Nyiragongo, Congo

1/21- 1/28/2007 by Martin Rietze

 Organisation: Tom Pfeiffer- VOLCANO DISCOVERY


in deustch

The principal purpose of the journey was the inspection of the at present largest and most active lava lake of the earth. The crater of the Nyiragongo volcano is situated in the eastern Congo for apprx. 20km north of the Lake Kivu close of the city Goma. This dominant 3469m high stratovolcan belongs to the Virunga volcanic chain. The summit crater has a diameter of for instance of 1200m and drops extremely steep interrupted by several terraces about 600m down to the present lava sea. The Nyiragongo lava is particularly of highly liquid, which causes a fast lava sea-movement. This lava lake can exist over decades, but the niveau of the lava lake can change abrupt. This extremely high liquid lava causes every few decades flank eruptions with enormous destructions, well known since the 17th of January 2002. During this outbreak the city of Goma was the directly target because of the advanced very high propagation speed of the exceeding lava coming down the mountain base. Different to the slowly flowing lava of other volcanos, the citizens of the volcano base situated city of Goma could hardly escape from this fast lava attack. Today the traces of the outbreak are still determinable by destroyed roads, houses and buried cars of the January 2002 at the volcano base.



Journeys by airplane and other suspect air vehicles directly into the Congo make the decision more easy to take the overland way across the meantime surprisingly sturdy Rwanda. The stay in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda shows the enormous progress, which was reached since the genocide 12 years ago. The border crossing into the Congo has proved as a surprising uncomplicated act since the constant operational level of the foreign colonial forces. Despite you meet also wealthy persons here, the absolute majority of the population is living in very elementary conditions. Thus, sunken bus wrecks in the lava of  2002 serve already as multi-family hostel for example.



Young people build themselves from wood scooter-similar load transporters carrying the harvest into the city.

The Nyiragongo ascent can be made by a quite clear path, which is partly integrated in the lava stream of the 2002 outbreak on the lower altitudes. 


So you can study the various features of the vegetation in every detail. The tree molds, holes in the cooled off lava, were originated from the lava destroyed and burned former trees. The lava around the trunk got solidified very fast by remaining a deep hole as negative image of the trunk. The high speed lava as well as the cooled off flow structures, which were suddenly placed rigidly around the roots and branches did formed terraces in the whole landscape. Close to the former active fissure numerous ejection material can be observed. The trail is passing huts, which were already established as shelters decades ago.

At that time, still before the time of war, this volcano was already well opened and a favoured touristy target.


Earlier scientific expeditions operated with a high number of members and heavy expedition equipments. Staying for weeks in camps on a plain area, a plateau was digged on the rim near the crater edge. These flattened surface can be used today as an camp areal, and only here you can rest by the tents in a comfortably set up. The big advantage is, to stay close to the crater edge which allows at any time a view down to lava lake.


For other views points you can surround the crater, which can be made in a four-hour action. Thus we visited only the west side, from there a view on the complete lava lake without each covering is possible . The calmly drifting sea-surface, which reminded me of the plate tectonics of the earth was accompanied with enormous, gas-driven lava blisters flashing in an approximately halfhour time inteval. With this upsurges, outbrake crevices were developed over one hundred meters with more than 25m large lava blisters.



The noise by foaming and blasting material could be compared with an oversize washing machine . Unfortunately the free view into the lava lake was mostly refused, in case of  this very damp climate zone. Even in the dry time damp nebulas are coating  the crater and strong thunderstorms with enormous showers suggest the stay in the tent.


Click for a bigger Gif Animation



I strongly appreciated this dry pole after the extensive shower in Reunion two weeks ago. After three nights again the descent started and the border to Rwanda was crossed.


Our group visited thereby the gorilla family at the foot of the Visoke volcano. After the rearrival in Kigali the home journey took place for me. In connection a mountain - gorilla stalk in the Virungas on the Rwanda side made the really impressive and very close contact possible to this anthropoids which become strongly extincted.


At last my question, whether the expenditure for ' only ' a lava sea-observation from the distance is really worthwhile itself could be answered. Rarely, I experienced so many deep impressions in such a manner during this short journey in addition to the direct experiencing of the recent history of Rwanda, the life of the natives in and around Goma and not least the direct contact among the gorillas except a stunning lava lake.


Truck surfing on the left!

Jump to the Nyiragongo tour 2011


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 ©2007 photos and text by M. Rietze, transl. Boeckel, Last modification 24.4.2007

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