The mightiest volcano in the Great Rift Valley
The scene was of such an astounding character that I was completely fascinated and felt under an almost irresistible impulse madly to plunge into the fearful chasm.
Joseph Thomson, 1884
So spoke the famous explorer, Joseph Thomson, as he made the first recorded ascent to the rim of Mount Longonot in 1884. The first recorded European to reach the actual summit was the geologist, J.W. Gregory, who climbed Longonot in 1893. Today a protected area, the Mount Longonot National Park lies close to the Hell's Gate National Park and makes for a great day trip from Nairobi.
Kenya Safari Fact File
Altitude: 1,875-2,776 meters above sea level.
Area: 52 sq km.
Province: Rift Valley, close to Hells Gate National Park.
Location: Naivasha in Nakuru District.
Distance from Nairobi: 90 km north-west of Nairobi.
Opened: Opened as a Kenya national park in 1984.
Vegetation: mainly grassland and shrubs, dominated by leleshwa bushes and several varieties of acacia trees.
Wildlife: Eland, buffalo, lion, giraffe, zebra, leopard, impala, Grant's and Thomson's gazelle, klipspringer, hyrax and mountain reedbuck.
Birds: More than 100 species of birds have been recorded.
Activities: biking, walking, hiking, picnic, rock climbing
A sleeping giant born of fire
The mightiest of the Rift Valley volcanoes, Longonot's knife-edged rim towers some 2, 776 m above the floor of the Rift, and broods over the alternately storm lashed and pellucid waters of Lake Naivasha.
What's in a name?
The mountain gets its name from the Maasai term ‘Olonong'ot ', which means ‘mountain of many spurs' and refers to it's deeply scored and striated flanks, which are pock-marked with dormant steam vents and topped by a vast circular crater. The mountain is surrounded by the traditional homelands of the Maasai. Perhaps the most visually striking and best known of the colourful tribes of Kenya, the Nilo-Hamitic Maasai are a nomadic people whose style of life has remained unchanged for centuries and reflects a constant quest for water and grazing land for their cattle.
Inspiration for the ‘Legend of She'
Rumour hints at the existence of a tunnel, which is said to run from inside the crater to the southern side of the plains outside the park. It was this tale that formed the inspiration for Sir H. Rider-Haggard's book, ‘The Legend of She', first published in 1887.
A dormant volcano
Relatively recently formed (within the last 400-600 years) the mountain is a dormant (technically classed as ‘senile') volcano which resulted from the immense thermal activity taking place beneath the floor of the Great Rift Valley. Seemingly peaceful, only several thousand meters below the surface Longonot's ground water seethes at an incredible 304 degrees C (one of the hottest temperatures on earth), and although this vast energy has now been harnessed to the nearby Olkaria geothermal project in Hell's Gate National Park, the hot thermals rising above the mountain still have sufficient power to deflect the path of light aircraft flying overhead. The ‘parasitic' cone, meanwhile, was formed when the central vent of the volcano became blocked and the escaping magma (molten rock) was forced to find an alternative route to the surface.
When the weather is good (generally January to March and July to October), Mount Longonot offers staggering views, which take in the shimmering waters of Lake Naivasha, the lilac-blue scarps of the Mau Escarpment, the brooding peaks of the Aberdares and the rolling waves of the Rift Valley itself.
What to see
Mount Longonot is most famous for its views but some wildlife may also be encountered, most notably black and white colobus monkeys inside the rim of the volcano and lammergeyers (bearded vulture) circling its jagged crest. Buffaloes also roam the southern slopes and are sometimes encountered on the crater floor.
To climb the mountain
To make the ascent, report first to the warden at the KWS Longonot offices. Climbers may request the escort of a KWS ranger (advisable due to the numbers of buffalo roaming the mountain).
A well-defined track on the left bank of the gully leads (in around 45 minutes) to the crater rim. For the shortest route from the rim to the summit follow the cater rim in an anticlockwise direction (the circuit takes 2.5 to 3 hours). The climb is steep and the air at nearly 3,000m fairly thin; much of the path around the rim is also of crumbly volcanic ‘tufa' worn away by walkers and rain into channels so deep and narrow that it is almost impossible to put one foot in front of another. There is a small plateau on the flanks of the highest point, which is ideal for a superbly panoramic picnic.