The Great Rift Valley is a huge geological fault in East Africa, which runs through Kenya into Tanzania. The valley floor of the rift, which is deepest north of Nairobi, has lakes, mountains and even dormant volcanoes.
Mountaineering was popular at school in Nairobi, where I grew up, but it was out of bounds for juniors like us. Nevertheless, Mount Longonot, a young, extinct volcano located in the Valley, was one of my favourite haunts during school.
I remember my first visit to the dormant crater. Getting up to the rim, 750 metres from the valley floor, was an easy climb that took a couple of hours. The view from the top — almost 9,000 feet above sea level — was spectacular. A lone tree stood at the rim.
The crater looked mysterious and forbidding. Clouds of steam wafted from below at short intervals. It was too tempting. We had not heard of anyone attempting it before, but we decided to descend into the crater.
Down the slippery slope
The descent was steep and the wall of the crater that was mostly made of loose, solidified ash gave way under our weight. Unable to find solid footholds, we were suddenly slithering down rapidly. We came to a sudden halt just short of the edge of an overhang, narrowly escaping a nasty fall. We had reached the floor of the crater that was covered with dense bushes and scrub.
Suddenly, we were coughing and retching. An acrid smell burned our nostrils and a nauseating stench filled our lungs. The air was hot and humid. We wanted water but didn’t have any.
We spotted steam pouring out of geothermal fissures in the ground. A thick layer of sticky, sulfurous material coated all the rocks nearby. We were sweating heavily and losing water. Shabbir, the youngest of our group, was collapsing due to the oppressive heat. We looked for a suitable spot to climb out. Progress was slow: the soft earth crumbled under our feet and we only uprooted grass each time we tried to haul ourselves up. Almost two hours later, we clawed our way back to the crater rim, exhausted and dehydrated.
Mountaineering is fun, provided you are trained and well equipped. Ropes are crucial — especially if you are climbing up mountains or going down dead volcanoes — and water is priceless.
On the next trip six months later, we were equipped with ropes, hooks, gloves, dust-proof goggles, jungle knives and plenty of water. We also took tins of baked beans that we heated in the hot pools. The treetop on the rim acted as an anchor while we rappelled down carefully into the crater for a few hours. The right equipment and technique helped us avoid nasty accidents.
Try adventures only if you are well prepared. Arm yourself with knowledge and equipment to make your experience a memorable one.
Mike Pandey is a wildlife filmmaker and conservationist.