In distance I could see the cabin where we would be staying for the night. I was gasping for air, which wasn't easy at 3200 meter altitudes. Our group just past the 4th resting place.
Just 200 meters to climb to the top of the volcano. There was not really a path and it was really steep with loose lava rocks. 'I have to make it!' I told myself. 'Just a few more meters.' Slowly and step by step I saw the cabins coming closer. Finally, finally I reached the top of volcano Nyiragongo! 4.45 hours climbing, and I did it! The start is at Kibati station at 1984 meters to reach the top at 3470 meters. More or less, an 8 kilometer hike uphill.
Nyiragongo is an active volcano set in the Virunga national park in Democratic Republic Congo.
In 2002 Nyiragongo volcano erupted. The city of Goma and a part of the East Virunga province have been destroyed. Over 200.000 people were left homeless. Nowadays you still can see marks of this eruption. Thick lava layers and lava stones are left on the streets, homes and roads are build on top of it.
At 10.30 I started the climb of the volcano with 2 Swiss woman, Dominique and Genevieve. Two 64 years woman and both very fit! 3 guys from London, Matt, Simon and Tim and 2 man from South Africa and Kenya which came to visit the volcano for a business project.
We got 2 armed security guides from Virunga national park. All of us hired a porter to carry our luggage. In a long line we started the trekking.
The first leg took about 1.15 hours, relativity flat, in a Forrest. The Forrest was warm and damp. As soon as we finished the first break, it start raining heavily. I put my poncho and rain jacket on. But it didn't really help. The 2nd leg was more difficult. The path was getting steeper and this path had loose lava rocks which were not easy to walk as they intent to roll away. We skipped the next rest stop, due to rainfall. At the third leg it still rained, but the air seems to clear a little. We drank some water, which is important on this altitude. It can avoid altitude sickness.
Finally, after 2 hours it stopped raining. Getting to the 4th rest point wasn't easy. The route was steep and I had problems with breathing. Between the 3th and 4th rest stops there are no real breaks and I definitely could use one. I just slowed down even more, which helped me to get up to the last rest stop. I took it really slow and was at the back of the line at all times.
The view from the 4th rest stop was breath taking!
Only one leg and we were done!
Finally, we reached the cabins. I changed to my warm clothes. And soon I got to the edge of the crater. Some clouds gathered in the crater, but I could see the lava lake! How nice! We made some pics and I just walked around a bit. The 2 man from Africa where in the cabin with the chef cook. It seems warm in there and I could also sit inside. At this altitude it could get chilly so the warmth was welcome. My shoes were not as waterproof as promised, but only a bit rain sipped trough. I could dry my socks at the stove and I got offered a tea to warm up.
The cooked prepared a meal, but as this price was a little steep for me I took my own food. I got hot water for my soup and I ate tuna cheese sandwich. I wasn't really hungry, but I got a meal from the cook anyway. I told him I didn't pay, but that was just a nice gesture from him. How friendly!
As soon as we finished the air cleared and when the sun started setting the lava makes was st its best. The lava was glowing, smoke curled up in the air. There was a small eruption next to the lava lake. It looked like a volcano itself. I stayed at the crater for a long time as I could handle the cold.
It was too beautiful. The lava kept moving and glowing. After a few hours, I needed to go to bed. The mattress in the cabin wasn't too comfortable and my sleeping bag wasn't warm enough. I wore 3 layers of pants and 5 layers of tops. And still cold! I also needed to pee a lot. The toilet was a little further down the mountain, but they made a stair to make it more easy to get down and up.
In fact; every day local workers get up the volcano to do cleaning and maintenance work. Each time they make little improvements.
The next morning after a few light sleep I got up and watched the lava lake again. The small eruption on the side was gone. But with the sun rising, i sill enjoyed it a lot.
Again I ate my tuna sandwich and Snickers for energies.
The decent was very steep. My porter jimmy had to help me prevent from falling down. At every stage we made a stop to catch our breath. The air was clear with a cloud now and then. We could see all the way to Goma and the views were amazing!
In 3,5 hours we finally were back at the starting point. It was a little chaotic then with people paying and tipping their porters and guides. Richard, my driver for the last days was waiting fir me. I packed my backpack and Richard brought me to the border of Rwanda. Barack was waiting for me and soon I sat down at the bus to Uganda.
What to bring?
1. Rain gear
2. Change of warm clothes to prevent from hypothermia
3. Good pair of hiking shoes
4. Minimum of 3 liters of water and food
5. Head lamp, which makes it more easy at night if you need the toilet
6. Sleeping bag
The permit is $300 to climb the volcano. You can get a package with a porter, food and warm gear for $100. I saved some money here ad I bought some food in the supermarket. The porter was $24. I got a sleeping back from my tour agent.
The visa for Congo cost $100 which your tour agent can arrange for you. My tour agent was Congo discover safari. Barack Nari, the owner of the company arranged all my permits for the gorilla and volcano and private transport to get there. I could choose budget accommodation in Goma which was a nice guesthouse for $35 per night.
If you fly in and out from Uganda, like I did you need a visa as well. Get a regular visa on arrival. The Eastern Africa visa will not be valid after you enter Congo.
A regular visa cost $50
For Rwanda you can get a transfer visa if you only intent to stay a maximum of 3 days. This cost $30.
For my visit to DRC I arranged all my permits, transport and accommodation with Congo Discovery Safaris. Barack Nari, the owner of the company made my trip safe and all the arrangements were well organized.
You can arrange this trip together with a visit to the mountain gorillas in Virunga national park.
NOTE: DRC has a turbulent history with complicated civil wars. Untill now this country has still a high risk mark for travelers. Check internet for a updated information about DRC.