Benbow – Hell of lava on a paradise island Ambrim

Benbow - Hell of lava on a paradise island Ambrim

Benbow – Hell of lava on a paradise island.

Benbow – Located on Ambrim Island in the Pacific Vanuatu Archipelago, it is the second cone of the Marum volcano. It has been active continuously for 25 years and throws lava bombs. 1276 degrees Celsius has a lake of liquid rock at the bottom of the crater. The air quality in the crater is very variable. The gases can quickly turn it into a toxic fog. Which will kill a person without a gas mask in 10 minutes.

There were no warning signs saying, “Stop, it’s getting too hot from here.” For us, there was only one way to test the limits: go down and risk getting burned. – explains expedition member Sebastian Hofmann. Covered in black ash, the surroundings resemble a lunar landscape. Anyone who comes here – or even wants to set up camp – must beware of hot winds, clouds of toxic gases and extremely acid rain.

Mountaineer Sebastian Hofmann glances at the slope at his feet. Beneath him, a lava lake bubbles. Only a few hundred meters separate him, photographer Ulla Lohmann and volcanologist Thomas Boyer from his destination: the glowing heart of Benbow – one of the most active and unpredictable volcanoes in the Pacific. However, the team doesn’t just want to climb this lava spouting psychopath – the plan is to go as far into the crater as possible. No man has ever dared such an adventure before.

The researchers prepared for weeks – they brought tents, gas masks and 600 meters of rope to the top (891 m). The road now leads down three terraces. Descending to the first level seems easy, but when three adventurers set up a “crater camp”, the mountain changes its face and forces the team to spend many days in tents. “It seethes, gushes, it’s like blood and it has veins – it’s alive” – Ulla Lohmann.

Invisible and odorless gases shroud the peak in a deadly cloud. Breathing is only possible through gas masks, also because of another invisible killer: the thin glass filaments blown from the lava lake. Inhaling this “Pelè hair” (Pelè is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes) must take into account lung damage.

The ground still trembles from small earthquakes, reminding the three travelers that they are camped on a ticking time bomb. As if that wasn’t enough, floating in the seething lake of fire are “lava bombs” – car-sized bubbles that, when bursting, eject molten rock into the air. “If the volcano doesn’t want you to come to it, it knows how to make that very clear to you,” explains Boyer.

When the situation calms down after almost a week, the team takes the risk of a dangerous descent – first to the second terrace, and from there to the third. Despite all the odds, the three explorers become the first to reach the lowest level of the crater. They are on their way through suffering. But neither of them are thinking about it right now. Just 60 meters below them, there is perhaps the most breathtaking view in the world: the beating heart of a volcano…

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