How often in your life do you get the chance to walk the rim of an active volcano?
And if you get the opportunity – would you do it? Going against all hazard management, mountain craft and personal safety rules that I have learned in my earlier ski-patrol and guiding career, accompanied by an interminable paranoiac inner-voice grilling me of the risks involved in getting so close to flying nuggets of molten lava without any tour guide, physical barriers, signage or escape route, I push on up the steep little path towards the rumbling crater edge.
My toes occasionally connect with large carbonised rocks, tripping me up on the narrow path that drops directly into an avalanche-prone steep gut about 200 metres below where the two vents are churning and growling like a hungry monster, spitting chunks of glowing lava and acrid ash towards us, the ignorant tourists gathering at sundown to watch the spectacle unfold.
I’m on the Yasur Volcano ranked in the top ten most active volcanos in the world, and easily the most accessible.
Dubbed the ‘lighthouse of the pacific’ by mariners and pilots drawn to its glowing loom that can be seen from over 40nm away, this remote little volcano on the Pacific Rim stands only 361m above sea level in a perfect conical shape and has been erupting continuously for over 800 years.
Just as it dawns on me that these obstacles of rocks on our path are in fact cooled clumps of lava, a huge, sonic BOOM courses through my bones as the volcano ejects another huge jet of smoke and lava – all our eyes are fixed on the glowing bombs high in the air above us now dropping and cooling to black before landing on the steep scree 100 metres in front of us before slipping back down towards the hot fiery magma chamber.
I notice a fine Bat skeleton mummified in a crispy chunk of lava debris at my feet. All it would take is an extra powerful BURP from the beast and our fates would be sealed like this unfortunate little fellow.
But by now the sun has sunk in a dramatic moody hue of reds and oranges, disappearing behind the western peak of Yasur in a halo of smoke and ash. We are transfixed by the fire show before us, settling in to watch wave after wave of eruptions with a mixture of awe, apprehension and fear before being called back down the path by our cluster of ‘guides’ with glazy kava-crazed eyes.
Getting there: 35 minute flight from Port Vila to Tanna, leaves daily. By sail: Anchor in Port Resolution and ask for STAN, the man with the plan, and the tan van to take you to the crater.
Top Ten Most Active Volcanoes in the World:
|Volcano Name||Location||Continuous Eruptions Since:|
|Piton de la Fournaise||Reunion||1920 -|
|Santa Maria||Guatemala||1922 -|
|Tinakula||Solomon Islands||1951 -|
|Erta Ale||Ethiopia||1967 -|
|Manam||Papua New Guinea||1974 -|
information courtesy of volcanolive.com