Few things rattle residents of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. For decades they’ve lived with wars and rebellions spilling out from their jungles—all while keeping a wary eye on the mountain with a halo of smoke looming over the region.
“We call him General Nyiragongo,” says a local tour guide on a recent night in Goma, the provincial capital. “Because when he comes, everyone runs.” Here one of the world’s most volatile volcanoes poses an existential threat. Every few decades, Mount Nyiragongo showers the city in lava.
In the last few years, Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park, began offering treks to Nyiragongo’s lava lake, the world’s largest. On a cool morning in May, I set off with nine other visitors, two rangers, and a team of porters to summit the 11,382-foot mountain and see it for myself.