This time last week I was in pain. A lot of pain. This time last week I had just descended the most active volcano in Africa.
Mt Nyiragongo lies on the outskirts of Goma, and has erupted twice in recent history: 2002 and 1977. The most recent eruption displaced 400,000 people from Goma town, left 120,000 homeless and killed 147. This volcano is not one to mess with.
The scramble to the top and the descent down were far the most challenging mountain climbs I’ve ever done. Actually, one of the very few mountain climbs I’ve done. But still, I won’t wish to inflict that pain on anyone. It was 6 hours of almost vertical climbing up, at increasingly high altitude with decreasing amount of oxygen. The summit lies at 3,470m (11,380 feet), and we trekked for 8km to reach it. That’s not only very high, but also very cold. We spent the night camping at top. I wore 7 layers of clothing, to be precise, and I was still frozen. We made a fire, but the wind was still bitter. Coming down was easier on the lungs, but descending for 4 hours with loose volcanic rock under your feet is not easy. I won’t lie in saying I was glad to reach the bottom.
The top, however, was pretty spectacular. Views of DRC stretching for miles upon miles. Stark, barren rocky top where nothing grows. The strong, frankly rather disgusting, scent (stench?) of sulphur. And then looking down into the crater. Dramatic drops into this incredible lake of bubbling lava. A sight you can only imagine from fairytales. A once in a lifetime sight (because heck, I’m never going through that painful climb again!). A sight maybe not of beauty, but certainly one of awe, and certainly a sight that makes you feel very small in comparison.
Let me finish with part of Psalm 8:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
More photos coming soon…