Expedition to Erta Ale Volcano, Ethiopia - Africa   Feb 2004



Erta Ale is a shield volcano, located in the Afar depression at 13.6N, 40.67E, 613m (location map). It is part of the East
African rift system. It has a base diameter of 30km and is only 500m high. In its vast summit caldera (1600x700m) there are
two pit craters. The larger one (300-400m diameter) in the northern part contained a lava lake in 1968 and 1973 but is now
inactive. A central, but smaller pit (140m diameter, 60 to 90m deep) now has an active lava lake 60m wide and 100m long.
Even now, after the end of the war, the Erta Ale Range remains one of the most inaccessible places on Earth. There are no
roads and temperatures are extremely high often exceeding 50 degrees celcius. The tribe living there, the Afar People, are proud and strong warriors, often hostile to foreigners.

Expedition to the Erta Ale Volcano in Ethiopia, with me were camerawoman Rachael Wilson and mountaineer and rigger Mark Whetu. Once there we  erected a steel cable across the lip of the pit and descend 90 metres, 200 feet, to a ledge on the edge of the active lava lake, this made up one episode of my Discovery Channel TV series, "Dangerman Below are the web entries actually posted via sat phone from Erta Ale.

Tuesday 24th Feb  2004

To the ends of the earth... if anywhere on earth has the look and feel of another planet, this is it, the hottest and driest and lowest place on earth at over 100 metres below sea level, there is barely a living thing here and hundreds of dust devils spawn in the heat. Continuing on our trip to Erta Ale we camp for the night at the salt mining town at Lake Afrera, It's 43 degrees, the town has the feel of a movie set from hell with hundreds of makeshift shanties made out of anything and everything and we have four police armed with AK 47's guarding our camp. Tomorrow we set off on the final leg to Erta Ale, (which we can see from here through the heat haze) on camels . 

Wednesday 25th Feb  2004

Today we crossed the final stretch of desert to the base of Erta Ale, as the above pictures show, it wasn't without problems......at one point we had two vehicles stuck in the sand at once, We are at Dodom camp and tonight we climb to the crater on camels. We climbed through the night  more than 15kms on camels until we all got lost, camping until daybreak and then walking  25kms more in the baking heat arriving this afternoon at Erta Ale.....what a fantastic place....

Saturday 28th Feb  2004

When we arrived at Erta Ale on the 26th Feb the lava lake was inactive and solid, in the centre were 3 hornitos rising up about 8 to 10 metres from the now solid lava lake, these hornitos degassed loudly, spat out very small amounts of material and glowed faintly at night.  Today, Saturday the 28th at about 5 pm local time one of the hornitos suddenly broke open and burst into life while we were at the craters edge with a low and vigourous fountain of very fluid lava, (above photo taken at nightfall) this outflow continues into the night pouring across the solidified floor of the lava lake and covering it with molten lava.

Sunday 29th Feb  2004

 A cable was rigged on Sat in preparation for a descent into the pit. Today  it was tested. Tomorrow we will descend from the cable to the floor of the pit and climb to the edge of the lava lake. By this morning activity had decreased and the surface of the lava lake was again solid. It stayed that way until 5.38pm local time when the most awesome spectacle occured, within several minutes, and on camera, the whole lake suddenly again became liquid with the solid surface disappearing below the surface in waves that radiated across the whole lake until the whole lake was boiling.  It was truly the greatest show on earth, the heat we felt on the rim of the pit was amazing.....The lake then again became quiet.

Tuesday 2nd March  2004

I made the 270ft descent to the floor of the ledge above the still inactive lava lake assisted by rigger Mark Whetu and camerawoman Rachael Wilson. I stayed on the ledge for only an hour wearing a heat proof suit. The floor of the ledge was extremely hot and a lot of heat was radiating from the now solid lava lake when standing on the edge of the ledge. 2 inactive hornitos in the centre of the inactive lava lake degassed very faintly and give off a faint glow at night. Today is our last day here and in the morning the Air Force will extract us from the site by helicopter.

Wednesday 3rd March  2004

  At 0830hrs the Air Force flew us out to Makale and we then flew on to Addis Ababa bringing to an end our Erta Ale expedition, watch this space for live web coverage of the next active lava lake filming expedition coming up in a weeks time.....the only place on the net where you will find truly live images of the worlds most remote active volcanoes.

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