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.
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.
Our plan had been to go to Alausí to get the train to Riobamba, via the Nariz del Diablo switchbacks. But time was now so short, and the train schedules so inconvenient, that we had to skip this. We headed instead to Cuenca, where we only had time to visit the studios of Argentinian artist Ariel Dawi, and the awesomely named German-owned pub, WunderBar. After Cuenca, our target was Baños but we had to spend a night in Ambato on the way after thick fog delayed our bus by a few hours.
The reason we’d come to Baños was to see if we could see the eruptions of Tungurahua. Baños was evacuated in 1999 after a big eruption, but when activity stabilised, the people returned, and the town now thrives on the tourism generated by the volcano, and the geothermal pools which give the town its name. The pools were a good place to spend a couple of hours while a cool drizzle fell. In the evening, we took a trip up to a nearby viewpoint, which we’d been told has good views of the volcano. But we spend most of the time in thick cloud, unable to see even the lights of Baños below us, let alone the glow of lava from above. We met some locals there who were going to a club later on, and they invited us to join them. We had a fun night out at Club Leprechaun, which the locals pronounced ‘lepre-chown’
The next day the weather seemed to be changing for the better. We went for a walk in the hills behind town and saw a spectacular rainbow arc over the valley. With the sun threatening to break through, we decided to hike back up to the mirador and see if we could see the volcano. We had a chat on the way to a friendly guy called Carmelo, who had lived in Europe for a few years. He told us about the evacuation of Baños, and said that people moved back not because activity was really declining but just because they couldn’t stay away from their livelihoods indefinitely.
Once we reached the mirador we found ourselves in thick cloud. Everything was wet and we couldn’t see more than ten feet. But I had a feeling we might have some luck, and so we hung around. Occasional breaks in the mist gave us hope, even though the few other people who came to see what they could see had left pretty quickly. Gradually, it seemed to us that we could see more of the mountain, and eventually we were sure we could see the summit. What looked like black smoke appeared to be billowing from the top, but it was hard to tell whether it was rain cloud or volcanic ash. But a few minutes more and there was no doubt – we could clearly see the volcano, and it was clearly erupting. For me it was quite impressive, but Dave had never seen an erupting volcano before and felt that he hadn’t really seen the full show.
Sadly we couldn’t hang around. I had two days left in South America, and so that night we got a late bus to Quito. After almost four months and eight thousand miles on the road, I was almost at my final destination. Ever since Christmas in Bolivia I’d been feeling like the trip was almost over, and now that it really was I could hardly believe it.
Pucón is a popular place to go in Chile, with all sorts of adventure sports happening in the surrounding areas. For me, the big draw was Volcán Villarrica, a perfect Fuji-like snow-capped conical mountain to the south of town, which has an active lava lake in its crater. I wanted to climb it, and get closer to lava than I’d managed on previous trips to active volcanoes in Sicily and Central America. I’d seen lava fountains at Etna, watched glowing house-sized boulders tumble down the mountain side at Arenal in Costa Rica, and listened to the roar of Volcán Santamaría as I camped on its summit in Guatemala, but here I had the opportunity to stand on the rim of an active crater.
Disturbingly, I was woken on my first morning in Pucón by wailing air-raid sirens. Not quite knowing what was going on, I looked out of my window half expecting to see a cataclysmic volcanic eruption underway, but Villarrica was just gently steaming and the sirens stopped as soon as they had begun. They went off several times during my stay, and I never worked out what they signified. Around town there were various signs detailing the procedure should any volcanic emergency occur, but they didn’t mention air-raid sirens at all.
At 7am the following morning I was in the offices of a climbing company, kitting myself up along with two Germans and four Spanish women, getting ready for the climb to the top of the 2,850m mountain. I’d watched an amazing sunrise over the volcano, and the weather looked like it was perfect for climbing. By 9am we were at a ski station at the edge of the snowline, getting on our crampons and setting off for the top. Wearing heavy rigid boots suitable for ice climbing made the going slow at first, but I soon got used to them and wanted to up the pace a bit. Unfortunately the Spanish women proved to be appallingly unfit, and although we had two guides with our group of seven and could have split up, our guides kept us all together at the slow pace. I got more and more frustrated, and started talking to the Germans in German to slag off the Spanish women. The three of us agreed that they shouldn’t have been allowed to climb, and united in our anger we trudged on up the ever-steepening slopes.
