Trekking the Great Rift Valley in the shadow of Ol Doinyo Lengai
Photo: Thomson Safaris guests, Resa Gray & Andrew Parella
In Maa, the Maasai language, Kilimanjaro is known as Ol Doinyo Oibor, or “The White Mountain.”
But there’s a much more imposing-sounding mountain located just a little further along the Great Rift Valley: Ol Doinyo Lengai, or “The Mountain of God.”
That name might have something to do with Ol Doinyo Lengai’s frequent eruptions. An active stratovolcano, Ol Doinyo Lengai is unique not only in the region, but in the world.
While most volcanos spew forth familiar glowing-red magma, Ol Doinyo Lengai is a carbonatite volcano, one whose lava has a completely different chemical structure. Thinner and more liquid than lavas with higher silicate content, lava from Ol Doinyo Lengai and volcanos like it actually appears black in the sunlight. Unstable in the surface atmosphere of the earth, the flows weather rapidly, quickly turning from black to grey.
The carbonatite lava of Ol Doinyo Lengai
By Thomas Kraft, Kufstein,Tomkraft at de.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons
The lava’s makeup also means that it erupts at temperatures as low as 950° F. That may sound hot to you, but for most volcanos, it’s not even a simmer; some volcanic magma reaches temperatures as high as about 2200° F before erupting. The low ‘boiling’ point also means Ol Doinyo Lengai erupts frequently; in the last hundred years, Ol Doinyo Lengai has erupted well over a dozen times!
Ol Doinyo Lengai is the only active volcano with this unique, strange type of lava, and is in fact the only volcano of this type to have erupted in recorded history.
Whether or not that makes the mountain godlike is debatable, but it certainly makes it worth a trip!