Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hiking Nyiragongo Volcano in Congo DRC

Nyiragongo is an active and dangerous volcano dominating the skyline of Goma. On January 17, 2002 a massive eruption destroyed more than 15% of Goma killing scores of people and leaving 120,000 homeless. The black lava rock is still there and a lot of new homes, shops and markets have been built on top of it. The lava deposits are so deep and wide that most of the area resembles a black coal mine.

Nyiragongo has erupted at least 34 times since records were started in 1884. It is related to the even more dangerous Nyamulagira Volcano (5 miles away) which is erupting at the time of writing. They are both located where the African plate is breaking apart and together account for 40% of all recorded African volcanic eruptions.

Nyiragongo is a Stratovolcano which are characterised by high cones and explosive eruptions. It is currently 3,470 metres high (11,384 feet) and some its eruptions have been continuous for more than a year at a time. The longest eruption lasted 50 years! It partly overlaps 2 older volcanoes, Baratu and Shaheru, and is surrounded by hundreds of small cinder cones caused by minor side eruptions. You can see one of the older volcanos in the first picture if you look at it carefully.

It has an active lava lake inside the crater and can sometimes be visited by tourists. I was unable to do so during my visit because of armed rebels in the area. Between guerrilla activity and volcanic instability, you definitely need to hire a qualified guide to climb and camp on the volcano. The Tour Company I used to track the Mountain Gorillas, Hakuna Matata Tours , can organise this for you and advise you of the current availability.

Nyiragongo has recorded eruptions during these years:
1884, 1891, 1894, 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1902, 1905, 1906, 1908, 1911, 1918, 1920-21, 1922-77!, 1977, 1994-96, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007-09.

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