When planning a hike on an active volcano, safety before spectacle

Peering over the craggy rim of Erta Ale, Ethiopia’s most active volcano, at the lava lake below. Beneath a gassy haze, boiling, ruby-red, molten rock thickened and rose up, swelling like a tidal wave topped off by a fireworks of crashing surf. Earth is made up of blood and guts just like us.

Take the opportunity to hike to the 2,011-foot summit of Erta Ale while planning a road trip across the ancient kingdoms and lakes of Ethiopia’s Rift Valley. The East African Rift runs through Ethiopia’s crusty, northeastern Afar Region. There, the shifting of the tectonic plates beneath the parched desertscape produces a chaos of fire and gases that can be seen at the top of Erta Ale, which contains one of the world’s six lava lakes.

Many are interested in gazing upon breathtaking vistas, watching heart-stopping pyrotechnics and gaining insight into the fiery depths of the planet we inhabit. Statistics from several sites and tour companies suggest that trips to both visit and hike volcanoes are climbing.

The number of people climbing Mount Nyiragongo, for instance, an active stratovolcano at Virunga National Park in Congo, increased 92 percent between 2015 and 2017. A National Park Service report estimates a 58 percent increase in visitors at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii since 2008, when Kilauea, an active shield volcano, began erupting.

The risk of being trapped, injured or killed while hiking a live volcano, however, means one should undertake careful consideration and planning.

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