VOLCANO PLANET

A world on fire

Safety On Volcanoes

If you ever wondered if you could climb a volcano and peer into the crater then the answer is yes, it can be done. But the most important thing to remember is that volcanoes are not adventure playgrounds nor theme parks as this is serious nature you are dealing with. There are many hazards along the way in which you will encounter on volcanoes whether they are active or not. Therefore, you cannot just climb a volcano as it could be asking for trouble so you will need to read information about a particular volcano you are thinking of going to and study it's hazards and eruptive cycle. It is also strongly recommended that you hire a guide as you will need to know where you are going considering you can easily get lost off track. If there are fees to pay to get on the volcano then pay it! As it could mean a matter of life and death for you as people may come looking for you if you're lost or injured. If a guide says it's too dangerous to go up too close to somewhere then he means it's too dangerous to go near! You will also need to bring certain items with you whilst climbing up a volcano. Another issue to consider is that there are 5 different types of risk zones which you will enter on the volcano when approaching a proximity of an active crater or vent, they are: Extreme Risk Zone, High Risk Zone, Medium Risk Zone, Low Risk Zone, and Safe Zone. The level of risk depends on the volcano and how active it is.

Note: This page is not to encourage people to just go climbing up a volcano, it is there to provide safety tips should you happen to decide to go climbing one.

Hazards

Lava Fountains

These come in a form of Hawaiian and Strombolian eruptions. Standing close to one will get you burnt to death from falling lava.

Volcanic Explosions

From Strombolian to Plinian eruptions you are at risk of getting hit from falling debris such as rock or ash. Some rocks as they fall from an explosion are known to be bigger than cars. Standing close to impact can be very fatal. If you happen to be close to a Strombolian, Vulcanian, or Phreatic explosion then I would say your best defence is to duck behind a large rock if there is any around.

A'a Lava Flows

A'a lava moves quite slowly so you'll have plenty of time to outwalk it. However, walking on hardened A'a lava flows can be risky as the surface is very jagged and brittle, and therefore could cause you an injury and cut you as it has a very unstable terrain. Be extra careful when walking on thinner crust of A'a lava as the heat underneath can melt the soles of your shoes. Unfortunately, alot of tourists get this problem when hiking on Pacaya volcano.

Pahoehoe Lava Flows

These come in a more liquid gooey form. When walking on hardened Pahoehoe lava flows watch out for fresh looking cooled lava which comes in a form of a glassy appearance or is jet black in colour, it could still have hot lava on the inside!

Pyroclastic Flows

Pyroclastic flows come in a form of an ashy cloud full of super hot gases and rocks which hugs the slopes of a volcano when tumbling down at roaring speeds and are the most dangerous type of eruption. Like water, they will travel down a terrain with the least resistance such as a valley or a channel. They will devastate anything that lies in it's path and there is no way of outrunning them. If you happen to be caught up in a path of an approaching pyroclastic flow then the chances are you're gonna die. Your best defence perhaps would be to move up to higher ground and away from the pyroclastic flow real fast, although this does not guarantee your survival. Plan potential escape routes.

Lahars

These come in a form of volcanic mud which are a mixture of volcanic debris and water, and are known to travel at fast speeds down valleys often causing destruction on a large scale. They are the second most dangerous type of eruption. They occur when an erupting volcano melts the snow on the upper slopes or when rain interacts with volcanic material. Get up to higher ground to avoid lahars.

Volcanic Gases

As well as producing water vapour, volcanoes produce toxic gases which can irritate the eyes, throat, and lungs as well as resulting in death. The main gases found on volcanoes are Carbon Dioxide, Sulpher Dioxide, Hydrogen Sulphide, Hydrochloric Acid, and Hydrogen. If you have no gas mask present, it might be a good idea to stay away from depressions where a large concentration of gases are present.

Fumaroles

These come in a form of small vents or fissures where it emits steam and gases originating from water or magma. You are at risk of being burned when approaching them.

Lava Dome Collapse

When a lava dome or part of a lava dome collapses incandescent rocks break away and come tumbling down the slopes at high speeds forming a pyroclastic flow. This is common on subduction zone volcanoes.

Lava Bench Collapse

This occurs at oceanic hotspot volcanoes namely on Kilauea volcano. It happens when a portion of land formed by hardened lava becomes unstable and therefore collapses into the sea. At Kilauea tourists have actually died when getting caught up in a lava bench collapse whilst trying to get close to the lava flows. The terrain may seem stable but it's not.

Lava Tubes

These form by the crusting over of a channel and lava is known to travel vast distances inside them. Should a roof of a lava tube collapses and you happen to be caught up in it, then you will die instantly.

