I just returned from Eastern Africa with my 16 year old son. Most remarkable was our trip deep into the heart of Maasai country in the northern safari curcuit of Tanzania, with the particular destination of Oldonyo Lengai, the only active volcano in East Africa. I am compelled to write this review because I have not read an adequate accounting of the climbing experience. Nor will this be as climbing is largely a subjective experience, however there are objective markers that may assist others in planning your own adventure. Getting there is the first part of the 'approach' and involves maybe a 6 hour dusty drive in a four wheel vehicle beginning from an umremarkable turnoff north in the town of Mto wa Mbu, west of Arusha. One immediately enters into a vast rolling landscape increasingly less and less inhabited but dominated by Massai people and bomas. Oldonyo Lengai is located on the south western area of Lake Natron. We traveled with a tour company that I have used before(climbing Kili) website : [--] We had a climbing guide with us and still a Maasai guide was required in addition. There is great wisdom behind this requirement as well as profit for the Maasai. I was told that as far as climbing there is only one way up and down, and the particulars can only be well know by the inhabitants of the mountain. In addition is the rich spiritual signifigence of this mountain to the Maasai which others have written about and I recommend any traveler there to look into. Climbing begins in the middle of the night, as daytime climbing can be too hot, is the explanation. Depending on the time of year, night time climbing can be surprisingly cold, so be prepared. In our case, we were moderately cold and not at all during the actual vigor of climbing. This is a serious ascent, the so called path is not switchbacked and after the initial half hour very steep with increasing exposure. The second half of this climb I would describe as an exposed scramble. Hands must be used, which can be complicated if you have poles. Eventually the use of one pole was essential on the way down and of marginal use on the way up. If you don't know what scramble means in rock climbing jargon, then look it up. This is a rocky climb, steep, exposed and challenging. Our guides were magnificent in assisting us in negotiating the many difficult patches. Being fit is a minimal requirement. Most noteworthy was that almost 500 ft, rock face at a very steep and exposed pitch in the final ascent to the summit rim. We climbed in the full moon light so I am not imagining the exposure or steepness of this patch. As challenging as the way up is, I can assure you that going down is much more challenging. With the recent eruptive activity there, traversing the summit is not advised except with a Massai guide who knows the area, which changes daily. The altitude is a factor, expecially for my 16 year old son, who pushed slowly through it. The ascent took us about 6 hours and decent about 4. The rating of this experience is determined by the expertise of my tour company, the magnificence of our Maasai guide working in tandem with our own, the beauty of the country and the cultural richness the sacred site we were allowed to be on.
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