Ethiopia's first Geocache!
Erta Ale volcano geocache is Ethiopia's first geocache!
Erta Ale (the Fuming or Devil's Mountain) lies in the north-east end of The Rift Valley segment that runs across Ethiopia and Djibouti to the Red Sea. The summit lava lake sits at an elevation of about 500 m, while the base of the volcano rests 75 m below sea level. Erta Ale and its neighbours have grown from the most low lying part of the Great Rift Valley on land.
Not made for the comfort-seeking tourist, you need to get into the world's hottest desert, travel among armed Afar nomad people who are at gunpoint with the ethiopian army and master volcanic territory.
One hundred kilometres away the rift has been flooded to create the Red Sea. After rifting has started 20 million years ago, the crust of the continent eventually split between modern Ethiopia and Arabia, allowing a new crust to from upwelling lava. What is happening now at the Red Sea is possibly what happened between the American and Afro-European continents when the Atlantic first developed 2000 million years ago.
Erta Ale is a shield volcano, part of the East African rift system. In its vast summit caldera there are two pit craters. The smaller crater (140m dia and 60-90m deep) now has an active lava lake. 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. The tribe living there, the Afar people, are proud and strong warriors, often hostile to foreigners.
Getting to Erta Ale is not easy - just to reach the volcano is a test of endurance. The volcano is situated at the bottom of the Danakil Depression, generally considered to be one of the most inhospitable regions on earth, a valley floor 130 m below sea level. The climatic conditions are terrible, with record temperatures 56°C in the shade, but with no shade to be found there.
The lava lake is permanently stirred by fountains of lava and the skin that covers it in some cooler spots makes it seem alive. The lava of Erta Ale is basaltic, which remains molten at 1100°C. The lava lake has a surface area of 4 000 sq m, so the thermal radiation is intense. To lean over the crater without protection is out of the question. Just to have a quick look, one must position gloved hands in front of the face. Aluminium, fire-proof clothing Nomex is a must. To protect the eyes, a sheet of polished gold must be used; it is only few microns thick and so see-through.
With this armour one can at last approach the edge and take some time to admire the view. The surface of the lake is covered in a layer of cooler lava, floating on the molten core like the skin on milk. The lake is moving - a current ripples the lava and makes the skin undulate. This current originates in a fountain spraying molten lava brewed by the high temperature gas that it emits. The skin is black in the shade, and as brilliant as silver in the sun. The fountain is scarlet, becoming orange as its temperature rises. The flow of the lava tears the skin into a huge panels separated by fissures through which lava shows red. Bubbles of gas regularly break the surface of the lake, popping the elastic skin with spurts and incandescent jets. A real volcanologic adventure!
The cache is inside a lava tunnel in safe distance to the pit crater, covered with pieces of broken lava tunnel ceiling.
The cache contains 2 canisters with 20 liters of treated water, a shovel, a large plastic tarp and several small items useful in a desert camp
More Volcano Geocaches
A list of more volcano geocaches is available.