Oldoinyo Lengai Trek

Ol Doinyo Lengai is a volcano located in the north of Tanzania and is part of the volcanic system of the Great Rift Valley in Eastern Africa. It is located in the eastern Rift Valley, south of both Lake Natron and Kenya.

Ol Doinyo Lengai is unique in that it is the only volcano in the world that produces natrocarbonatite lava instead of a silicate one. Whereas most lavas are rich in silicate minerals, the lava of Ol Doinyo Lengai is a carbonatite. It is rich in the rare sodium and potassium carbonates, nyerereite and gregoryite. Due to this unusual composition, the lava erupts at relatively low temperatures of approximately 500-600 degrees Celsius. This temperature is so low that the molten lava appears black in sunlight, rather than having the red glow common to most lavas. It is also much more fluid than silicate lavas, often less viscous than water. The sodium and potassium carbonate minerals of the lavas formed by Ol Doinyo Lengai are unstable at the Earth’s surface and susceptible to rapid weathering, quickly turning from black to grey in color. The resulting volcanic landscape is different from any other in the world.

Ol Doinyo Lengai” means “The Mountain of God” in the language of the native Maasai. The record of eruptions on the mountain dates to 1883, and flows were also recorded between 1904 and 1910 and again between 1913 and 1915. A major eruption took place in June 1917, which resulted in volcanic ash being deposited up to 48 kilometres away.

When Ol Doinyo Lengai erupted on August 14, 1966, two geologists — J. B. Dawson and G. C. Clark — who visited the crater a week later, reported seeing “a thick column of black ash” that rose for approximately three thousand feet above the volcano and drifted away northwards towards Lake Natron. When the two climbed the cone-shaped vent, they reported seeing a continuous discharge of gas and whitish-grey ash and dust from the centre of the pit.

Volcanic activity in the mountain caused daily earth tremors in Kenya and Tanzania beginning on July 12, 2007. The latest to hit parts of Nairobi city was recorded on July 18, 2007 at 8.30pm (Kenyan Time). The strongest tremor measured 6.0 on the Richter scale. Geologists suspected that the sudden increase of tremors was indicative of the movement of magma through the Ol Doinyo Lengai. The volcano finally erupted on September 4, 2007, sending a plume of ash and steam at least 18 kilometers downwind and covering the north and west flanks in fresh lava flows. The eruption has continued intermittently into 2008, as of the end of February it was reported that the eruption appeared to be gathering strength, with a major outburst taking place on March 5. During April periods of inactivity have been followed by eruptions on April 8 and 17. Eruptive activity continued until late August 2008. A visit to the summit in September 2008 discovered that lava emission had resumed from two vents in the floor of the new crater. Visits to the crater in March/April 2009 showed that even this activity appears to have ceased.

A typical Oldoinyo Lengai Trek itinerary can be seen here


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