Force of Nature
It’s dark. You walk up the steep crater, on loose ash. The ground shakes with every thunder from the active volcano underneath you. The closer you get to the smoking crater, the louder the thunder and the faster your heartbeat. You’re scared. You know this is crazy and you should better turn back, run down the mountain of ash, back to safety. You want to, of course, but you don’t because you came this far already and you want to see what’s in that roaring, smoking crater. And then you’re there, at the top, and you look inside and, although even more scared now than before, you’re spellbound and can’t turn away anymore. Dukono’s got you.
Hiking through ash covered landscape
There are three active volcanoes on the island of Halmahera. One of them, Dukono, is close to the town of Tobelo. From time to time, depending on the wind, it covers the town in black ash. We wanted to see the source of the ash clouds and to get as close to the crater as possible.
Only a handful of English speaking tourist guides work on Halmahera. One of them is Yus, a local of Tobelo, who guides us to the volcano. From Tobelo, we go by motorbike as far as we can and then start trekking. Hossam and me are quite a bit faster than Yus and the porter but the trail is easy to find and we go ahead. The way up is not really hard but it’s sometimes steep and can be very slippery; parts of the trail have been washed away by the frequent rains. Thanks to the volcano’s continuous activity, everything is covered in ash. Including the hiker and their equipment. No matter what color your clothes – they’ll be dark gray by the time you reach the camp.
A short night on the volcano
Sleeping on Dukono is not easy. The smoking crater is close, the volcano loud, and the ground too hard to sleep on (only your limbs fall asleep). The sky is so beautiful, however, and the volcano so impressive, that you actually don’t want to sleep. In the dark, it’s sometimes even possible to see a red glow from the lava reflected in the dark ash clouds or glowing stones being thrown outside by an explosion. Which is very scary if you think you want to get really close to that crater.
Climbing to the crater in the dark
At 4 a.m., after a good cup of coffee, we start the one and a half hour walk to the crater. There’s no trail and Yus just chooses the best route he can find in the light of his torch. At first we scramble over stones and carefully walk along muddy patches. The mud’s deep and wet from the rain and can suck your shoes right off your feet (which happens quite often and maybe it’s the reason why the porter walks barefoot..?). The crater itself is just ash. Wet ash, but still loose and the steep ascent takes a lot of energy. Every few meters Yus stops to see which way is best. Hossam and me are both really scared. The ground shakes while the volcano continues to roar and spew ash and I feel my heart bumping at least as loud as the volcano. Yus seems to be scared as well – which doesn’t surprise me because what we’re doing here is highly dangerous. It’s still dark and when we almost reach the edge of the crater, Yus yells out “Come back! That’s an overhang!”. Since it’s all just ash, it could easily crash under our weight, so we rapidly go back and head to a safe spot further to the west. Tentatively, we take a look into the crater – and we instantly know that this is one of the best things we’ve done so far on our world trip. Or in our lives. The view is absolutely awesome and I can’t take my eyes off the volcano, the lava, and the ash clouds that fill the crater and the air. I’m no longer scared, I’m totally mesmerized, and I don’t want to go back anymore.
But we have to go down eventually, obviously, and it’s fun to run down the ash mountain in the morning light. After a breakfast of Pop Mie we pack our things and head back down the mountain. At the beginning of the trail, where we started walking the day before, the ojek drivers are waiting for us with a can of ice cold Coke for each of us. Fantastic.
You can contact Yus by phone: +62 (0)852 40842579