Getting to Dodom (Base Camp)
Some of the roads are really good in Ethiopia. Fish explained to us that the Army had built many of the main highways, and the tarmac road out of Afdera was smooth and mainly straight. We were on our way to Dodom, Erta Ale’s base camp. A few hours later we stopped and under the shade of a large tree and met the other four companions of our group to have lunch.
There were now two 4x4s in our party and a short while later we turned off-road into the desert. We drove for literally an hour or more in a featureless landscape, sand dotted with a few bushes as far as the eye could see. We stopped for a break to visit the ‘bush toilet’ and stepping out of the car it was like walking into a furnace as the heat was so intense. Eventually the volcano appeared in the distance and we entered the lava field.
Our driver was absolutely amazing, he skillfully picked his way at walking pace across the rocks and boulders. Relatively speaking it wasn’t far, maybe 20k, but it took a few hours and was the bumpiest journey I’ve ever experienced. Dodom consists of a few huts, where we relaxed and had some dinner at around 5pm, and as the sun was setting we commenced the trek up to the crater.
Ascending Erta Ale (and sleeping on the crater edge!)
It was a fortuitous time to be in Ethiopia as a fierce war had raged from 1998 to 2000 between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Afar region where we were is very close to the border and the whole area is not particularly safe for tourists – a tourist was shot dead near Erta Ale in December 2017. While the war may have ended in 2000, peace was not declared until July 2018 – a few months before my visit.
While we were told it was perfectly safe, we still had armed guards accompany us up to the crater. I followed in the footsteps of a wizened old man with a Chinese equivalent of an AK47 slung over his shoulders. He set a quick pace and we did the 9.5km trek in less than 3hrs. The rock underfoot is very sharp and brittle and you constantly have to watch your footing, lit up by the beam of your head torch. The path more or less goes straight up the volcano, but you think it’s never going to end because the crater doesn’t seem to get any closer until you reach the top.
The trek to the crater takes about 3 hrs. Have an early dinner around 17:00 hrs and trek up to Ertale at 20:00 hrs. Camels transport all the camping materials and food to the rim of the volcano, where you spend the night watching the boiling lava. You will sleep in a local shelter on the top of the mountain.
*This section is still a work in progress*
Erta Ale ranks as one of the most amazing natural attractions anywhere in Ethiopia. It is a shield volcano with a base diameter of 30 km and 1km square caldera at its summit. Erta Ale contains the world’s only permanent lava lake. The north crater is noted for being the longest existing lava lake, and south crater is the most active lava lake.