Erta Ale is a continuously active basaltic shield volcano in the Afar Region of northeastern Ethiopia. Erta Ale means “smoking mountain” in the local Afar language. Erta Ale is one of the driest, lowest and hottest places on earth .It is 613 meters (2,011 ft.) high, with one or sometimes two active lava lakes at the summit which occasionally overflow on the south side of the volcano. The south side pit is known locally as “the gateway to Hell”. The lava is usually soft and flows more than 20km from its source, therefore, the Erta Ale Massif, 40km in diameter, is far less steep-sided than most active volcanoes.
Beneath the ground surrounding Erta Ale is an enormous pool of active magma. The lake goes through cycles and will cool, form a black layer on top, and then suddenly convert back into liquid lava. Occasionally, due to pressure, “fountains” of lava will form, spewing lava in 6 to 13 foot-high plumes. Erta Ale has undergone seven eruption events in the past 125 years.
Erta Ale is notable for holding the longest-existing lava lake, present since the early years of the twentieth century (1906). Volcanoes with lava lakes are very rare; there are only eight in the world. Erta Ale often has two active lava lakes – making it quite a unique site.
Although in previous years the volcano was mainly visited from afar on a helicopter, in recent years visitors take excursions to the pit of the craters and view the lava lakes up close. The climb to the crater is preferably done in the evening after sunset due to high temperatures averaging 40°c in the area. The volcano continually releases ammoniac gas which makes it advisable to wear a nose mask when approaching the lava lake. The 9km climb takes 2-4 hours to complete. It is advisable to bring solid shoes, 2-3liters of water as well as hat and sunscreen if climbing in the day time.