Climbing up the side of God

Lake Natron Travel Blog

 › entry 17 of 19 › view all entries
The Maasai pre-depature out our house
Here was the day we'd all been waiting for, for about 3 weeks, a chance to climb up the Maasai mountain of God, Oldoinyo L'Engai, also written Ol Donyo L'Engai and a million other ways in between, well maybe not a million.

Me and the two other volunteers, Erfan (honorary Maasai name "Morani") & Guy (honorary Maasai name "Lekishon") and myself had been wanting to do a quick trip somewhere for a while and on of our Maasai friends, Olotumi, one of the tour guides from the company I'm managing, Oreteti, suggested we make a trip to climb the mountain.

Having climbed Mount Kinabalu, and despite altitude sickness, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing so I lept at the chance. Plus there were promises of a swimming at a waterfall fed from water from the Rift Valley wall, all in all a great opportunity.
Erfan in full Maasasi get up and Guy.

We did the trip as a research & training exercise for Oreteti staff with Erfan & Guy as Oreteti staff, this meant we kept the costs down low and I was really please to be going as a group of friends. I've already mentioned the two volunteers, we also went with our Maasai mates, Olotumi, Kisoki, Loshiro & Mussa, all of whom are Oreteti guides. We found a 4x4 to hire and planned our expenses, tents, food etc.

We set off around 7am but were inevialtable delayed at places like the market etc, I think we probably managed to leave Arusha at about 9am. The drive was pretty standard, ok roads to near Mtu wa Mbu, then a really good road that veers off towards all the Western national parks. By the time we had go to Sellea village it was a dirt road and the 4x4 was essential.
The waterfall

We stopped in Engaruka Chini (i think) for more chappaties, having already had this for breakfast near the snakepark, then set off again. With a few more stops, dropping off a car battery at a Maasai friends homstead, we passed by Kisoki's fathers boma to say hi. Also a few ostrich sightings, a good luck sign in Maasai culture, we were going to need it.

The mountain began coming into view as a grey smudge on the horizen. All the other hills and mini mountains looked either pale yellow or green with plant life, but they beast we were heading towards was nothing but grey ash with huge rivers of old dried up lava flows. The terrain changed as we drove along side black God of the Maasai, it was more evidence of the areas recent volcanic past.

After ditching out stuff, we headed out to the near by Waterfall.
All of us on a walk back from the waterfall
I did the walk up stream, about 2/3km barefoot, which, thanks to some years spent in New Zealand, seem to be the best approach, meaning I wasn't slipping around in tyre shoes or flip flops. We had to cross the river a few times and in parts in went up to your thigh, but nothing to strenuous, especially compared with what was to come.

After short while we go to the the final water fall that we could easily reach, it wasn't as large as I had imagined but still very enjoyable. Had a bit of swim, slid down one bit of the waterfall and pushed the Maasai into the deeper bits of the pool, knowing that they can't swim. Myself, Erfan, Guy & Olotumi pushed a bit further upstream, behind one set of waterfalls to a very fast flowing waterfall. The water current here was very strong and at times we had to avoid being thrown onto the rocks.

After hiking back, having some dinner and few beers, we played a few games of cards at went to bed at about 8pm, convinced we were going to get any sleep. 3 hours later I was being woken up by Olotumi to get ready for the climb.

We set off in the car for the mountain side with a guard for the car in tow. The landscape in the full moon light, looked like pictures of the surface of the moon, very grey and dusty, then the striking sides of the Rift Valley wall rising out of the sun blasted landscape.

It was still warm when we start the climb, around midnight and at once I noticed how steep and difficult the ground as. The whole journey was a confusing a mix of either sleep sheer rock or disintegration ash that crumbled as you walked.
Me & Mussa

We took a few breaks every 30 minutes, but after 2 hours the climb became exceptionally difficult. Me, Erfan & Guy had taken a backpack with some water and warmer clothes, but this was far more of a hinderance than a help, especially not being able to look up properly when climbing. I'd say that it is possible for a non-climber, like me to, to do the climb, however it's very difficult step by step. About 75% of the time it's 5 steps forward 4 steps spent slipping back down the mountain. There are well worked channels that have simply crumbled into sand that we climbed up through as the alternative is far to slippy to stay stood on.

The angle was pretty extreme too. If you stood complety upright at any point then you'd likely topple off the mountain side.
Sleeping on the side of the mountain!
There were NO flat points, the best you could hope for was large rock on which to it. Infact we even took a collective nap on the side of the mountain, which I'm still amazed was possible.

The terrain went through 4 quite distinct and dramatic changes, which any vulcanologist would have found exciting, indeed even as a lay person it was interesting to witness. On one occasion the climbable path, i.e. a rocky part with a few more pebbles sticking out of it then the next, abruptly stopped with the "path" continuing off some 2 metres to the right. Trying to reach this was pretty damn scary I nearly slipped off into the black empty void at least two occasions. If I had slipped I think I would have eventually stopped but either 30 of 40 metres away, or simply after hitting the bottom of the mountain 3kms away! All in all pretty lethal.

We final reached the summit and were confronted with hell on earth. The whole peak was a mass of some sort of mineral, maybe sulphur, I don't know , that again crumbled at a touch. With the wind buffeting us, it was difficult to stand in the freezing cold and there was a constant fear of being swept off the mountain side. We rested literally on the rim of the volcano, a point about 2 or 3 feet across that afforded you some opportunity not to slip off either side. On one angle the expanse of the Lake Natron area, the rift Valley Wall and eventually the Serengeti, on the other was the grey, infrequently rummbling, maw of the volcano. There was visable cloud of gas escaping from it all times, but we didn't move from our rest point to see if there was any lava on this day.
Into the lava pit
Not being able to see the bottom I can only guess but were were about 6 feet away from where the ground dopped away.

The return journey was as tiering as the climb and it pains me even to recount it now, so I'll leave that for another day. Sufficed to say the whole execusion was an incredible and difficult adventure in something UK health & safety "professionals" cannot even fathom in their nightmares. Well worth the trouble.
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
The Maasai pre-depature out our ho…
The Maasai pre-depature out our h…
Erfan in full Maasasi get up and G…
Erfan in full Maasasi get up and …
The waterfall
The waterfall
All of us on a walk back from the …
All of us on a walk back from the…
Me & Mussa
Me & Mussa
Sleeping on the side of the mounta…
Sleeping on the side of the mount…
Into the lava pit
Into the lava pit
What there is to sit on!
What there is to sit on!
Just before descent
Just before descent
Lake Natron
photo by: cvanzoen