7 The Gates of Hell

George Kourounis. Remember that name. He is fast joining the ranks of the world’s greatest explorers – and he is Canadian. Kourounis, a former engineer turned adventurer, began his career chasing storms across Canada. And not just any storms – the height of two Mt Everest type of storms. In his twenty-odd year career, Kourounis has travelled to over 65 countries and seen the inside of caves (so hot he had to wear an ice-filled suit), volcanic craters (as deep as the height of the Empire State Building), and hurricanes (the most harrowing being Katrina). But by far the most terrifying experience was his encounter with the fiery Gates of Hell. What are those, you ask?

The Gates of Hell are not what you might think. They are not a volcano spewing molten lava. They are not a fiery hole leading to the underworld. They are, in fact, a large crater on fire, the origin of which remains shrouded in mystery. Hidden far in the desert landscape of Turkmenistan, the Darvaza Crater (aka The Gates of Hell) is commonly believed to have formed in 1971 – by accident (Wilson, 2020). During a mission to find oil, some Soviet geologists brought heavy equipment on to the desert floor. Unbeknownst to them, the transparent and highly flammable gas, methane, lurked underneath the surface. When the land below them collapsed from the weight of the equipment and the presence of the gas, they decided to burn away the rising methane. Almost fifty years later, it is still burning, with no end in sight. According to Wilson (2020), however, this tale of origin is currently in dispute in the scientific community. Local geologists believe the crater may have developed from a mud flow in the 1960s (bursting into flames in the 1980s) or from the movement of water under the land’s surface. Regardless of its origin, the crater is known for its blazing glory.

Kourounis, the only human to ever reach the bottom of the crater, describes it as hell on earth. The crater’s diameter is 230 feet and its depth is 98 feet (Wilson, 2020). Kourounis describes the walls of the crater as aglow in orange light and describes an unbearable heat rising from the crater’s foundation. The temperature in the crater is an incredible 207°F, with its main vent reaching an unfathomable 750°F (Wilson, 2020), thereby earning the crater its hellish name. The noise inside the crater is similar to that of a jet engine (Sloat, 2017) – a loud, deep, angry roar. On the outer edge of the crater, a shimmering light from the intense heat distorts everyone’s vision. The light emanating from the crater illuminates the night sky. In fact, it is the only light found in the darkness of the desert and therefore visible from a great distance (Wilson, 2020). The light attracts all sorts of creatures at night, especially birds and insects – much to their demise. Thousands of camel spiders, attracted by the light, head nightly to the crater – only to plunge unceremoniously to their deaths. Travellers to the Gates describe their experiences as surreal and far from the ordinary. Some say the crater looks like the remnants of a recent meteor strike. One traveller, who was particularly awestruck, claimed the site shatteredall of his senses (Earth Nutshell, 2017).

Yet the Gates of Hell are not unique. Other natural gas reserves in the world are on fire too. A mountain in Azerbaijan was accidentally set alight by a sheep farmer in the 1950’s and is still burning to this day (Szczepanski, 2019). Australia has witnessed a similar phenomenon as well. The longest burning natural gas or oil reserve, however, can be found in Iraq. The Baba Gurgur, which some believe is even mentioned in the Bible, has been ablaze for over two thousand years (Szczepanski, 2019). Let’s hope for the sake of Turkmenistan that the fires raging in the Gates of Hell do not reach into the year 4020. That would make the fire biblical in proportion.



Earth Nutshell (2017). The door to hell – Turkmenistan’s crater of fire. Retrieved January 24, 2020 from http://www.earthnutshell.com/the-door-to-hell-turkmenistans-crater-of-fire/

Sloat, S. (2017). The real Gates of Hell haven’t stopped burning for 46 years. Retrieved January 24, 2020 from https://www.inverse.com/science/doomsday-clock-update-closer-to-midnight

Szczepanski, K. (2019). The Gates of Hell in Derweze, Turkmenistan. Retrieved January 24, 2020 from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-gates-of-hell-derweze-turkmenistan-195147

Wilson, M. (2020). Astonishing photos show the Gates of Hell, a fiery gas crater that’s been burning for decades in the Turkmenistan desert. Retrieved January 24, 2020 from https://www.insider.com/photos-of-gates-of-hell-fire-crater-turkmenistan


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