Sleeping wild in an African volcano

Written by: Derek Cullen

It was just like any Saturday morning, I had been working on my laptop all week while camping alone next to hippos on the shores of Lake Naivasha, Kenya. Except the surroundings of my tent were now starting to become a little too familiar and I yearned for adventure. Having packed up the tent and all of my belongings, I decided to take a local minibus to a nearby national park where I would hike to the top of an imposing Mount Longonot.

Kenya Mount Longonot African Volcano

©Derek Cullen

However, things didn’t really work out the way I expected and upon meeting a local guide at the foot of Longonot, my mission to hike to the mountain summit suddenly became an expedition. Gabriel Kahinga and I decided to camp overnight in the forest which blanketed the crater floor. In truth, I was terrified and this was in no small part down to him repeatedly mentioning the words python, buffalo and leopard.

Kenya Mount Longonot African Volcano

©Derek Cullen

We carried five litres of water each, tents, meat, instant noodles and sleeping bags. Having hiked to the crater rim, we descended cautiously from the lowest point of the crater rim until we were suddenly faced with an immense forest which had seemed unassuming from up above. Gabriel pointed to a bees nest in the rocks, a sober reminder of a fatal incident in recent years when some visitors had disturbed a bee’s nest before falling into the crater.

Kenya Mount Longonot African Volcano

©Derek Cullen

Just knowing we were sitting around a campfire in the bottom of an ancient caldera was a fascinating feeling. It was a feeling I will never forget, a fleeting moment of mystery as we ate and moved closer to the fire with moonlight flickering between the branches above. We could have stayed up the entire night, we could have talked about the Western World and the one in which we were sitting, we could have laughed and joked about how ridiculous it was to choose this bizarre place as our home for the night, but with what sounded like the faint cry of a leopard cub, Gabriel stood up. It was time to retire to our tents for the night. Although a distinct silence surrounded us that night, it was cold and very unnerving to open the tent door anytime nature called.

Kenya Mount Longonot African Volcano

©Derek Cullen

The following morning, it took four hours to hike our way from one side of the crater to the other. At this point, I was far beyond my comfort zone but the adventure continued to throw up unexpected surprises. We hiked past the smoking remnants of volcanic activity, the skeleton of an unfortunate buffalo who had fallen from the crater from rim above and then alarmingly, the faeces and ominous claw marks of a leopard in nearby trees. “There is only one cat that we know of in the crater,” said Gabriel, before we continued onward in search of our way out.

Kenya Mount Longonot African Volcano

©Derek Cullen

Climbing out of the crater was terrifying but reaching the crater rim, we embraced each other while looking back down into a sprawling forest below and the intimidating nature of the crater. It had been a truly unique adventure infused with many experiences but none more so than the experience of spending time with a local who would lead the way into and then out of such a precarious place. Truth is, having left my lonesome camping spot in search of adventure the previous day, I found so much more than I could ever have expected, not the least of which was a new friend.

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  • Angie (FeetDoTravel)

    What a lovely story – I was there with you! I did an overland expedition through Africa so know what it feels like to pitch up your tent in the middle of no where and be that close to nature so you took me right back! What an adventure you had!

  • Nicholas Danis Bertrand

    Great article Derek! Africa is full with mystery and adventure but none greater than walking into a sleeping volcano.This is the kind of adventure that I dream of.

  • While challenging, your experience sounds incredible. That is what I love about Africa. You can come face to face with raw, untouched and wild nature and usually don’t have to share it with thousands of other tourists.

  • NowThatsAHoneymoon

    Wow, what a great experience! Too bad you didn’t get to encounter them leopards and pythons? But seriously, being this close and attached to nature is spectacular. Thanks for sharing!

  • What a fascinating experience! I love exploring Africa because there’s so much natural beauty and always a surprise at every turn. There’s nothing like it.

  • VeryHungryTraveller

    My goodness, that is a level of adventure that I might only appreciate in retrospect. Brave sou! Inspiring to court discomfort and be open to the rewards.

  • Lance Kerwin

    Incredible. Nice landscape pictures by the way. It must have been an awesome experience.

  • Brianna

    Wow, what an adventure! I don’t think I would have slept a wink! Although I suppose with all that hiking, it could be possible 😛

  • Marry

    Wow what a mountain! And what an amazing experience)

  • Marry

    Oh sorry. i thought that picture is for the icon)

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