Entry Of Lava Into Sea

This occurs commonly at oceanic hotspot volcanoes namely on Hawaii, Galapagos Islands, and Reunion. When molten lava pours into the sea, it boils the water creating steam plumes. Standing on the edge of land to the sea at the point of lava entry is putting yourself at risk of being burned by steam plumes and also steam explosions which can hurl rocks into the air. You are also at risk from waves at high tide as being hit by one is like having a ton of boiling water thrown at you.

Standing On The Edge Of A Crater

If you are standing on the rim of an active crater or vent then you're prone to being engulfed by an explosion or having a part of a crater collapse underneath you in an earthquake which could more likely result in death. As well as studying the eruption cycle of the volcano and how often it erupts, limit your time to as little as possible when standing close to an active crater or vent. The longer you stay, the more at risk from death you put yourself in.

Acid Lakes

Not all craters containing lakes are safe. When volcanic gases from beneath the surface of the lake interact with water then a chemical reaction causes the water to turn into acid and would therefore change colour. Acid water tends to be corrosive and can emit nasty vapours.

Rock Falls

Loose rocks on any terrain are known to come tumbling down for whatever reason and can potentially cause a serious injury.

Landslides

When part of a land on the slopes becomes unstable, it comes tumbling down the slopes. Bad weather and earthquakes are commonly known to cause this.

Muddy Terrain

It is common to find muddy trails on volcanoes. You are at risk of slipping so be careful.

Bad Weather

Wind, rain, snow, and fog can make things risky when hiking on a volcanoes. Lightning can be very fatal as you're on high ground. A tourist was struck and killed by lightning while on Pacaya volcano. Your best defence from lightning would be to remove all metal and electrical items you got and to leave them in one place whilst you crouch down in an area away from your belongings.

Darkness

If you are hiking a volcano at night or that you happen to get caught up in nightfall then the risks of serious injury is greatly increased as you won't be able to see where you're going. A good torch may prevent this.

A Quiet Volcano

When a volcano or a vent appears to be quiet, it can draw you into a false sense of security thinking that's it's safe to approach. Quiet volcanoes have been known to erupt unexpectingly so get the latest information if in doubt.

Altitude Sickness

As you climb up to the upper slopes, you may find that the Oxygen level gets thinner resulting in running out of breath easily, nausea, and headaches. Take a rest when you need to, drink water, and take deep breaths as it's harder to breathe at high altitudes.

No Guide

Not having a guide could put you at risk of getting lost. Local guides usually have a good inside knowledge of a volcano in question and will know which way to go and what areas are the most dangerous.

Armed Robbers

It has been known to happen for some tourists to be robbed of their belongings whilst hiking on some volcanoes. It's more of a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Travelling in groups decreases the risk of being robbed.

Naive Attitude

This is probably more dangerous than most risks themselves. You might get some idiots with that "It'll never happen to me" attitude whom have a lack of knowledge on volcanoes and may just decide to climb one without listening to warnings first. This could cost you your life. Some foolish tourists have been maimed or killed attempting to climb the Arenal volcano.

Equipment

Water

It is very important to carry at least a 1.5 litre bottle of water with you as a long hike up a volcano can puff you right out and put you at risk from dehydration. Never neglect water.

Food

Something light to eat like a couple of sandwiches is a suitable food source to bring with you. A small tasty sweet snack like a packet of biscuits or some chocolate will help conserve your energy. A can or bottle of fizzy drink may also help restore your energy after a long hike to the top.

Backpack

You will need this to carry your food, drink, extra clothing, etc.

Cap

When close to the summit of a volcano, you will find that you're very exposed to the sun regardless of the summit temperature and could therefore cause headaches. A Baseball cap may prevent this.

Sunglasses

These are optional but they will protect your eyes from glare from the sun.

Strong Hiking Shoes

The most suitable footwear to use whilst climbing a volcano are hiking boots or shoes with hard soles. Rough terrain (Especially hardened lava) can easily damage trainers.

Digital Camera

An optional item to bring along with you although you might find that you want to take alot of photos to show your folks back home. I'd personally suggest to bring one with you.

Rain Jacket

When the weather starts to get bad wear a rain jacket to prevent getting soaked.

Long Sleeved Top

Whether it's a sweater or a track top it's important to bring one with you as it will start to get windy and chilly at high altitudes especially at the summit.

Sun Lotion

You are at risk of catching a sunburn in hot regions on Earth and also on summits of volcanoes (Where you're pretty much exposed to the sun). Some sun block to put on your skin may help.

Torch

Hiking on volcanoes at night can be dangerous as you're at great risk of injury so you'll therefore need to see where you're going. It is important to bring a torch with you if you think you're going to get caught up in darkness like for example, arriving on Pacaya volcano late afternoon.

Mobile/Cell Phone

Useful to have with you to call for help in case you get lost or injured. Please take note that not all volcanoes have reception.

