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Home / National Parks / Oldoinyo Lengai

Oldoinyo Lengai

Oldoinyo Lengai Map   Oldoinyo Lengai (pronounced ol doyn-yo len-guy) is an active volcano in the Eastern Rift Valley, and it is home to the Masai God Eng'ai, who signals her wrath with eruptions and drought. The name means 'Mountain of God' in the language of the Masai people who inhabit this area. Oldoinyo Lengai is of particular interest to geologists because it is the world's only active volcano that erupts natrocarbonatite lava.

It is also the only active volcano in this part of the East African Rift Valley, though there are many older extinct volcanoes in this region. Oldoinyo Lengai rises a startling 2,330 m/7,650 ft above the parched Rift Valley floor to a height of 2,886 m/9,469 ft. Referred to as the strangest volcano on Earth, Oldoinyo Lengai earns its reputation when it erupts. Unusually cool, highly fluid lava produces a whimsical world of geologic fantasies that include extrusions frozen in flight. These natrocarbonatite flows have a chemical composition akin to laundry soap, and exposed to the atmosphere, the lava quickly hardens and decays. Unlike common basalt lavas, which are sticky with silica, Lengai's lavas are mostly slick sodium carbonate with the viscosty of olive oil. Volcanic froth rich in carbon dioxide can spew into the air as liquid lava and harden in midair. Some of the big drops can form little parachutes, and look like silver flying through the air before hitting the ground with the sound of breaking glass. Lengai's Dr. Seussian formations can crumble a day after they are born, and you can judge their age by their color. Even raindrops accelerate the decomposition.

The climb up Oldoinyo Lengai is extremely strenuous, requiring a gain of 1,676 m/5,500 ft. You start the steep 6-hour climb around midnight with the goal of reaching the crater rim for sunrise. After enjoying a rest and the sunrise, you can explore the crater where you may smell sulfur, and see smoke escaping from cracks in the earth. The highpoint inside the crater is a steep eroded pinnacle left over from the violent erruption in 1966. You can scramble about halfway up this pinnacle on a ridge, but the final climb up the crumbling summit tower is not suitable for trekkers. This is the Mountain of God, and in this case, it is best to leave the active summit inviolate.

After exploring the crater, you complete your adventure by doing a 4 hour hike down the mountain's loose dirt and slippery stones.

Oldoinyo Lengai Crater. Photo: Pedro Gonnet
Cold lava
Eruption of liquid black lava Oldoinyo seen from Lake Natron

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