Oldoinyo Lengai or Mountain of God is in Tanzania. This is a hike that was scheduled for the month of June. I got to learn about Oldoinyo Lengai through my search for new and exciting mountains that we can slay. I heard a little bit about it when we were in Arusha in 2016 tackling Mt. Meru. The person who told us about it put it very simply, ‘After you climb Oldoinyo Lengai, then then we can have a conversation about mountains’ I did not understand where he was coming from seeing that we had successfully climbed Mt. Kenya, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Meru, Mt. Elgon and many other mountains and hills in between. His words came back to me when I was reviewing the hike.
We left Nairobi on 16th June at 8:00 am. We were 9 very excited and able slayers, ready to tackle whatever lay before us. The team comprised of people who have slayed at least one BIG mountain so I was not too concerned about their fitness or tackling the mountain. My mind was set on the cool waterfalls after the hike. There is just something so refreshing about swimming in natural water that cannot be compared to swimming in a pool. We arrived at the Namanga border at about 10:30 am and quickly and uneventfully cleared with all border requirements before we started to wait for our transport. The arrangement was that we would be picked up from the border and transferred to our camp at the base of Oldoinyo Lengai. After having hiked numerous times in different locations we have come to realize that sometimes things are beyond your control and the best that you can do is to simply let things unfold as they are meant to. We sat at the border for close to 4 hours as we waited for the land cruisers to come and pick us up. Never a dull moment when with the slayers, we found a restaurant where we settled down for lunch and some refreshments while we waited. Eventually the transport came and we happily climbed into the land cruisers and started our journey. Now, Oldoinyo Lengai is a good 4 hour drive from Namanga so by the time we were getting to our camp it was about 8:30pm. The initial plan was to get to camp in good time, rest up and be up and ready for the summit attempt at 11:00pm. Arriving at the camp at 8:30pm already meant that we were running behind schedule. One good thing about arriving at the camp late is that we were upgraded into the bandas (very beautiful rustic accommodation) instead of the tents that we were meant to sleep in. After washing the dirt and dust from the safari off, we had our dinner and by the time the guides came to talk to us at 10:30pm and give us the brief, they were already talking about pushing the trek to the next night to give us enough time to rest. However we were too syked up and we decided to stick to the plan as it was initially outlined. That meant that we would not be sleeping but changing into our hiking clothes and heading to the base of the mountain to start the trek. Everyone was ready and in the land cruisers in the agreed 30 minutes. We set off at exactly 11:20pm and after a 1 hour drive we were at the base of the mountain. After checking that everyone was okay and saying a prayer, we started our trek up the mountain. Now unlike any other trek, Oldoinyo Lengai is uphill all the way. No plateaus and no descents. It is simply uphill all the way.
Given the fact that we had left Nairobi on Friday at 8:00am and possibly woken up by 5:00am at the very latest to get ready for the trip, we were starting our journey on no sleep at all. The pace we set was good and everyone seemed to be up to the task. The guides were impressed by the stamina of the group as we kept a consistent pace and no one fell out of the single file that we were walking in. We go to the first break point, 2hours after starting off, took sips of water and Weetabix energy bars, chatted a little bit and continued walking. Little did we know what lay ahead of us. Less than 10 minutes later a number of people had succumbed to doing the spider walk. Dropping down on all fours in order to use their hands to propel them up. Eventually we go to half way point where the incline took a dramatic shift and that had the rest of us get down on all fours to scramble up the mountain. What exactly had we gotten ourselves into? The scrambling slowed our pace down immensely and we were basically moving at a snail’s pace. The sun started to lighten up and we knew that we would not make it to the summit before day break. Once the skies cleared up we were able to look around at our amazing surroundings and see just what lay ahead of us and how far we had come. The first glance I took behind shocked me. How had we covered all that ground at an almost 70degree incline? What lay ahead looked like it was short and manageable. The one thing that I have learnt is that any summit that is done in the night is done so for a very good reason. No way would we have attempted that madness had we seen it in broad daylight. There was still banter among the slayers and this in itself was amazing given the fact that we had long crossed the 24hour mark of being awake.
The first sign that the summit was going to remain elusive to us is when our lead guide fell asleep. Yes, he literally fell asleep upright. I advised him to just lie down and sleep and allow us to keep moving seeing that he was more of a danger than a help to any of us. We continued the ascent but then the fatigue started to hit us. At some point I started to notice that the team members, although committed to the task ahead, were not in the best shape. One person was speaking gibberish, another person was favouring one of her legs, and another was hanging onto one of the other guides to get her moving upwards. This is the point where as the expedition leader you need to take charge and do what is best for the entire team. While we sat 1 hour away from the ‘heavenly gates’ two ladies were making their way down from the summit and they shouted out encouragement to us that we were about to get to the peak, however we needed to be alert for a sharper incline. In my mind I was like, ‘What can be sharper than this? We are already on all fours and there are loose rocks hurtling down the mountain putting the hikers below in danger!’ That was the point where I knew that we were done trying to get to the summit and called off the ascent. Everyone looked relieved and agreed without any resistance. Immediately the decision was made, we all started to say how we were literally at our end and were just pushing on so as to support the group. The time was 8:00am, we were an hour away from the summit and were time barred-when the sun comes out on the Mountain of God it holds nothing back!
We started our descent after drinking water and eating some energy bars at 8:30am and the slow speed at which we descended validated the decision to call off the summit attempt. Getting down is usually meant to be easier than ascending, this was not the case. We had to sit down and literally slide and slither down the mountain. Our hiking pants are a testimony to the assault that our behinds took. We were moving as a group until the point where we could not move as a group anymore. The first group back to the land cruisers (which from the top of the mountain looked like matchboxes in the distance) was at 2:00pm and the last person back made it at 7:30pm.
As one of the hikers so aptly put it, ‘I believe God lives on this mountain and we are not meant to see Him.’ I believe that with my entire being because without His guidance and presence, no way would we have made it safely off the mountain without any accidents or injuries (well, my backside was bruised from slithering down the mountain).
Was it worth it? Yes! Yes! Yes! The views from the mountain are like no other. The rugged Ngorongoro crater right behind us, Lake Natron to our right, the mountain is beautiful. It also humbled us. Yes we have successfully climbed numerous mountains which are higher and take more days to tackle, but this seemingly nondescript mountain showed us the following;
- Never underestimate anyone or anything
- Always be aware of yourself and your limits
- Hiking without having slept is not a good idea (Hehehehe)
- When online reviews say a hike or trip is highly discouraged, take their word for it!
The team of slayers on this trip was perfect. The group synergy and effort was amazing. I always believe that whoever shows up for a hike is meant to be there. This group of 9 were meant to be there. Their never-say-die spirit was what was needed to attempt Oldoinyo Lengai.
We eventually made it back to camp where we were served breakfast, lunch and dinner all at once (because they had been expecting us back from breakfast time!) and settled in for a well deserved night of rest. Of course a hike cannot be complete without birthday cake from Valentine’s Cake House! The cake crossed the border; it was carried upside down, like a briefcase but was still yummy and fresh to eat! The waterfalls were not meant to be experienced on this trip, and that is fine, but Lake Natron made up for that. It is the breeding ground for more than 70% of the flamingo population in the world.
We made it back to the border and back to Nairobi in one piece and for that we are thankful. To the awesome team of slayers well done! You proved your mettle and indeed you made this trip a success!