The only active volcano left in East Africa, Oldo inyo Lengai (or Oldonyo L’engai) is a sacred site for the Maasai who make pilgrimages to the mountain to pray for rain, cattle and barren women offer sacrifices in the hope that En’gai (God) will grant them children.
Oldo inyo Lengai is a volcano with a difference: the lowest temperature lava, at 500 deg Centigrade, is dark grey (with a consistency almost like cement) which quickly cools when exposed to air and sets to a lighter grey. The volcano is 2889m high (7,650ft), and can be scaled in 7-10 hours.
For the ultimate thrill and a great adrenaline rush, trek to the summit of Oldo-inyo-Lengai. The crater summit is awesome, almost lunar like with huge hornitos nursing boiling cauldrons of lava waiting to burst forth into gushing rivers of flowing dark grey.
Summiting the volcano to the lunar-like crater and frequently erupting lava vents is like no other experience on earth! Oldo inyo Lengai is the world’s most unique volcano, with frequent bursts of dark grey natrocarbonatite lava flows at temperatures of about 500 °C (unlike the red hot appearance of normal basalt lava which is around double this temperature). For those lucky enough to photograph volcanic eruptions at night, the sight is nothing short of spectacular. During the day, lava flows like rivers of molten chocolate – the viscosity is the lowest possible (similar to olive oil).
Treks begin at midnight, when it is cool, and takes around 7-10 hours to the summit. Not for the faint-hearted, the mountain is steep with deep ravines running on either side of the path to the summit, and a 200m steep concrete-like wall just before you reach the floor of the active crater with its awesome bubbling hornitos and spectacular geological extrusions formed from rapidly cooling lava bursts. The steep walls of the conical volcano appear white because of the cooled natrocarbonatite lava that hardens to form a concrete like brittle substance, giving it a glacial-like appearance. The trek is non-technical, but climbers are warned to be extra vigilant especially on the crater floor in view of the fragile hornitos that nurse melting pots of molten lava waiting to explode.
The Maasai hold Oldo inyo Lengai in high esteem and is a revered place of worship and sacrifice. Barren women will sacrifice a goat through “windows” in the mountain where En’gai (God) will accept the gift and grant the woman a child. The Maasai also pay homage to Lengai in times of drought and for protection of their cattle.
For those seeking the ultimate challenge, this active volcano in Northern Tanzania is the epitome of adrenaline-pumping adventure, offering as a reward sights greater than anything on earth.