Craters and caves in Mt. Suswa, Kenya
Mount Suswa, a massive double volcanic crater, is one of Kenya’s least known mountains and conservation areas.
Only 50 km from Nairobi, it is described by many as the best day trip from Kenya’s capital, this little known yet massive double cratered volcano is located very close to it’s well known sister, Mt. Longonot. Though unimpressive from the outside or main Narok road Mt. Suswa is one of the most spectacular mountains of the Rift Valley as it comprises a 12 km across double crater system, a vast network of obsidian caves and a variety of wild animals and plants.
Suswa is a magnificent extinct volcano in the Rift Valley. It is famed for the many caves on its E slopes. All are easy to access, none are too long or complex and no special gear or knowledge is required explore these systems.
Access: Take the old road from Nairobi to Naivasha (the more westerly). After 58 km, just before reaching Longonot, turn left at Mai Mahiu onto a good tarmac road leading to Narok. After 10 km a satellite station is passed on the left; in another 6.5 km along this road a dirt road leads S towards Suswa. Now go 6 km across plains to a Maasai manyatta. Just beyond this a track leads 55W up the slopes of Suswa; it is very rough and fairly steep.
|Altitude||2356 m||7,730 feet|
To get to caves
Perhaps the main attraction to Suswa are the volcanic caves – there are over 30 cave entrances that simply plunge into the ground. Caves are located on the outer edge of the outer crater. You may need to ask directions to find them.
The caves comprise of lava tube systems, formed in a period of recent volcanic activity. They are totally different from limestone caves. Lava tubes are relatively rare, and are believed to have been formed when molten lava, of the correct type and viscosity (pahoehoe lava), flowed down a slope of an ideal angle. The outer layers cool and solidify, but the core continues to flow, and in some cases, evacuates itself completely to leave behind an empty tube. Numerous unusual features can be found and include lava ropes, benches, lava stalactites and stalagmites and a variety of secondary formations. The latter are produced by the deposition of minerals dissolved in the ground waters. The secondary formations are exceptionally fine in cave 35A on Suswa where very unusual and beautiful stalactites and stalagmites are found. Many of these formations are quite fragile and great care must be taken not to touch them.
These spectacular caves some 10 m high and wide in many places are a favourite for spelunking enthusiasts. Bring a good torch and lots of batteries. Do not go alone, children must accompany adults, there are dangerous drop offs (over 10 m) in places. The caves are extraordinary, their walls have a bizarre texture like stretched dough from the retreating lava.
Finding the Caves In 5km the edge of the caldera is reached at a meadow. Immediately take a fork L and head south for 3 km (ignore a right turn at 2.5 km) to a big collapse hole (18A) surrounded by shady fig trees at approx. grid ref.113748 on sheet 147/2 01 Doinyo Onyoke (in 1/50,000 national grid pattern for Kenya, DOS type 423, Series Y731). This offers a good campsite but no water. Just before 18A the track skirts right of the small entrance to collapse 9.
18A. Grade Cl. This is the longest cave system. Several collapse holes lead into it. At the upflow end a lower tube can be reached with the aid of an in-situ ladder.
6. Grade Cl. Another long system with several collapses leading into it. At the lower end there are some interesting, steep passages and side tubes to be explored.
6A. Grade C3-. A very interesting cave. The entrance is a tiny hole, located in a small clump of bushes, about 40 m north of 6 and not far from its east end. Gaining entry is the crux.
12. Grade C2. Probably the most interesting cave system of its size in Kenya. It links up with hole 2B. Three earthy crawls lead into a deeper big tunnel; downflow climb to higher level and a short crawl left leads to the most beautiful sections.
MDC. C2. Moby Dick Cave. Tiny hole below bush, 225 degrees and 80 m from entrance to cave 12. A short way in, an earthy drop leads to a narrow resonating tube. Further in other passages are worthy of a visit.
35A. Grade C2-. This cave is located in a large flat clearing, below a rocky scarp. An elevated lava-flow blocks the clearing to the east. Entry is gained via a collapsed, typically-vegetated lava dome, about 20m long (east-west) and l0 m wide. A low arch leads east into a wider and higher passage. A shelf on the left leads into a low crawl passage. After this turn left and go down a lava step into the system proper.
The caves are home to bats, birds and hyraxes. Baboons sleep in some cave entrances.
After driving across the vast outer crater floor on a good road, the inner crater drops off a few hundred feet. It is a massive crater about 5 km wide and in the center is a massive central plug. The entire area can be hiked, including the inner crater rim and you can hike to the bottom of the inner crater to hot springs – there are tracks but you may need a guide. The summit of the inner crater is called Ol Doinyo Nyokie (the red mountain) at 7,222 ft. Just park at the road head and follow the paths sticking as close as possible to the crater rim. You do not need a guide for this.
The walk up to the main summit starts from the viewpoint. A steep section leads to grassy ridges with occasional trees. Where convenient keep to the ridge and reach the first summit (2250m) in about 1h. The ridge leading to the main top from here is rough and the going is slow (1h). It is best to return the same way as the complete circumnavigation takes about half a day and involves some very tedious blocky lava crossings in the south-east section of the crater.
The area is now managed as the Suswa Conservancy and camping is permitted – there are a number of sensational points to camp where one feels totally isolated. Bring all your own water and some to share with the Masai visitors. We took our dogs and camped at the entrance to a massive cave called Lorang’amboli. Our dogs slept in the car due to the hyenas and leopards. You can also camp at a spectacular point amongst tall acacias at the road head overlooking the Inner crater. At Ksh 500 per head for citizens/residents and 500 for camping, and 500 per vehicle this is more expensive than other conservation areas. But the reward is that there is nobody else out there and with no evidence of lights on the entire horizon, the night sky was out of this world. Small animals might raid your camp at night if you leave food out.
Wildlife and plants
We saw a few large mammals; giraffe, thomsons gazelle, zebra, klipspringer. At night we did hear hyenas and we saw a genet. There are rumours of leopard. The caves are full of bats, and you can also see baboons and rock hyraxes. This is a great site for birding. Some plants here are extraordinary, especially around the cave mouths, other wise it’s mostly whistling thorn country with Leleshwa on the lava flows. We arrived after a long drought when the rains had recently started, the wild flowers were wonderful.
The local people were very hospitable. Though they will visit your camp and greet you, or even check that your tickets are valid, they were not aggressive as we have experienced in other Masai country. We were asked for ‘Chai’ by a man who claimed our tent was on his land, after reminding him that we’d already paid the conservancy he agreed to help collect firewood for a fee (Ksh 150 for more than we could use in one night). It was very enjoyable listening to the local stories and finding out about the area from the visitors to our camp. Contrary to rumours, security was good and it’s easy to get a night guard for camp while you go hiking or camping (we paid 500/- per day for guide/security). Dogs helped for security.
Roving Rastaman wrote an entertaining blog post about a visit to Suswa in May 2009
For Tickets and information Contact
Pastor Kadongo 0725 233592
David Tuukuo 0722 629 350
Johnson Ole Sipitiek 0722 856 703 firstname.lastname@example.org
Contacts for Guides
Kodonyo 0725 887 890
Daniel 0721 357 415
Tukai 0727 688 019
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