October 30, 2013

Mud, sweat and broken bones. Climbing in the Caldera. Ambrym, Vanuatu

Walking on black volcanic ash is not as easy as it looks. Initially it was hard and compacted, and like walking on a footpath, but soon it became loose and feet could disappear to above the ankle. The ground was still flat, but after about an hour we started to climb, and the ash ended, being replaced by lava and mud.

The weather also changed, Mt Benbow had its own weather system which seemed to vary between torrential rain and burning sun. I would get soaked to the skin, and then dry out in minutes. Thunder and lightning could be seen above the distant rim of the Volcano, and the white billowing smoke from its heart could be seen blowing out to sea to the west.

The climb became harder, the ground was slippery and we had to climb and descend old lava flows and canyons created by floods. There was little or no vegetation any more, and bird life had ceased. I focused on the music on my mp3 player to motivate me to climb, the more aggressive songs the better, early ‘The Damned’ tracks in particular helped me keep one foot in front of the other. By mid-day the heat from the tropical sun was intense, and the sudden thunder and downpours were a relief, although there was no shelter. We stopped every half an hour, drank water and talked.

Bae was an experienced guide, telling me he did this trip maybe once or twice a month, and his last group had been filming for National Geographic. He had to carry his own pack, and heavy camera equipment, as the team struggled to climb the trail. He had not lost anyone, yet, although had come close when a tourist had lost his footing climbing the crater and had slipped sixty metres over sharp lava and rocks, resulting in a broken leg and many abrasions. Bae carried him on his back the 12 km’s to the road, and an air ambulance was organised.

I now paid more attention to my foot placement.

Far Flung Travel Tips

* For  an excellent guide, contact Bae Willpen from Meltugon Village on 5413026

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