The First Man to Descend into Turkmenistan’s Door to Hell

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Image: George Kourounis

As he stands on the edge of a crater hotter than Hades, flames licking mercilessly just below his feet, George Kourounis feels fear strike into his very heart. After all, no one has ever done this before; no one even knows for sure if he will survive it. His mind races with doubts: what if the intense heat is too much for his protective suit? What if he somehow slips? Yet all such fears must be pushed aside. He has a job to do, after all. Kourounis takes a deep breath to steady his nerves then finally makes his first step to descend into north Turkmenistan’s blistering “Door to Hell.”

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Image: George Kourounis

Canadian explorer Kourounis found himself in this very situation in November 2013 when preparing to drop directly into a notorious chasm stretching 230 feet across – and one which has burned continuously for four decades. He had decided to go down almost 100 feet into the crater’s fiery belly to see if any life forms could exist in such an unforgiving environment. “I had a lot of unanswered questions,” he tells Scribol. “How hot would it be? Were there any toxic gasses? Will the ropes be heat resistant enough? There were a million things that could’ve gone wrong.”

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Image: George Kourounis

The origins of the “Door to Hell” are also somewhat enigmatic. Known as the Darvaza Crater, the blazing inferno is understood to be the result of Soviet scientists searching for gas in the early 1970s. Supposedly, they bored into a subterranean chamber by mistake and, triggering sudden subsidence, unwittingly created a sinkhole. This explanation, though, is disputed by local geologists, who insist the crater has been here since the ’60s but that it remained dark for two decades.

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