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    Oldoinyo Lengai Updates
    August 2017
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    Rocks

    ♦ Fissures and cracks form in soft rock, and their edges are very fragile. Just because it looks solid doesn’t mean that it is.

    ♦ The solidified Carbonatite lava can collapse at any time, and may contain large volumes of hydrogen sulphide and/or carbon dioxide gases; being enveloped in a large volume of gas means that you are denied access to oxygen, and will most likely faint and fall.

    ♦ Partially collapsed sections are the most dangerous, and likely to fall at any moment.

    ♦ Fissures, caves, tunnels and cracks can be explored, but be aware of varying air quality and structural stability.

    ♦ The presence of large cracks in the summit of the mountain is extremely worrying, as they may herald the expansion of the summit due to gaseous build-up. At the very least, the lip of the active caldera should be treated as unstable; should the ridge-line crumble underneath you, it is advisable to fall outside the ash pit, as this represents the greatest chance of survival.

    ♦ Should you be unlucky enough to be ascending or descending the slope during a major landslide, the instinctive reaction is to seek protection in a crevasse or behind a large boulder, which is fine for small rockfalls.  For larger avalanches it is recommended that you attempt to ‘swim’ up the flow of the rock, despite the risk of injury, as the flow of rock and air will push you to the top of the flow, rather than bury you underneath it.

    ♦ The steepness of the slope and the looseness of the rock means that slips and falls are almost inevitable. Falling rocks can injure those below you, and climbing/descending in close proximity to another climber can mean that their slip could collide into you.  Travelling with a spacing of 5 metres allows enough time to give a warning to those below you of rocks you have released.

    Lava

    ♦ The carbonatite lava flows and eruptions are cooler than basaltic lava, and so it is possible to get closer for photographs.  This means it is easier to receive significant burns. If you are lucky enough to witness a lava flow, it is very important to wear eye protection, as bubbles and spatter hitting your face will cause considerable pain, and if there is contact with the eyes, most likely result in loss of sight to that eye. Remember, the nearest medical facility is over 12 hours away.  Encountering significant volumes of lava would most probably be fatal.

    ♦ Do not walk on any moving or glowing lava, no matter how dramatic the photograph. Stationary lava can contain a molten core that is disturbed by your body weight; the lava and super-heated steam explodes upwards, engulfing you, causing incredible pain at the very least. Fresh lava is black/muddy brown in sunlight, and retains residual heat. When Carbonatite lava is exposed to moisture, it turns grey and eventually white over a period of days to weeks. The motto of ‘If the lava is white, it’s alright; but if the lava is black, step back‘ will serve you well.

    ♦ Oldoinyo Lengai is capricious, and can vent lava at any time. At present the crater floor is inaccessible without specialist equipment, but the fissures and internal plumbing of this unique volcano are poorly understood; a vent that is releasing gas can switch to lava without warning.
    ♦ The fluidity of Carbonatite lava is greater than water; a lava flow moves faster than a human can run.

    Equipment

    ♦ Trainers are not suitable footwear for climbing Oldoinyo Lengai.  Apart from their tendency to fill up with sand and gravel, and then allow the sand to trickle out, leaving the sharp gravel behind, trainers melt at a much lower temperature than strong hiking boots. Furthermore, melting trainers would adhere themselves to the foot, turning what would be a close call into a major burn.

    ♦ In previous years the crater floor was higher, allowing expeditions to erect tents for prolonged periods in for scientific observations.  Oldoinyo Lengai appears to be in a much more active phase, and camping on the summit or south caldera should only be undertaken with a constant lava-watch.

    ♦ Oldoinyo Lengai’s eruptions are occasionally violent and explosive. The recent eruptions in 2010 were far weaker than the eruptions of 1917 and 1926, which resulted in volcanic ash being deposited about 48 kilometres away, or the 1940 eruption that deposited ash 100 kilometres away. A leading volcanologist with vast experience of Oldoinyo Lengai asserts that a large eruption is overdue.

    Wildlife

    ♦ The recent eruptions that have removed the majority of the flora from the slopes of the mountain have also relocated the majority of the wildlife.  In February 2012 the largest animal seen on the slopes was a mouse, but in the past cobras, leopards and baboons have been seen.  Baboons are common in the valley and have learned to identify humans with the presence of edible waste. If you would prefer not to be at risk of attack from baboons, it is best to take all waste home with you in sealed bags, and not to return something to your pocket half-eaten.

    Banditry

    ♦ In recent years bandit activity has died out due to improved security, but the proximity of the Kenyan border means that it cannot be ruled out.  The favorite method is for a plank studded with several long nails placed point uppermost (‘stingers’) to be thrown across the roadway at night, where it is very difficult to see, which effectively immobilises the vehicle, and may even overturn it.  The contents of the vehicle are then easy pickings, both in terms of consumer goods and potential kidnap victims. Happily, the presence of Somalian banditry has not been encountered in over eight years due to increased spot checks by immigration officials asking for passports.

    Children

    ♦ Should you wish your children to witness the wonders of Oldoinyo Lengai, it is perhaps wise to consider the fate of one of the local mountain guides who fell into lava to a mid-thigh depth whilst carrying a 20kg load; the resultant burns meant both his legs were amputated to save his life.  Guides and porters now have a maximum weight limit of 10 kg. Should a rapid evacuation be necessary, by carrying children on your shoulders and trying to out-run lava that flows faster than a river, the chances of a successful withdrawal are reduced.