The “Door to Hell” is the appropriate description of a huge crater in Turkmenistan that has been burning uncontrollably since 1971 and whose floor is covered with flames and boiling mud reaching temperatures of up to 1000 degrees Celsius (1832 degrees Fahrenheit). When he heard that Turkmenistan might try and close the door (which seems odd since it’s a great tourist attraction for both humans and demons), explorer George Kourounis became the first person to walk on the bottom of the crater when he rappelled across and down in 2013 for a television special broadcast in 2014. Now he’s decided to release more of the unbelievable photographs of his expedition.
Officially called the Darvaza Crater because it is located in Darvaza (also spelled Derweze or Darvaze), Turkmenistan, it’s believed to have been first lit by Soviet petroleum engineers as a way to burn off natural gas which was too expensive to extract. Unlike most wells, the gas fire never burned itself out and is still flaming today.
The crater has a diameter of 70 meters (230 feet) and a depth of up to 30 meters (100 feet). Kourounis traveled on a wire over the crater before dropping to the floor in a heat-reflective suit equipped with a self-contained breathing apparatus and connected to a Kevlar harness.
Kourounis spent 15 minutes in the crater, taking measurements and collecting samples that were later found to contain microbial life accustomed to the harsh environment. He described the experience as “an overwhelming feeling.”
I was in spot where no human had ever been. It was like stepping onto an alien planet – more people have been on the moon.
Turkmenistan’s president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow still wants the Door to Hell shut, but it’s open as of this writing.
Why did he wait to release this new set of photographs? Kourounis doesn’t say. Is he looking for publicity to raise funds for a new expedition? Souvenir sales down? Trying to get an endorsement from a barbecue grill maker? Worried about disturbing the residents behind the door to hell? Whatever the reason, they’re worth the wait.