Week Six: Climbing Mount Nyiragongo!

        What an incredible weekend! A few weeks ago, my boss, Ian, asked me if I was interested in spending a weekend hiking Mount Nyiragongo, an active volcano in the Congo that is home to the world’s largest lava lake. He cautioned that it would be an intense, two-day trek and that it would be a long journey just to get there, but I enthusiastically accepted. Not much happened in the office this week because there were two holidays (the Fourth of July and Eid), and we took Friday off to get started on the journey to the volcano. (I guess, when your boss is the one who invites you to go on a hike, you get to take a day off from work to do the hike with him!) But, it was a truly amazing weekend adventure. 
        On Thursday night, I set off on an overnight bus to Gisenyi, Rwanda, a beautiful place on the shore of Lake Kivu. Despite the grey, dreary weather, I was immediately taken by just how beautiful Gisenyi is. 
On the beach of Lake Kivu. Gorgeous area.
        I spent Friday exploring the area, buying trail-worthy food and water for the hike, and dealing with last-minute visa paperwork. Early on Saturday morning, I set off to the border with my bag packed full of food, water, a sleeping bag, and a change of clothes, all the essentials for an overnight trek. I eventually managed to enter into Goma, Congo after dealing with myriad bureaucratic visa issues. Soon, I was inside Virunga National Park at the base of Nyiragongo and ready to begin the hike! Due to the unrest in the area, a group of about fifteen of us were required to hike together along with a couple armed Park Rangers. We did the hike up, about 11,400 feet, in five hours, and the trail alternated between jungle paths and loose volcanic rock. The heat was more intense than what I am used to, and I was soon drenched in sweat but loving every bit of it. The final stretch of the hike up did not really have switchbacks, but was simply a steep climb straight up to the top of the volcano. Admittedly, my fear of heights was kicking in as I climbed steadily higher and higher on loose volcanic rock with such a steep, long drop below me. But, I kept pushing on and up until I reached the top! As soon as my feet found more level ground on the campsite at the top, I scrambled up the final cliff to get a good look at the lava lake below. I was awe-struck.
Happy to be at the top of Nyiragongo.
        On the long journey to get there, there had been a number of occasions where I questioned why I even doing this hike. First, it had been rather difficult to sleep on the overnight bus. Then, I spent too much time dealing with frustrating visa issues just to get into the Congo. And finally, my calf muscles and fear of heights had not been happy with my decision during the final stretch of the hike. But, as soon as I laid eyes on the world’s largest lava lake, I knew that every inconvenience and discomfort I had gone through to get there was absolutely worth it. A group of us assembled on top of that cliff and had an epic dance party while we marveled at just how powerful nature is. 
The view of the lava lake at night was particularly striking.
        Perhaps more importantly than seeing lava, it was also wonderful to make new friends on the trail. I spent the night on top of the volcano and had some fascinating conversations with the Congolese Park Rangers and fellow hikers from all over the world. Considering it hadn’t exactly occurred to me to bring my cold-weather hiking gear with me when I set out to spend my summer in Uganda, I practically froze that night. But again, it was worth it! You can do a lot of bonding with new people when you’re all sweaty, dirty, freezing, tired, and dancing your heart out while camping overnight on top of a volcano.
     The next morning, I woke up early to watch the sunrise over the volcano and could not believe how lucky I was to even be there, witnessing such a spectacular sight. I then made good time down the volcano and finished the hike in about four hours, only to be hit with a sudden pang of sadness that it was now over. 
The sunrise on the top of Mt. Nyiragongo. Wow, just wow. See that mountain in the distance that the sun is rising over? According to the Congolese Park Rangers, no one has ever climbed it.
        I will always carry the memories of this fantastic hike with me. I am very thankful that I had the opportunity to see both Gisenyi and Goma, as well as scale Mount Nyiragongo. What amazing parts of the world!