Nyiragongo is an active volcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The crater contains the Earth’s largest lava lake. Nyiragongo volcano is part of the Virunga National Park founded in 1925 by King Albert I of Belgium as the first national park in Africa.
Standing on the crater rim, the views to both the lava lake, the clouds, as well as the surrounding landscape is beautiful, humbling, and terrifying. There’s a sulphuric scent, and from inside the crater come rumbling noises from the erupting lava.
The volcano sits and watches over Goma, the border town between the Congo and Rwanda in the crisis-shaken region of the Kivu. Nyiragongo belongs to the Virunga volcano chain that is part of the Albertine Rift Mountains, the western branch of the East African Rift. The East African Rift running from the Gulf of Aden in the north to Mozambique in the south is the largest seismically active rift system on Earth today.
Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, has a population of 1 million at risk from volcanic eruptions. As Lake Kivu contains large amounts of methane and carbon dioxide, volcano eruptions hold the potential of natural disaster. Eruptions of Nyiragongo occurred in 1832, 1904, 1977 and 2002. Volcanologists at the Goma Volcano Observatory monitor the volcano’s seismic activity but their efforts are hampered by the lack in infrastructure, and vandalism of equipment.
Von Götzen’s 1894 Expedition
The first European to climb the volcano was the German explorer and later Governor of German East Africa Gustav Adolf von Götzen. On his expedition across Africa from Tanzania in the East to the mouth of river Congo in the West, he arrived at the foot of the volcano and wrote in his diary: «There he was, the mysterious mountain, claimed by the natives to bring death to everyone daring to climb it.»
Accompanied by his companion Georg von Prittwitz, 18 porters, two local Batwa guides, three armed Askari, a local translator, and several mules, he started to climb the volcano. The equipment included two photo cameras, a theodolite, two barometers, a telescope, axes, rope, tents, blankets, two chairs, dishes, food, and water.
Today’s expeditions are not as difficult as a hundred years ago. The hike to the summit takes five hours for the 1’500 meter altitude gain to the 3’470-meter summit – considerably less than in 1894. An entourage is still needed though: two armed rangers escort the tourists, and there are porters and even a cook available for hire.
Multimedia Webpage Dedicated to Nyiragongo
To offer a view into Earth’s pumping heart, I created a multimedia webpage dedicated to Nyiragongo. The article comes just in time for «Earth Day» on April 22, 2016.