3000m elevation change in 24 hrs – my hike to Nyiragongo volcano in the DRC

I am proud to say that I have taken my limited hiking experience to the next level by conquering (and sleeping on top of) Mount Nyarigongo, an active volcano with a lava lake in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As always, I kept my knowledge of the hike details as limited as possible but this is what I did know before I started my hike – DRC is rarely included in your travel insurance, Nyiragongo has become more and more active in the past few months with a new vent opening in March, it is zero degrees on top and I can’t remember what being cold feels like anymore.

DRC and Goma

DRC has a big UN presence and we saw a lot of peace keeping trucks along our way through Goma. It was interesting to see just how different DRC was from Rwanda – loud music playing in the streets, green plastic bags on house doors to signify that local beer can be purchased there and wooden houses decorated with intricate carving work – I loved it!

The hike stats

Our hike started at 1,994m elevation and ended at 3,470m elevation, which means we experienced a 3,000m elevation change in 24 hours. The trek was 8 km in length and took us roughly 6 hours to get to the top and 4.5 hours to walk down the next day.

The trek was split into 4 chunks – first 2.5 km through the woods on wet earth, next 1km on volcanic gravel, then 1km on smooth volcanic rock and the final bang – 3.5 km with roughly 1,000m elevation on slippery sleets of volcanic rock (the last 25 minutes was extra special as it started pouring down and the ‘path’ was literally vertical!).

We carried our own clothes but had two porters carry our food and water, sleeping bags and charcoal for the fire up top.

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The lava lake

Of course all of it was completely worth it once we reached the top, panting and freezing cold. We quickly changed clothes (two layers of trousers, top, hoodie, rain coat, scarf – and I was mildly comfortable…) and hurried to the crater. The view was amazing – a bubbling sizzling lava lake that smelled like rotten eggs and sounded like the sea – we were all mesmerised!

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The night on top

Our home for the night was a ‘chalet’ – a metal tent like construction with a mattress and sleeping bag inside. The toilet… was a rope climb down the volcano on top of a cliff edge – breath taking views and definitely worthy of a ‘Top 10 toilets with views’ badge!

Our porter made us a fire and we had other travellers join us, sharing champagne and caviar (!!!), quiche and whiskey and a few tunes on the harmonica. It was a perfect evening on top of the volcano with the lava lake glowing in the background.

The morning after and the climb down

A 5 am wake up call, another rope climb to the toilet and a mist blanket so thick you couldn’t see two metres away was what awaited us in the morning.

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And then there was the climb down… and it was bad!

I now know what it feels like to be a baby deer trying to walk for the first time as that was my level of skill for the first two hours of the walk back down. I was glued to my porter, Jada, who reassured me with every single step – slowly slowly Sandra!

Half way through the toughest part of the descent he took out two candies from his pocket – one for him and one for me – he laughed and said ‘Motivation!’

The verdict

One of the coolest things I’ve ever done – the fact I was in DRC, the fact I climbed and slept on top of an active volcano, the fact I saw a lava lake, the fact that I was actually able to do it all… Makes up for the fact that I am barely able to walk today and grabbing my moto helmet from the floor this morning proved nearly impossible…

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