TORONTO – For George Kourounis, a seasoned storm chaser and adventurer who’s been able to make a career out of extremes, descending into a live, bubbling volcano was just “another day at the office.”
WATCH: Adventurer George Kourounis in the midst of a lava lake in Vanuatu
Kourounis was making the journey – what would be considered terrifying to most people – down into the Marum crater on the Ambrym island of Vanuatu. It is one of only five persistent lava lakes in the world.
Kourounis calls Toronto home, though it may be considered more of a base camp for a man who chases tornadoes, sits in the middle of hurricanes like Hurricane Katrina and descends into fire pits. He also has had his own show, Angry Planet that chronicled his adventures.
Initially trained as an audio engineer, he was fascinated by nature, travel and science. He started tornado chasing in 1998 and continues to chase every tornado season. And then it snowballed, with more extreme adventures.
“I’ve somehow managed to take that passion for nature and parlay it into a career…it’s more a lifestyle than a career,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Kourounis has descended into a volcano. In fact, if you went through his closet, aside from shirts, pants and ordinary clothing, you’d also find two heat suits used in the descents.
There are only five locations on Earth with lava lakes: Kilauea, in Hawaii; Erta Ale, in Ethiopia; Nyiragongo, Congo, Ambrym, Vanuatu and Mount Erebus, Antarctica. Kourounis has visited all but Mount Erebus, and you can be sure that that’s on his list.
Though visiting Ambrym had been on Kourounis’s to-do list for a while, the plans for the expedition came together rather abruptly.
A few weeks earlier, Kourounis’s colleague, Geoff Mackley (“the most experienced guy in the world when it comes to these expeditions”) contacted him about visiting the fiery pit, along with another colleague.
He jumped at the chance.
But it wasn’t just the volcano that presented challenges.
“The rain that comes down is so acidic, it burns your eyes, stings your skin…and any piece of exposed metal instantly corrodes,” Kourounis said. He noted that all the metal in his camera and tripod was corroded from the visit.
Kourounis admits that there were moments when he was scared. Stepping out onto the cliff to head down, leaning back to take the photo with the lava behind him – trusting that his rope would hold – as well as when the starter cord to his lifeline out of the crater broke. Fortunately, it started on the first try.
And then there was what happened after the descent. Already out of his heat gear, Kourounis turned to see orange chunks shooting out of the volcano and heading straight for him.
“I see these glowing orange chunks – small, but still, glowing orange – coming at me. And I have no time to react…I was actually splattered by some of this lava. And one of these pieces actually melted into my rain jacket, and stuck there.”
Kourounis said that he continues to seek adventure to special places around the globe.
“I’m looking for places that involve the natural world, that are extreme for one reason or another, and preferably that few people have ever done or better, that no one has ever done…that’s what I love.”
— George Kourounis (@georgekourounis) August 28, 2014
But Kourounis isn’t just a thrill-seeker: it’s his love of our planet that fuels his desire to seek unusual or unseen places.
“I don’t take a second of it for granted,” he said. “I’m extremely fortunate.”
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