Mt Yasur Volcano, Vanuatu - How to Prepare
Visiting Mount Yasur Volcano, on the Vanuatu island of Tanna, is an exhilarating sensory experience. Here’s what we suggest you need to wear and take, to make sure you get the most out of your visit…
First of all, for enthusiastic photographers, your camera gear is going to be a big priority. We are working on several detailed posts with our photography tips and tricks to ensure you get the most from photographing this spectacle. This will include recommended equipment, shooting locations and camera settings. However in summary we recommend you carry a tripod for long exposure photography, a good camera cover to protect your camera from the ever-present ash, and lenses protected by UV filters (better to ruin a filter than your lens).
So what to wear? While many visitors are attired in nothing more than t-shirts, shorts and thongs, we would highly recommend more appropriate clothing. First, it is better to wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, as protection from both the sun and the ash. The ash gets into everything, and sweaty skin plus ash plus moist sulphur cloud is a recipe for caked-on mud. In addition, some volcanic explosions release plumes of tiny debris fragments, which can be as sharp as icicles. When it is particularly misty on the volcano, a rain jacket is suggested and on occasion it can get chilly at the top, so a jumper may be needed (we had an extra layer with us in our backpacks on our visits, but they were not required when we were there).
Closed walking shoes are essential, as the ground is rough and rocky. Furthermore, the western ridge is precariously narrow, with precipitous drops on both sides – it is crucial that you can balance safely, especially in strong gusts of wind and in vision-impairing smoke. There is, in effect, no safety railings or barricades (the flimsy wood barrier is nothing more than a guide, it won’t hold you if you stumble), and while you may not fall all the way into the volcano (hopefully!), a misstep would make for a steep and scary scramble back up the scree slope. The danger is magnified in the darkness, as it is all too easy to lose your footing or trip on the rough path.
We would also highly recommend wearing a balaclava, to stop your ears and hair from becoming full of ash, and to cover your mouth and nose from the intermittent bursts of pungent sulphurous fumes. Sunglasses are recommended for during the day (preferably ones with as much wraparound coverage as possible) primarily to protect your eyes from the dust and ash. Once night descends and it is too dark for sunglasses, a good idea is to swap them for clear plastic safety glasses – while not a great look, your grit-free eyes will thank you (and in truth, once it is dark, no one will notice how you look anyway).
And finally, don’t forget a torch, particularly if you are staying late. In this regard, a headlamp is ideal, especially for camera and tripod adjustments in the dark (even if you know your camera really well). But any light will be crucial for the breakneck descent that may ensue if you have pushed the limits of your allowed time on the volcano!
This degree of preparation may seem excessive when you are at the base of the volcano, surrounded by laidback Aussies (and other travellers from all over the world) in boardshorts and thongs. But you are literally about to stand on the edge of an active volcano, and we don’t think that the implications of this should be underestimated. Certainly at the top of the volcano, we felt that our preparations were ideal to allow us to get the most out of our volcano visits. This was particularly the case when it came to our photography ambitions. By maximising our safety and especially comfort, we ensured we could genuinely enjoy the volcano in all its might and splendour.
Photographing Mount Yasur Volcano: Part 3 – Image Types & Camera Settings (Still to come)