Leather Gloves

These are optional but rocks and hardened A'a lava flows can cut your hands whilst grabbing hold of them.

Helmet

Wearing one of these could potentially save your life from falling debris from Strombolian eruptions on certain erupting volcanoes especially in particular, on Etna, Stromboli, and Yasur volcanoes.

Gas Mask

Volcanoes do half produce some nasty gases, some of it can irritate your eyes and lungs, others can actually kill you. Large concentration of gases can build up especially in depressions so a gas mask is important to wear near a crater. The best gas mask to wear is one that protects you from acidic gases like Hydrogen Chloride and Sulpher Dioxide.

Map/Compass

Map and Compass could help you find your way round if you get lost.

GPS Locator

An optional item but these gadgets help pinpoint your location by Longitude and Latitude when calling for help.

Woolly Hat

When in cold regions on Earth or on a snow capped volcano, this is very important to wear to protect your head from the freezing cold weather.

Warm Jacket

Another important item of clothing to wear to protect you from the freezing cold weather when on a snow capped volcano or cold regions on Earth.

Ski Poles

These are optional to use but could help aid you with hiking up a snow capped volcano such as Cotopaxi or Villarrica.

Flask

Perhaps to help keep you warm in cold regions on Earth you might want to fill one of these up with your favourite soup.

First Aid Kit

When an injury occurs, these could come in handy with plasters, bandages, etc.

Tent

Bring one of these along with you to camp overnight in when you know that a volcano hike is going to take more than a day. Camp in a safe place away from an area which could potentially cause you serious injury as well as away from areas at high risk from volcanic activity.

Sleeping Bag

Something for you to sleep in when camping at high altitudes which get chilly at night.

Volcano Info

Pacaya, Guatemala

Every year, lots of tourists come flocking to this active volcano which is located about 20 miles south of Guatemala City making this one of the most accessible active volcanoes in the world. It had been in activity since the 1960's after being dormant for almost a century. During the late 1990's when the Guatemalan civil war ended it used to be the scene of armed robberies against tourists but since then security has improved and is now one of the star attractions of Guatemala. In early 2006, a fissure opened up on the volcano's slopes seeping out molten lava and has since prompted tourists to get close up to it during the day or night. The trails leading up to the summit area are well marked. There is an entrance fee to enter the volcanic park.

How to get there: There are several travel agents that organise tours to Pacaya especially in Antigua. If you are travelling independently, then from Guatemala City head down the highway that leads to Amatitlan and Esquintla but turn left where the sign indicates. If you are travelling from Antigua then head down the road that leads to Alotenango and carry on until you reach the highway junction then join the highway that leads to Guatemala City, Palin, and Amatitlan and turn right where the sign indicates. Keep your eyes peeled as the sign isn't very well indicated. When you eventually reach the visitor's centre at Pacaya, remember to pay somebody (Usually a kid) when you park your vehicle or your vehicle will be vandalised!

Approximate climbing time: 1 and a half to 2 and a half hours

Agua, Guatemala

Located directly outside of Antigua this is one of 3 volcanoes located in the area. It has not been active during historical times but has once contained a crater lake which had since drained away as a result of an earthquake rupturing the crater rim sending a torrent of water tumbling down the slopes engulfing the original capital of Guatemala, Ciudad Vieja. You can camp in the crater overnight.

How to get there: From Antigua, head uphill on the road that leads to the village of Santa Maria de Jesus and there is where the trail starts.

Approximate climbing time: 5-7 hours

Santa Maria, Guatemala

In 1902, a huge explosion blew away a portion of the southwestern flanks of this volcano located outside Quetzaltenango and killed 6,000 people. In 1922 a new lava dome complex called Santiaguito formed in the caldera and has been the centre of constant volcanic activity ever since. Today you can climb to the top of Santa Maria to look down on Santiaguito and watch it erupting. Climbing Santa Maria is tough as it has a steep trail going to the top so you will need to be fit for that. You can also camp at the summit overnight.

How to get there: If travelling independently, head south from Quetzaltenango to the village of Llanos del Pinal where the trail begins up the hill towards the foot of the Santa Maria volcano.

Approximate climbing time: 6-8 hours

Ipala, Guatemala

This extinct volcano located in the eastern part of the country near the El Salvador border contains a crater lake. It's a relatively easy hike to the top and there's a fee to pay to enter the lagoon area. The summit area around the lagoon has a forest and there is a trail that takes you around it.

How to get there: Head out east from Guatemala City on the highway that leads to El Salvador, Cuilapa, and Jutiapa. While near Jutiapa, follow the road that leads to Agua Blanca and there you're almost at Ipala volcano. From there, take a road that leads to the Ipala volcano until you find a road that goes halfway up the slopes to a car park. Remember to pay someone (Usually a kid) some money or they will vandalise your vehicle.

