Since the largest lava lake in the world was within Virunga National Park (where we communed with the gorillas), we figured we might as well hike up to it. We started at 6,560 ft elevation and climbed to 11,385 ft over 4.25 miles. Our track was essentially straight up. They estimate that it will take you 4-6 hours to reach the summit, and we were confident that after all our training throughout May, we would complete it on the shorter end of the estimate. However, an older couple in our group caused us to complete the hike in a little over 5 hours. To be honest, we were the only 2 tourists in our group. :)
We were extremely lucky with the weather, as we didn’t get rained on during the climb (and the descent), as this is a common occurrence. This was my worst nightmare, as I HATE being cold and wet.
There were 4 rest stops along the way, and the climbing and pitch became progressively harder, the closer we got to the summit. I was able to take medication to avoid altitude sickness, but Steve is allergic to it, so couldn’t. Since he didn’t have any troubles when we were hiking the Andes in Peru, we didn’t think we’d have much difficulty with this. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to acclimatize like we did in the Andes. Our pace up the mountain felt glacial at times, but we just kept putting “one foot in front of the other”. About 2 hours in, Steve started feeling cramping in his legs, that progressed to full on cramps in his thighs and near muscle exhaustion. We would walk up about 5 minutes, then rest 2-3, then continue on. (we had porters carrying our bags, water, camera, lens and tripod, but Steve had his usual backpack on for our water and jackets.) I borrowed his phone to take a quick picture of the terrain, and the path. Loose volcanic rock (scree) is the pits to walk on - up or down.
When we got to the fourth (and last) rest stop, Steve called for a longer break.
That was Adolph, our lead guide/park ranger, who kept us safe, along with the 5-6 other armed guards who accompanied us up the mountain.
This was our goal - the huts at the summit:
…and then up close:
The far hut pictured was the kitchen hut, which even though having the open side, was thankfully warm from the charcoal fire in the decrepit metal brazier over which our amazingly tasty dinner of steaks (!), vegetable medley and potatoes was cooked.
Ok, ok… pictures of this “world famous” lava lake…
Our first views were during day light, and were quite breath-taking, but nothing compared to after dark.
The caldera (that forms the crater around the central lava lake) is 1.2 km across, and we had great views when we first arrived.
But it was after dark when the real show began. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and starting to sprinkle after dinner, so I gave up after 1/2 hour of waiting for it to clear, hoping that before sunrise, it would clear up enough to get some good shots—which it did:
On our way down, Steve took this reminder shot of where we’d been. Our thighs are still screaming at us, 36 hours later.
Next stop - safari in Tanzania, where we may not have Internet, so you may not hear from me until July.