We stumbled along in the darkness, the path a lighter gray amid the deep charcoal of the dried lava fields surrounding us. Up ahead was our goal, the dull, angry, red glow our own personal Mount Doom just over the ridge. We were in the Danakil Depression, in Ethiopia, which has been called one of the hottest places on Earth.
In one hand I held a flashlight; in the other, the hand of my seven-year-old son, Ray, the youngest member of our intrepid troop that had set out to visit one of Africa’s most active volcanoes. Behind us stretched a faint row of flashlights and headlamps from the other members of the team. The camels carried our bags. The local guards carried old boltaction rifles across their shoulders. The dried lava around us still radiated the punishing heat of the day.
We were in what has been called one of the hottest places on Earth, so this final trek up to the Erta Ale volcano had to be made after the blazing sun had set.