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2008 Expedition

Page history last edited by Frederick Belton 13 years, 6 months ago

The 2008 expedition's visit to the summit of Lengai lasted for only one hour, on the morning of June 18 from about 9:30-10:30 AM.   The first attempt to climb to Lengai's crater on June 14 was unsuccessful.  Paul Hloben, Jasper den Hertog and I planned to climb a route that begins on the SE side of Lengai and goes to the inactive south crater. The route was reached by driving east from Engare Sero for about an hour, turning right into a dry river bed and then onto a steep grassy track leading up the lower slopes of Lengai.  We began at 1:00 AM but things did not go well at all. Paul was sick to his stomach and I fell and injured my knee in the camp, to the extent that I decided not to climb that day but rather postpone my ascent by 24 hours.  Due to a dead battery and failed alternator we had to push the land rover, then the headlights failed and we proceeded by tying a flashlight onto the front bumper.  After becoming lost for a while in the dry river bed, the land rover stalled near the upper part of the grassy track and in the process of getting it started and turned around the driver backed it into a gully from which it could not be extracted.  We thought of the film "The Gods Must be Crazy" and decided that our car should also be named "The Anti-Christ".  Paul, Jasper, Paulo, Mweena, and the Maasai guide Daniel started up the trail.  I planned to stay at the car and make an attempt the next morning while the driver hiked out to the road to seek help.  Shortly after starting up Lengai, the climbers encountered a puff adder on the trail.  After a few hours they returned, visibly shaken, and described as an extremely steep, dangerous and unstable mountainside where even the Maasai guide was unable to make reasonable progress.  With our car disabled, we had to walk back out to the main road and sit in the shade of a tree until finally we were picked up by a group of Europeans driving vintage land rovers in a sort of road rally.  When they stopped to pick us up, a Dutch man driving a 1956  land rover said "You know, you are REALLY in the middle of nowhere here!"After a couple days of asking about other climbing routes, Jasper had to leave.  Paul and I remained in Riverside camp at Engare Sero. We were beginning to think that we would not find a way up Lengai.  I had heard rumors of a good route being found recently by a safari company but no one seemed to know anything about it.  Finally the camp manager decided that the camp was going to meet with financial disaster if there was no usable route up Lengai, so it was decided that on June 17 a group of Maasai would attempt the normal climbing route through the Pearly Gates which has been closed due to the eruption. In January the route was inspected from above by Joerg Keller and described as "very dangerous" due to a steep hard surface with no grip.  To our surprise the Maasai managed to reach the top.  Paul and I were due to return to Arusha in the morning and I had to get to Nairobi the day after for my flight, and I felt very doubtful about having enough time to climb, given the poor state of our land rover and the remote country we had to cross. I also wondered if the climb would be worthwhile with only a very short time to stay on top. Paul finally convinced me that I had to go even if for only one minute on top, so at 1:00 AM we set out for the crater.  The relentless, grueling climb was through deep ash but it actually was not too difficult because the Maasai group of the day before had broken trail and we just followed their tracks.  Once through the Pearly Gates the scope of the changes at the top became apparent, and upon reaching the new, much higher crater rim, the sight of the vast crater that had been blasted out during the previous nine months was almost too much to fathom.  After spending about 10 minutes gasping and uttering cursewords in amazement, I walked along the south part of the crater rim, making photos, listening to indescribably strange and threatening noises coming from within the crater, shielding my eyes from the ash billowing out from the SW part of the crater, and collecting rocks.  There was no time to visit the summit or the south crater and before I knew it we were on the way down.  The thick powdery ash made the descent easier than in the past.  We were in Arusha by 7:00 PM.



Loading our supplies in Arusha



A thick ash layer covers dead elephant grass on the lower western slopes of Lengai.



Beginning at about 3:00 PM on June 12, for around 30 minutes,  Lengai erupted a series of ash-poor plumes.  The new cone is clearly seen covering the entire north crater.  This was the strongest activity witnessed from 11-18 June.



On the first attempt to climb Lengai on June 14, our land rover became stuck in a gully and could not be started due to a dead battery.  The large mountain in the background is Gelai.



Walking to the Engare Sero - Engaruka road where we hitch-hiked back to camp.



Looking down through the Pearly Gates from the new crater rim.


From left to right, Paul, Mweena, Peter, and Paulo on the crater rim.



Looking south toward the summit across the west part of the new crater. Note the light ash plume rising from the lower left.



Close-up of ground on the crater rim.  This ash surface disintegrates to powder when walked on. In other locations there are solid blocks and bombs that do not appear to be natrocarbonatite.



View of crater looking to the NW.  Note the people on the small rise to the left.



During our visit ash-poor plumes frequently erupted from the SW side of the crater, producing a light ash fall.



View toward the north where a large cavity has formed in the crater rim.


The only remaining part of the pre-eruption crater floor is this section between the summit ridge and the southern part of the new cone. This is equavalent to the "southern depression" that resulted from the 1966-1967 eruption.



This is where the original SW crater rim becomes covered by the rim of the new cone.  The red object is our Maasai guide Peter taking a rest.



View of new crater rim curving toward the original SE crater rim, which it intersects and covers up near the former east rim overflow.


Climbers pause between the Pearly Gates prior to descent.  Note the brown track where the ash layer has been disturbed.

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