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2008 Expedition

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Saved by Frederick Belton
on December 23, 2010 at 6:23:46 pm

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, Jasper 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.







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