Peering into Earths fiery belly
Tanna Island, Vanuatu
The View from the mountain top was fantastic: A blazing sunset on one side, and on the other the silhouette of the island next to a vast stretch of the Pacific Ocean. “Stop, yes stand there”, Beate said as we walked along the rim of the caldera and she held up the camera to take a picture. Asle tried to make a relaxed pose. But just as the camera clicked, a thunderous boom came from the bottom of the crater behind him, and we could feel the ground shake. Startled, Asle turned around to see a massive spray of red glowing lava bombs rising up just behind him. A plume of black smoke followed, and realizing she still had the camera up, Beate pressed the button.
The story continues below this short, silent video:
Mount Yasur was in an active mood tonight, which was lucky for us having traveled half way around the globe to Vanuatu’s Tanna island to visit one of the most accessible and active volcanoes in the world. Only 381 meters tall, it is a simple ten minute climb from it’s ash covered slopes where our guide parked the 4WD pickup we drove across the island from our simple but comfortable resort on the west coast. After about an hour on bumpy dirt roads through the lush and beautiful inland jungle, called Middle Bush by the locals, passing small villages and farms, we reached a clearing.
All of a sudden we were on a vast ash plain, the smoking, black pyroclastic cone of the volcano towering in front of us. We raced across the plain to reach the other side of the mountain. As we drove up the foothills, steaming vents appeared along the roadside, a warning of the immense powers hidden below. We parked and got out of the car. Small particles of black ash swirled in the air, and there was a faint smell of smoke. We could hear the mountain rumble up ahead as we walked up and towards the rim of the crater, into an otherworldly smokey landscape of ash and volcanic rock.
View from the ash plain / Driving up the foothills / The final climb
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This mountain commands respect
Nothing can prepare you for the experience of an active volcano up close. We’ve seen pictures and films, but no camera can capture the humbling power of this ancient natural phenomenon. It must be felt. The loud hissing of steam as ground water hits the hot rocks around the magma chamber. Booms so deep and loud the air pressure shakes your feet and pops in your ears, when the boiling lava pool below suddenly explodes, sending thousands of bright glowing lumps of molten rock high into the air. Like a massive fireworks display, they fan out as if in slow motion, before dropping down and hitting the ash covered crater walls with a dull thumping sound.
It is not without danger. Tourists have on occasion been killed when venturing too close, and there’s a risk of avalanches, toxic gasses and projectiles – this mountain commands respect. We stood there in silence and complete awe, peering into its fiery belly as the sun set somewhere behind the smoke and clouds. Listening, watching and waiting for the next explosion that would always make us jump with fear and cheer in excitement. And as he sky grew darker, the sight became even more spectacular and frightening. No wonder the ancient people of Tanna revered Yasur, the name literally translates to “old man”, and for a long time life on the island revolved around it.
This is the Earth showing us a small sample of its massive internal power. A power that heats our planet, moves continents and shapes the world. Standing next to it makes you feel utterly insignificant, and completely elated at the same time.
Sunset on “Mount Doom” / Long exposure shots of eruptions