Into the Volcano
Working around active volcanoes often includes hazards such as hot magma, explosions, and poisonous gases. However, sometimes the dangers of working in extreme environments can be as fundamental as the lack of water and dehydration. In 1986, GSO Professor of Oceanography Haraldur Sigurdsson and I were doing fieldwork at Tambora volcano in Indonesia. It is located on a remote part of the island of Sumbawa, about eight degrees south of the Equator, and the hike to the 9,000 foot summit usually takes about three days. After three days of hiking through difficult conditions that included painful stinging nettles and razor-sharp rattan, we found ourselves dangerously low on drinking water and still short of the summit. The assurances that we had received from our guides about the availability of water turned out to be wrong. We were faced with the decision to either abandon the climb and descend the difficult path or continue in an attempt to find water closer to the top. We decided to press ahead. The fourth day brought us to the top of the volcano and a spectacular view of the four-mile-wide, 3,000-foot-deep caldera. Our main concern, however, was to find water as soon as possible. We had been without water for a day, hiking strenuously, and we were dehydrated. The only source turned out to be at the bottom of the caldera in a small lake. We descended 3,000 feet along the steep slopes of the caldera, traversing hot steam vents and sharp cliffs. At the bottom of the caldera, we hiked a mile over the dusty, mud-cracked floor to reach a small stream that led into the lake. That cool drink is one I will never forget.
return to Contents