Tuesday, May 15, 2007

This is as close to liquid hot magma as I want to get

Mount Cameroon
May 2

It’s been seven years since this volcano erupted and that’s a good thing, because we wouldn’t be able to hike on the cooled lava like this if it had come spilling out of the earth much more recently. But we can’t ignore the fact that Mount Cameroon either exploded or erupted in 1998 and 1999 and again in 2000, which could mean another eruption is due soon; as in, at any moment, even as we pick our way around old craters and across ancient lava flows.

One thing is certain, however: this is as close to the fiery innards of Mother Earth as I ever want to get.

Spatially we’re not that close, I know. The bubbling magma is kilometres below our feet, through the Earth’s thick crust. The heat emanating from this black volcanic desert is more likely from the equatorial sun, not the planet’s superheated bowels.

Still, these pock-mark craters, like huge exploded zits, are a bit disconcerting: in 1999 they spewed inferno down the mountain, forcing the local town of Limbe to evacuate, and stopping just when it reached the town’s outer asphalt road at the volcano’s base.

Let’s move on.

Temporally we’re not that close to the burning either. The red tongues of magma last flowed seven years ago; it’s perfectly fine to walk upon them now, even pick up samples. Best to avoid the parts that are still smoking, though. And if the wind changes, mind the gaseous sulphur; too much of that in the nostrils could knock you down.

Yes, on the time-space continuum we’re quite safe; there’s lots of distance, both ways, between us and a glowing vaporization akin to biblical punishment.

But you see, that’s part of any concern one carry with one’s luggage when one spends three days trekking across an active volcano: it’s been long enough, maybe too long, since Mount Cameroon unleashed its hidden apocalypse. The molten Earth will rise again, count on it — and we’d best be off these slopes at that time.

Onward ho. Let’s get down. Last one to the treeline, where, in the event of an eruption, a living creature might have a chance of escape through the barrier of rainforest, is a rotten, sulphuric egg. G.

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