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Marum Crater Expedition Ambrym Island, Vanuatu

June 25th - Aug 16th 2017
Photos from our seven week volcano expedition to Marum crater on Ambrym Island, Vanuatu. This was my longest volcano expedition to date, and in total, I was able to make 5 descents to the bottom, 1200 feet down inside to the lava lake. Many thanks to teammates Geoff Mackley and Chris Horsley.

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The violently boiling lake of lava at the bottom of Marum crater.
The helicopter staying the night at base camp on a relatively clear night with a dramatic glowing cloud of volcanic gas.
Myself, 1200 feet down inside the crater, beside the lava lake, with the flag of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

 

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Where to begin? Several thousand kilograms of equipment, supplies, food and water arrive at the summit via helicopter airlift.
Inside the main mess tent. Geoff Mackley, Chris Horsley and I spent a total of 7 weeks in Vanuatu, most of it camped here at the summit. This tent is where did the cooking, eating and general socializing. Geoff also had a bit of an office set up.
My tent. Home for about 5 weeks or so. A cot, climbing gear, camera equipment and food storage. The tent seams tended to leak, so that's why there's plastic over everything. To drain water from the floor, I had to stab it with a knife wherever the water tended to gather.

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My tent, lit up at night. The moon made a rare appearance on this clear night. The orange glow is the cloud of sulfur dioxide gas that is lit up by the lake of lava 1200 feet below.
The helicopter, parked near base camp. There are 2 ways to get to the volcano summit. Hike for 6 hours, or take the chopper.
Our "Observation point" where we could get a good view of the lava on clear days. However, clear days were few and far between. Usually there was too much cloud, gas and rain to see all the way to the bottom.

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A smaller crater, very close to Marum (and our base camp) belches out a cloud of ash. This was totally unexpected. We've never seen this kind of activity here before. We were not too worried about it, but several people hiked closer and saw where large rocks had been thrown out of the crater in the explosions.
Another ash eruption from the nearby crater, showing how close it actually is to base camp (less than a kilometer away). We saw it erupt numerous times during our stay, sometimes several times in a single day.
Pele's hair. Named after the Hawaiian volcano goddess, these thin hair-like strands of rock drift up from the lava lake. When bubbles of lava burst, delicate strands of rock form and are carried by updrafts and swirling winds, all the way to base camp and beyond.

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Our view to the north. The ancient, extinct cone and primordial looking jungle made us all wonder if there were going to be pterodactyls flying overhead. It looks like Jurassic Park.
So. Many Dogs. The local porters and hunters would frequently bring their dogs with them. At one point, there were 9 dogs at base camp... And they would get into everything. The garbage, our food... You name it.
Looking back, through a break in the gas cloud, towards base camp and the helicopter. This was from our descent point that we use to go down to an observation ledge 100 meters down.

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Chris and one of our guests, down at the 100 meter point. This spot is great for training people how to use the ropes and equipment. It is also an epic photo spot where the ledge perfectly lines up with the lava lake below.
Sunset through the gas cloud. We had day after day of rain that kept thwarting our efforts, but every now and then we'd get a really nice evening with good visibility and a gorgeous sunset.
A clear sunset view all the way to the bottom. The lava lake is dynamic and has changed a lot since the last time I was here. The lava level has dropped, and the lake has gotten smaller, but is still as violent as ever. This wide angle shot really showcases how immense the crater is. You could fit the Empire State Building in there.

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Ambrym volcano sunset.
A closer look at the lava lake from the summit observation point. There appears to be a rock "bridge" that covers part of the lake.
The best nighttime views are when the skies are clear and the gas cloud lights up with the stars visible. It looks like something out of a science fiction film. Very other-worldly.

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At the bottom. In total, I managed to do 5 full descents to the bottom of the crater (400 meters, 1200 ft). Because of the way the lava lake level has dropped, it is now more difficult to get to the lava, but the heat is still very intense!
Wide angle, looking up at the crater cliffside. It takes the better part of a full day (in good weather) to get down to the lava, spend an appreciable amount of time there, then ascend back up. We use gasoline powered, motorized rope ascenders to get back up. It sure beats climbing.
The Marum lava lake, violently churning away. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The sound is wild, like deep resonant ocean waves crashing against rocks.

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L to R Chris, myself and Markus celebrating our successful descent with a round of scotch whiskey and a Cuban cigar.
This cow skull has been a landmark at Marum summit for years. The helicopter pilot also uses it as a reference target when landing at base camp.
Morning view underneath a deck of cloud.

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The best view, at the bottom, overlooking the lava lake.
The level of the lava lake is lower than in the past.
Myself and Mark Robinson, from The Weather Network, at the bottom.

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