Approximate climbing time: 1 and a half to 2 hours

Etna, Italy

Mount Etna is Europe's largest active volcano located on the east side of Sicily and is one of the most studied and well-known volcanoes in the world. Numerous parasitic vents are scattered all over Etna's flanks and there is a large depression called the Valle del Bove which is located on Etna's eastern flanks. Etna also has 4 summit craters, all of whom are active. They are: Northeast Crater, Voragine, Bocca Nuova, and Southeast Crater.

How to get there: There is a bus service that leaves Catania around 8:15 in the morning with the bus returning from Etna's Rifugio Sapienza around 16:30. If you are travelling independently, then from Catania head straight upto Nicolosi where you'll soon see road signs that will point to Etna in which you will then have to follow. Or, if travelling from Taormina take the A18 route to Catania leaving it at Giarre then going past Santa Veneria, then Zafferana Etnea, and from Zafferana Etnea head straight up to the Rifugio Sapienza. Once you arrive at Rifugio Sapienza you have the option of buying tickets for guide, 4x4 truck, and cable car. The cable car will take you part of the way up the slopes of Etna which should save you around 1-2 hours hiking time. At 2600 metres after getting off at the upper cable car station you can take the 4x4 truck which would then take you right up to the summit area although it would cost you more money. WARNING: If you plan on hiking up to the summit craters then it is strongly advisable that you seek the advice of a local guide first and get an update on the volcanic activity.

Approximate climbing time: 2 and a half to 4 hours (From upper cable car station)

Poas, Costa Rica

Located outside of the capital San Jose and just to the north of the city of Alajuela is the Poas Volcano, Costa Rica's 2nd most active volcano. It is also the most easily accesible volcano in the country other than Irazu because there is a road that leads up to the top into the summit area in which you stop in the car park from where you walk for 10 minutes to the active crater lookout point. The active crater contains a highly acidic crater lake which emits toxic fumes. Not far off from the active crater is a trail that leads uphill to another crater on Poas called Laguna Botos, a cold water filled lagoon.

How to get there: There are a number of tours which can arrange for you to go to Poas, another alternative is a bus which you can catch from San Jose up to the Poas Volcano via Alajuela. Should you travel independently, then from San Jose head out west on the highway towards Alajuela and you should see signs that point towards Poas. From Alajuela, head north up the hills where you should pass a few villages and coffee plantations on the way, and the road will wind towards the summit where you have to pay a national park entrance fee at the booth before preceding to the car park. There is a building which contains a souvenir shop, some refreshments, and some public toilets. From there is where you take the trail towards the active crater lookout point.

Approximate climbing time: Because there is a road that leads right up to the summit, no climbing is required

Cerro Chato, Costa Rica

Right next to the active Arenal Volcano lies Cerro Chato, it's extinct neighbour. It is thought to have last erupted 3500 years ago but is now covered by dense cloud forest and contains a water filled lagoon. 

How to get there: From the Arenal Observatory Lodge, follow the road on foot that heads east towards a farm until you go downhill. Just before you reach the farm you should see a sign that points towards Cerro Chato in which you have to follow the trail. As you continue walking along the track you come across a stream which you have to cross and shortly as you turn a corner you will see a sign that says "LAGUNA" at the foot of a forest covered hill, this is where the Cerro Chato ascent begins.

Approximate climbing time: 2 hours

Irazu, Costa Rica

Irazu derives from the indigenous name Istaru meaning "Mountain of Thunder" and is based on a local legend. This volcano is located to the east of the capital San Jose and to the north of the city of Cartago and is the most easily accessible volcano in Costa Rica other than Poas because a road leads right up to the summit area. It contains 4 summit craters, they are Crater Principal, Crater Diego de la Haya, Playa Hermosa, and El Piroclastico. Crater Principal is the main crater of Irazu which contains a green lake. On a clear day it is said that you can view both the Pacific Ocean and the Carribean Sea from the summit. The last major eruption of Irazu came during 1963-1965 when then U.S. president John F. Kennedy made a state visit to the country in 1963.

How to get there: There are a number of tours which can take you to the Irazu Volcano, another alternative is to take a bus from San Jose. When travelling independently head out east from San Jose following the signs to Cartago where you should eventually see signs for Irazu on the Pan-American Highway. Just before you reach Cartago you head off on a road that leads to Cot where you must turn left to go uphill towards the village of Llano Grande, turn right and drive past Tierra Blanca where you eventually turn left towards the Irazu National Park. When following this road it will eventually lead to the national park entrance where you pay a fee before preceeding to a car park. From there, a short trail will take you to the craters.

Approximate climbing time: Because there is a road that leads right up to the summit, no climbing is required