In November 2010, the lava lake rose so high that it flooded large parts of the outer crater floor. It was actually still unusually high when we peeked into the noisily bubbling lava lake in January 2011. It might sound hard to believe, but we were quite exhausted from climbing the 650 meters to the rim of the caldron. And we had now to do so more climbing! An Afar guide took us down to the floor of the large outer crater.
Due to the lava overflow in November, we often walked across new lava that cracked loudly under our feet and often simply gave in. It was pitch-dark and we had no clue what we were walking on. Constantly we worried about falling into a hole of boiling lava.
Even our Afar guide got completely disorientated: he had not been up there since the overflow and at one point he simply stopped walking. Christos and Liza had stayed in the small camp and we had no chance to figure out what was going on. After sitting in the dark lava field for about half an hour, we saw some lights in the distance that slowly moved closer. Luckily, a couple of loud Italian tourists were approaching with a more experienced guide and we joined them. The smell of sulphur was by then omnipresent, not only from the crater but was steaming from countless openings in the ground.
Once at the edge of the crater, we looked into the red, orange and even whitish lava boiling away about 20 meters down. We first hesitated, but then Gilles dared to venture up to the very edge of the crater. Heidi could not even look at this and was worried sick, especially after she realized that Gilles was already standing on an overhang, which meant he was actually above the lava lake.
The feeling was awesome, the kind of fearful and strong respect for the forces of nature was counterbalanced by pure amazement at the sight of the 100 meter wide mass of lava, boiling, bubbling, and spitting in all directions. The smell of sulphur and the heat was so strong that after some minutes we had to move back for a while only to be drawn forward soon by this absolutely unique sight.
Walking back to our camp, we felt a lot more confident. We figured the further away we were from the crater, the less likely we would fall to our death through the cracking lava. Only the next morning, with a clear view of the crater floor, did we realize that the new, much darker lava was only like a coating on top of the old lava field. There was simply nothing to worry about…