One evening I was at the lake and I’d just set a series of photos going, when I saw a bright light near the summit of the volcano. I thought for a moment that it was lava, but could soon see that it was skiers descending. The mountain was officially closed so I didn’t know who it could be – whether they’d sneaked up there or were volcanologists who’d been to look at the crater, or what. I found out later that it was mountain guides, protesting about the closure of the mountain. They were arguing that it was safe to visit the crater now and that their livelihoods were being ruined. The protest was successful – a few days later, access to the mountain was permitted.
Articles tagged with "eruption"
After four years working in Chile, my contract had finished and my work visa was expiring. I had to leave the country to return as a tourist if I wanted to stay longer. I did want to stay longer – the absolute last thing I wanted to do was go back to Europe just at the beginning of winter. So I went on a trip to Argentina. I headed first of all to Pucón, to see Villarrica erupting. It had had a big eruption in March that was over before I even had a chance to jump on a bus and head down, but it was still more active than usual.
I drove back to Hilo. On my final morning in Hawaii I took a helicopter flight over the volcano. I got very lucky with the weather – the pilot said it was the kind of day they get once a month. Often when they fly over the caldera they can’t see too much because of clouds and fumes, but today we could see down into the crater to the lava lake.
The hike up to the top of Marum volcano was a whole different experience to the short walk to Yasur. It involved 1000m of climbing through thick forest, and it took us about three hours to get to the edge of the ash plains. My guide, Solomon, told me about the fastest people he’d ever gone up with, and told me that a German woman was the record holder. He wouldn’t tell me exactly how fast she’d gone, so I guess I didn’t match her time, but three hours was pretty good going anyway. Another hour or so took us to the East Camp, and it was another 45 minutes to the crater’s edge.
It was cold and forbidding up there, and the summit was in thick cloud when we got there. Visibility was just a few metres. Somewhere unseen far below was a lava lake but it was looking like I might not see it. Solomon was pessimistic. In the murk I could see a large collection of tents close to the crater’s edge. They turned out to be a New Zealand documentary crew who had camped there for a couple of weeks to be sure of seeing the lava lake.
We waited in the cold and the rain, and we got lucky. The clouds began to thin out, and I caught a glimpse of deep red down in the crater. Then suddenly, just for a few minutes, the weather cleared completely and I got to see one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen. To see molten rock frothing and boiling like tomato soup was something unbelievable.
In the morning I’d had the volcano to myself. In the evening, all the tourists on Tanna converged on the crater’s edge to enjoy the show. About 75 people were on the volcano this evening, and it made for a very different atmosphere. I was glad I’d had the place to myself in the morning. I was also glad that I’d got used to how the volcano is already. The first large explosion triggered brief panic among the tourists, but I was nonchalant. Quickly, everyone got used to it, and later explosions didn’t have the same effect.
Late in the night it began to rain again. I left the roaring volcano behind, and headed back down to the campsite.
I headed down from the crater at about 7.15am and I was back at the campsite by 8am. I slept for most of the day, finally shaking off the mystery illness, and in the afternoon I walked back up the path to spend some more time watching the very insides of the Earth spewing out. As night fell, the deep red glow of the lava came out again.
I wanted to stay all day and it was very hard to leave. By 7am it was already getting hot, and I was running low on water, but I kept on waiting for the next explosion. The strange illness had completely passed, and I could enjoy the activity without worrying about the possibility of falling unconscious into the crater.
I spent three hours on the crater’s edge and I had the place to myself. In the night, the volcano felt incredibly close and huge, as the lava lit up the steam rising from the crater floor. As day came, the glow faded into the light, and after the sun rose, the volcano seemed much tamer. I’d got used to the violence of the large explosions and stopped wondering if I should hare it down when they happened.
I’d started to feel a bit ill on the journey across the island, and whatever it was got suddenly really bad just after we arrived at the campsite. I was shaking and dizzy as I set up my tent, and I felt like death. Lucky my tent only takes 5 minutes to put up otherwise I might not have managed it. I crawled inside and slept. But I was here to see the volcano, and Thomas said he’d drive me up to the crater at 4am so that I could see it in the night time. So I got up at 3.45am, and fortunately the strange illness was passing. I was still not feeling good but was at least capable of standing.
So we drove up to the crater, and then Thomas led the way up the path to the crater’s edge, and around the rim to a good viewpoint. Then he headed back down and left me alone with the volcano.
It was a mind-blowing place to be. The volcano was unbelievably loud, in the silence of the night, and roared constantly. Within a few minutes there was the first large explosion, and it was breathtaking. The earth shook, the crater roared and glowing boulders shot high into the air.
Vanuatu had been high on my list of places to go for a really long time so I was incredibly excited to finally go there. What I wanted to see was volcanic activity, and so after an early flight from New Zealand to Port Vila, I flew on to Tanna, to go and see Yasur volcano.
The flight to Tanna was short, and it was a hot sunny day when I landed. I met Thomas, the owner of the place I’d booked to stay, which was on the other side of the island from the airport, and we set off on the drive there.
While we were on the way, the weather began to turn. It got cloudy and cold, and soon there were spots of rain. After an hour or so, a torrential downpour started. We made slow progress on the terrible road across the island, and eventually night fell. As the weather began to clear, we suddenly we turned off the road, and drove onto the ash plain which surrounds the volcano to take a short cut. In the dark I saw the looming cone of the volcano looking incredibly nearby, with a bright red glow coming from the top.
We arrived at Thomas’s place in the night, and I set up my tent. We were about 45 minutes walk from the crater’s edge of the volcano. The sky glowed red as the clouds reflected the light of the lava, and I could hear the roar of the explosions throughout the quiet night.
From our first sighting it took us almost another hour to get to a good viewing point. The ground was so slippery it was unbelievable, but eventually we reached the crest of a hill, and there before us was the fissure. We could see three craters, one with a constantly frothing lava fountain, and two more where occasional explosions showered the ground around them with hot rocks. The seven jeeps in the convoy left their engines running, and a howling gale was blowing, and we couldn’t hear any noise from the volcano at all. It was viciously cold. I quickly trained a video camera on the volcano, and then stepped away from the jeep to take in the view.
It was incredible. Words can’t describe and photos can’t possibly capture what it is like to see a volcano erupting. We stayed there for almost an hour, watching the spraying lava. While we were there, a small lava flow at the foot of the new cone suddenly began to grow dramatically. Strange blue flames flickered over the two intermittent craters. Meanwhile, the wind whipped snow into our faces, and even though I was wearing two coats, two pairs of gloves, two scarves and a hat, I still felt freezing.
I climbed up a small hill and listened to some Sigur Rós on my mp3 player. The epic music made the epic view even more impressive. But all too soon it was time to head back down. Árni gave me a shout at about 10pm, and I headed back to the jeep. I slipped on some ice on the way, smacking my shin on a rock and giving myself a souvenir bruise to take home. With a last glance at the show, I reluctantly got back into the jeep, ready for the long journey back to Reykjavík.