5 Most Dangerous Volcanoes To Climb
Ever since checking out the preview for the upcoming film Pompeii (out Feb 21), we’ve been fixated on that iconic volcano, Mount Vesuvius. And since we shy not from adventure or a challenge, it’s gotten us to thinking: Which are the most dangerous we can climb volcanoes today?
To find out, we asked Sally Kuhn Sennert, who edits the USGS Weekly Volcanic Activity Report at the Smithsonian Institute’s Global Volcanism Program, who declined to comment stating that, “we do not promote nor comment on volcano tourism because too many people get hurt being in places they should not be.” They kindly recommended we talk to someone at VolcanoDiscovery, an adventure and study tour company dedicated to leading expeditions to the world’s most over 15000 active volcanoes. Meaning, they’re constantly monitoring and seeking an understanding of present day volcanic activity.
“The level of risk associated with climbing a volcano fluctuates very strongly with the level of activity and how close to active vents one would go. There’s no number to put to that,” says Tom Pfeiffer, volcanologist and owner of the company “And factors outside volcanoes, like accessibility, medical facilities and political stability play a role in determining what makes a volcano dangerous to climb.”
What follows are VolcanoDiscovery’s list of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes that are still climbable at this point in time. That means they are not at this moment impassable from eruption like Sinabung on Sumatra (“no one unless wanting to commit suicide would want to climb it now,” he says), Colima in Mexico or Schiveluch in Russia. The ones below you may climb, but at your own risk.
Nyiragongo – Goma, Dominical Republic of the Congo
If you want to see the largest of only five currently existing lava lakes on planet Earth, you’ve got to head to the top of Nyiragongo, located in Virunga National Park in Africa’s earthquake prone Great Rift Valley. This venture includes navigating places just as volatile as any active volcano, like Goma at the volcano’s foot and near the contested border with Rwanda—a place without much infrastructure that has been ravaged by civil war-like conditions for years. And then there’s the volcano—it’s 11,385 peak may not be a forbiddingly steep climb, but it is angled sharply enough to enable the volcano’s lava, which has is made up of chemicals that give it an unusually similar consistency to water, to reach flows of up to 60 miles per hour. Eruptive discharges from the lake in 1977 and 2002 took out parts of Goma and left hundreds dead. And if you get to the top, prepare to be met with the 7,000 tons of sulfur dioxide that the lake expels every day. Not exactly great company for a night’s encampment.
Erta Ale – Afar Region, Ethiopia
Local Afaris have nicknamed Erta Ale “The gateway to hell.” To wit, its cater is filled with the longest lasting lava lake on earth and it is a magnificently evil sight to behold. But it’s not the concentration of magma that will get you. Nor is it an insurmountable climb—Erta Ale is a basaltic shield volcano softly angled and only 2011 feet high. The biggest threat is the neighborhood. Erta Ale is fenced in by the desolate Danakil Depression, one of the driest and hottest places on the planet (118 degrees is not uncommon), and the trail though the caldera, which is riddled with lava flows, fissures and vents, is like walking in a mine field. To compound the danger, locals are notoriously unfriendly to outsiders and political tensions between Ethiopia and Eretria have been known to spill into the region, notably in January 2012 when 5 tourists were murdered and 4 kidnapped.
Klyuchevskaya Sopka – Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia
The largest active volcano in Eurasia requires days of trekking through difficult terrain— a tundra with no trails, no permanent settlements and one of the highest densities of bears in the world—a worthy adventure it its own right. Then, the route up to the steep 15,584 peak experiences erratic rock falls that have killed many climbers, even when its not in eruption, which is a rare occasion. When rocks aren’t raining, it’s also known to spout forth a few fireballs without much notice.
Mayon – Luzon Island, Philippines
Mayon is a popular climbing destination known for its nearly perfect symmetrical cone shape, but its equilibrium stops right there. The volcano is known for frequent eruptions, pyroclastic flows, mudslides and ash falls that can travel down any number of the forty ravines that emanate from the steeply angled crater and have led to large-scale evacuations of the towns below. Last May, 5 climbers were killed on an approach to the summit when a sudden phreatic explosion reigned rocks down along the trail.
Semeru – East Java, Indonesia
Semeru, also called Mahameru (Great Mountiain) by the locals, has been erupting with at low levels about every half hour since 1967 and is one of the few places you can actually watch fiery volcanic explosions in close proximity, wherein lies the danger. The 12,000-foot summit isn’t a technically difficult, but the plateau at the top offers zero protection from any possible larger than average explosions that often emanate from the crater. And if lobs of hot lava don’t do you in, there’s the chance that strong winds send an envelope of poisonous gas to suffocate, as it famously did to Soe Hok Gie, a famous Indonesian political activist in the ‘60s.
Mount Yasur – Tanner Island, Vanuatu
Mount Yasur has its very own cult—the John Frum cargo cult—who believe their leader, John Frum, lives in the volcano and head there to worship. But that’s not even the scariest part about this volcano that has been constantly active with mild Strombolian eruptions for the greater part of the last 800 years. It’s actually widely seen as the most accessible active volcano in the word, and tourists to Vanuatu usually head here to snap up some amazing photos—which is precisely its danger. Despite close monitoring by the government of Vanuatu, errant eruptions can easily send lava bombs well over the crater into the viewing area, not to mention toxic gas.