Robert Schrader

The Door to Hell, Danakil Depression

My four-day trip into the Danakil Depression included about half a dozen stops, but only two of them were of any significance to me: The yellow sulfur fields of Dallol, the hottest inhabited place on the planet; at Erta Ale, a volcano home to one of only a few "persistent lava lakes" on the face of the Earth. Neither disappointed.

The lava fields, for their part, appeared of another world, the turquoise liquid pooled into the indentations of crystalline sulfur appearing to offer solace from heat that beamed down from the sun. It was concentrated sulfur acid, of course; if I had simply stepped down too hard, the ground could've given way and revealed a massive pool of it. Death was not entirely unlikely.

As for Erta Ale, the long drive to get there (which we almost didn't complete, on account on a trek rainstorm that had muddied the dirt road leading to the volcano) was far worse than the three hour trek, if the darkness we did it in made it tedious. It was death-defying, too—I set up my tripod on the unstable pumice rock, and stepped perilously close to the edge of the crater as I snapped my trademark selfies—but the real peril was not bringing enough water with me on the way up, and arriving to the summit as parched as the sickly-looking camels that stood (er, sat) guard over the camp.

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