing in the heat. Even when there is moonlight, everyone wears headlamps to help them navigate the climb. The goal is to reach the summit before sunrise and enjoy the spectacular views provided by the rising sun!
You’ll then descend the mountain in the morning, arriving at the bottom around noon. The sunlight aids in the difficult descent. Then you’ll trot back to your lodging for a shower or swim, followed by lunch and a nap during the hottest part of the day.
HOW LONG IS THE ASCENT?
Depending on your fitness, the ascent can take anywhere from four to six hours. The descent takes roughly the same amount of time. Depending on your fitness and pace, the entire climb takes between 8 and 12 hours.
HOW HARD IS IT?
It’s hard! First and foremost, there’s the steep incline, which can be quite steep in places. This is not only exhausting on the ascent, but it can also put your nerves to the test on the descent. We recommend that you bring trekking poles with you to help you navigate certain sections.
There are also sections of the mountain that are covered in scree and volcanic ash, so some slipping and sliding is possible. To be comfortable on this hike, you must be a strong, seasoned hiker with steely nerves.
Take note that there are places on the ascent where you may choose to scramble on your hands and knees. And there will almost certainly be times when you choose to drop down onto your bum and wiggle your knees. And there will almost certainly be times when you choose to drop down onto your bum and wiggle. But don’t worry; you’ll most likely be in good company!
Of course, you’ll be climbing in the dark as well. On nights when there is no moonlight, you can only see a few feet ahead of you, or as far as your headlight can illuminate. (In some ways, this can be beneficial because you won’t get tired of looking up and seeing how far you still have to climb!)
The majority of people, however, agree that the descent is the most difficult part of the climb. This is due to the steepness as well as the scree and ash, which cause slippery footfalls.
IS IT WORTH IT?
Absolutely! The view from the rim of Lake Natron is simply breathtaking! Not only will you have an incredible view of the surrounding area, but you will also be able to peer into the volcanic crater. How often does one get the chance to do something like that?
Of course, there are times when clouds encircle the mountain or shroud the summit (mountain weather dynamics and all that). Even so, you should be able to enjoy spectacular views from other parts of the mountain, as well as views down into the crater from the rim.
Ol Doinyo Lengai is actually the only active carbonatite volcano on Earth! This is also a very remote area that few people ever get to see and appreciate. During the wet season, the surrounding landscape is blanketed in a gentle green. During the dry season, you’ll see the harsh terrain and possibly a red Lake Natron (because algae can turn the lake a deep red at times)!
CAN I DO THE HIKE ON MY OWN?
No. You can only do the climb in the company of a local Masai guide.
IS IT SAFE TO CLIMB THIS ACTIVE VOLCANO?
Both yes and no. Any mountain climb is fraught with danger. And, well, a volcano is a volcano. However, your guide will not accompany you unless the weather conditions are favorable and the volcano is not showing signs of excessive activity.
However, keep in mind that the guide is always in charge on any climb. If he feels that the weather has become dangerous or that the altitude is affecting you too much during the climb, he can call it off, and you must descend the mountain. (You will not receive a refund in this case.)
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
The cost of an Ol Doinyo Lengai climb will vary depending on where you stay, as each establishment will organize your climb and charge a different fee. The climb is actually free if you stay three or more nights at Lake Natron Camp.
You should expect to pay around US$70 for an Ol Doinyo Lengai climb if your more than two people. A solo climber is likely to cost around $100. This fee include a guide, food, and drinking water, but always double-check beforehand.
You should be aware that you may be charged for your transportation to and from the mountain. While Ol Doinyo Lengai is close to the lodging options at nearby Lake Natron, you must still drive a short distance along a bumpy dirt road. Your transportation costs could be the most expensive part of the climb. The more of you there are, the less each of you will have to pay for the vehicle.#
We also recommend bringing some cash with you to tip your guide afterward (assuming you were satisfied with the service). Tipping is customary and always appreciated in Tanzania. As a general tip, we recommend around US$10.
WHAT HIKING GEAR DO I NEED?
The following are the most important pieces of equipment for the Ol Doinyo Lengai climb:
- Hiking boots that have been worn in
- As it can get cold and windy at night, bring a warm windbreaker, gloves, and a beanie.
- A backpack to transport your food and water
- A headlamp for navigating in the dark.
- Sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen for when the sun comes up in the morning
- You may also want to bring trekking poles for assistance with certain sections of the climb.
- Also, as a safety precaution, some establishments will provide you with helmets for the climb.
WHICH IS THE BEST SEASON TO CLIMB?
Ol Doinyo Lengai can be climbed at any time of year. The volcano is located in an arid savannah region with little rain.
Because the volcano is so close to the equator, temperatures don’t vary much from month to month. Between September and March, daytime temperatures average in the twenties Celsius and regularly rise above 30°C. April is typically the wettest month.
The months of June to August are the coolest and driest, and thus the most popular for climbing Ol Doinyo Lengai.
June, July, and August are slightly cooler, with an average daily high temperature of 25°C. As a result, many people take advantage of this opportunity to climb Ol Doinyo Lengai. The nights can be cool, with an average temperature of 14°C. When you’re on the mountain, the wind can pick up, so come prepared for a cold hike that can turn into a hot hike on the way down.
What’s nice about the June-August timeframe is that you might see a red Lake Natron, which is a spectacular sight! You can find out why it turns red here.
We recommend doing the climb between January and March if you want gentle, green scenery with some flowers.
WHERE DO I STAY?
You can stay in a few lodges and luxury camps near Lake Natron and Ngare Sero village. Depending on your preferences and the size of your wallet, you can choose between budget and luxurious accommodations.
Lake Natron Camp, an eco-friendly establishment that offers glamping accommodations, is our personal recommendation. Just a few meters from your tent, you can cool off in a ribbon of the Saitoti River as it meanders towards Lake Natron.
HOW DO I GET THERE?
The drive to the base of Ol Doinyo Lengai from your accommodation near Ngare Sero village or Lake Natron will take between 30 minutes and an hour. While the volcano is only about 20 kilometers south of Lake Natron, the dirt road is in poor condition and must be taken slowly.
It takes approximately four to five hours to drive from Lake Manyara National Park in the south to Lake Natron. During the dry season, you can also drive there from the Serengeti National Park’s northern sector in the west. This drive would also take several hours.