Information pictures and diagrams from "East Africa Mountains".
Copyright © 2000, EWP and West Col Productions.

Leviathan - Lava Caves in Kenya | Suswa



Almost 200km from Nairobi along the Mombasa road lies the village of Kibwezi. About 1.5 km after the petrol station, a good dirt road leads off R. Follow this SSW for 6.5 km to where it forks R (SW). Continue SW, past some waterholes, to a village in another 6km. The road gradually deteriorates, along to Milangi village in a further 3.5 km. Continue and pass a baptist church on the L; in one km a track branches R to Kisula Hill; about 6.5 km after this junction along the L (W) fork, reach a sharp L bend (here the track bears SE and starts a long ascent). Just before the L bend a rough track W leads to a hollow in the hillside, clearly visible from the road, with shamba in it (Jonah’s). Camping here by arrangement with Jonah who can also find a guide to take parties to the caves (Swahili: shimo). From the shamba a good path leads N through the forest then into more open, cultivated country. The easiest cave entrance to find is Discovery, about 30 min walk. Other residents in the vicinity will gladly shepherd parties back for a small reward - should you exit at a more remote collapse.

If the R fork after Milangi is taken, a very rough track leads past Kisula Hill to the central sections of Leviathan. At the following distances from the fork R from the main track note: at 1.8 km ignore a fork R; at 2.8 km ignore a fork R and shortly another L; at 3.2 km ignore a fork R; at 4.5 km pass just R of Kisula Hill; at 4.9 km pass a small shop on L; at 5.5 km the track flattens out at 1240 m. On the R nearby is the shamba of Julius Chyule (P.O. Box 57, Masongaleni, Kibwezi). He will act as a guide to the cave entrances and organize camping, etc. The easiest entrance to find is Forest Collapse.

There is no water in the cave area and one of the main hardships for the local people is the carrying of water. Garage facilities are at Kibwezi. Public transport cannot be relied upon for the last 12 km to the caves. There is fine walking on the Chyulu Hills not far above Ash Cone collapse. Also, plenty of scope for further exploration on the eastern slopes of the Chyulus and maybe more Leviathans could be found.


This is a uniaxial system. Over long sections there are two or more levels. The lowest tube is most frequently followed. Technically the cave is straightforward, especially below Ash Cone collapse. However it is a serious undertaking because rescue from most sections of the cave would take a long time to mount and would be extremely difficult to execute. It is due to the efforts of the Cave Exploration Group of East Africa, and in particular to Jim Simons, that the caves were discovered and explored so thoroughly. Group members are best contacted through the Museum Society in Nairobi.

The general notes below on cave entrances/collapses are qualified with UIAA rock gradings. Grid references (GR) for their location are approximate and taken from map sheet no. 182/2 Chyulu 1/50, 000 national grid pattern for Kenya in DOS type 423, Series Y731.

Ash Cone GR 699198. At base of a ridge forming the N arm of ‘cwm’. 300 m up the slope a short wooded gully points towards the small wooded collapse area at the top end of a large meadow. To gain upper level, take a crawl upflow. To gain lower level, go 30 m up tunnel, climb down 2 levels (loose rock, II), or make an exposed traverse (II) on L wall and continue upstream (C3). Map ref. 1.

Hyena Map ref. 1a. Crawl into upper level, or abseil to lower level.

Discovery GR721202. Map ref.2. Semi-clear area; path passes close by and tall trees surround the collapse. This is the best known entry by people living in Jonah’s area. Walk in to upper level. To reach lower level, make a short traverse (I), then scramble down easily. (C2).

Bushbuck and Bivvy GR 723203 and 726204. Map refs. 3,4. Both are in semi-clear country, near to paths. Bushbuck has a walk-in to upper level; abseil into the lower (V-, to climb out). For the upper level of Bivvy, climb down a tree, or swing down over bulges to ledges (IV); walk in to lower level.

Forest GR 730207. Map ref.5. Located in a clearing in the forest, again characterised by tall trees. Follow the main path down from Discovery over 2 lava steps for about 15 min. Also easily reached from Julius’ shamba in 15 min. The upper and lower levels are walk-ins downflow; the lower level upflow involves a difficult to locate squeeze. Note: some 40 m from Forest Collapse, on a bearing of 2800, lies a tiny collapse hole (ABC) with a small system leading off up and downstream.

Compass and K.M. GR 732209 and 737211. Map ref.6,7. These are both in the forest and can be difficult to locate from above. Compass upper level is an easy drop; the lower is a walk-in downflow and a squeeze in upflow. K. M. upper level is an easy drop; the lower involves an exposed traverse in on ledges R (IV), facing downflow.

Reconnaissance and Pottery GR 747219 and 748219. Map refs. 8,9.

Both are in the forest. The upper collapse is not too far from a shamba. To reach the shamba walk 200 m N from the collapse. Ask here for directions to return to Jonah’s or Julius’ area. The shamba and cave would be difficult to find from the outside world. Both entrances have walk-ins to upper level, and a squeeze in upflow to reach lower level.

Notes on passages

Ash Cone to top of flow. 30min. C3.

Lower passage leads easily to end. Gaining the lower passage from Ash Cone Collapse needs about 15 m of rope; this is used to make a difficult traverse along the L wall. The top passage is followed, passing an exposed drop to its R. The lower passage is reached by climbing down a short drop on the L. Var: instead of the difficult traverse, climbing down a hole (easy, but loose) enters a middle passage level, then straight down (pole for assistance) into the lowest level.

Ash Cone to Discovery 2 h 30. C3.

Tedious boulders to cross initially. Skeletons. 5 m steep down-climb over a lava fall (I). Fine sinuous passages in the lower half.

Discovery to Bushbuck 10 min. Bat colony.

Bushbuck to Bivvy 30min.

20 m crawl on L, through collapse debris (C3-). B ridge out of trench(III).

Bivvy to Forest 1 h. Mud Hall Series. Tedious ‘mud’ covered boulders. One short wall climb on L (III) at a cirque of walls. Near end, ash crawl on R. Shortly squeeze out on L into Forest Collapse (3-).

Forest to Compass 15 min. Easy passage and pop-up into Compass. Compass to K. M. 30 min Goliath. A very high passage.

K. M. to Reconnaissance and Pottery 1 h 30.

Goliath continues. Endless breakdown boulders to cross. High spectacular passages. Magnificent hanging roots just below K.M. Pop-out into Reconnaissance; Pottery is reached by a similar pop-out in a very short time.

Pottery to End 1 h.

Big easy passage. Lower towards end. Several bat colonies. Long guano crawl to end.

Mountain Information - Menu

Home | EWP Trips | Maps | Picture Library | Email 
The material here comes either from the existing "East Africa International Mountain Guide" of from "East Africa Mountains" to be published in 2000 by West Col Productions. Any suggestions or comments about the content are most welcome. Andrew Wielochowski 2/9/2014