I could see clouds coming in from the east, but we continued at our interminably slow pace. The Germans taught me useful insults and we cursed our way up. By 2pm we had only a few tens of metres to go, but had to wait while one of the Spanish women overcame terrible laziness to motivate herself to carry on. At about 2.30pm we finally made it to the crater’s edge, at the same time as the clouds, and for a few minutes I was furious as visibility was reduced to zero. Luckily it was patchy cloud and soon after the summit was uncovered, revealing a small patch of glowing lava, steaming away. Soon a small explosion sent lava spattering around inside the crater, and then a much larger explosion hurled glowing chunks to some height above the crater rim. We could feel the heat strongly, and despite my annoyance with the Spaniards I was enjoying this.
We walked a little way around the crater to a better viewpoint, and I took as many photos and videos as I could. Unfortunately the cold meant that my digital camera batteries ran out ridiculously quickly and I only managed to catch one small explosion on video. Then suddenly the earth shook and the lava lake fountained out a huge spray of molten rock, which covered the area we’d been standing just a few minutes before, and sent some other climbers running for cover. “We’d better get out of here”, said the guide. Having climbed for five hours I’d wanted to spend a little bit more than 20 minutes at the top, and I told him I’d wait until I’d seen one more explosion, and would catch them up. The Spaniards set off down, I saw one more good explosion and felt the tremendous heat from the molten rock, before reluctantly heading down.
I was still in a bit of a bad mood, but when I realised that our plan for descending a mile and a half back to the snowline was to sit down and slide I got a lot happier. The slopes were so steep that we quickly built up tremendous speed, and I had to use my ice axe to stop myself from sliding out of control. Although I feared that it would result in me picking up fragments of optics and electronics at the bottom of the mountain, I decided to take some footage of the descent, and managed not to drop the camera. Barely 45 minutes later we were back down at the snowline, and even though the Spanish women even managed to be really slow at sliding down icy slopes, we returned to Pucón pretty pleased with the day. I spent the evening watching the mountain top glowing red in the distance from the shores of the lake at the edge of town.
The next day I realised that despite my best efforts with sun block, I’d missed a bit. The sunlight reflecting off the ice had burned my septum, and it was astonishingly painful. I spent the day moisturising intensively and trying not to breathe through my nose. I was aching from the climb despite its slow pace, and spent most of the day relaxing by the lake. But I had to move on, and at 5pm I headed for Temuco, to catch the overnight train from there to Santiago.
We had met two Germans, Colom and Sylvia, down by the falls. Colom had a pickup truck, and when we saw that the volcano was visible, he said he would drive out towards it after nightfall, and invited us along. We gladly accepted.
When darkness fell, a distinct orange glow could be seen over the volcano, and when Colom called around with his truck, we leapt keenly aboard. It was a spectacular drive out along the road past the volcano, with the wind in our hair, fireflies flashing around, and the volcano glowing high in the sky. However, as we watched, the clouds began to lower, and the volcano disappeared from view. Soon it was pelting down with rain. We sat inside the cab of the pickup until it had eased off, and then drove on.
It was not long before the top of the volcano emerged again, and we decided to stop and watch it. All the rivers which run off the volcano are heated by the magma, and several places along the road here channel streams into pools. We stopped at one of these and sat in the thermal waters, watching the truly awesome sight of the volcano erupting.
Eventually we had to leave. We stopped at a café by the roadside for a bite to eat and watched the volcano from there, but now we were round the other side from the eruptions, and all we could see was the glow. It had been an amazing sight, and we hoped we would see it again.
The next day, we planned to hike back along the road, and make our way to a viewpoint we had seen signposted the day before. We were going to watch the eruptions from there as the sun set. We bought food and drink and were all set to go, when suddenly Moh was afflicted by what they call Montezuma’s Revenge in these parts. We had to give the walk a miss, but later on when it was dark, the eruptions could be seen again, so we went for a walk around town, and took some photos.
Much later, I learned a painful lesson from the photo here. Someone asked me if they could publish it in a book. I was very excited by this and agreed. Sadly, the person concerned never paid me as promised, and also lost the slide. So, all I have now is the poor-quality highly compressed JPEG from a budget scanner that you see above. Ah well – I’ll just have to go back to Arenal some time.