Chris Horsley - the Ormskirk man who loves volcanoes
- Credit: Archant
Ormskirk’s Chris Horsley tells Roger Borrell how it feels to dangle on a rope above a live volcano full of molten lava.
Chris Horsley is candid about his approach to life as a student at Ormskirk Grammar. ‘I was the one who always did dangerous, stupid things. I was never the sensible one.’
Fast forward a decade and there’s no denying he still does dangerous things – the difference is he is now Mr Sensible. He knows putting a foot wrong could put him and others in peril.
Chris, 27, runs a business called Ultimate Volcano Expeditions working as a guide for film crews and scientists who want to get up close to nature’s most deadly phenomena – active volcanoes. He is also involved in photography and film making, and, you can see from these pictures, he isn’t afraid to step where others would fear to tread.
‘I was the youngest of five boys and spent my early years listening to my older brothers telling stories about the adventures they had been on. I was the one left behind and that left me with a hole to fill. I did it by going down the extreme route.’
It hasn’t always been with his family’s total approval. ‘The first time I phoned home and told my mum I was on top of an active volcano she was not best pleased!’
It’s not the sort of skill that is self-taught. ‘I have a mentor, someone who leads you down a certain path.’ That person is Geoff Mackley, a New Zealander well known for films about extreme weather and geological phenomena. ‘I’ve run into him in some remote areas,’ says Chris.
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Those areas include Vanuatu, the network of islands in the South Pacific where he has led expeditions to the Marum volcano, containing one of the most active lava lakes on the planet. On one occasion he was stranded alone for four days on top of the volcano as cyclones of 100 kilometres an hour battered his tent. ‘Sleeping on top of an erupting volcano was one hell of an adventure,’ he says. ‘It pushed me to my limits.’
Climbing is a key skill to access the areas where crews can get the most dramatic shots. ‘A lot of my time seems to be spent dangling from a rope but that’s the way to record something unique,’ he says.
‘It’s a job where you need complete confidence in your abilities but I would never try to access places that were unstable or unsafe.’
Loose and falling rocks are his prime enemies and he was recently evacuated after suffering flesh wounds to the side of his leg. ‘But I was back the next day. It doesn’t put me off.’
As well as film makers and scientists, Chris also acts as a guide for high value clients. ‘There are private clients who want to visit indescribable places other people rarely experience. They want to do something unusual or dangerous.
‘When you see a lava lake you do tend to stare down in amazement. The volcano in Vanuatu explodes every 17 minutes with lava bombs flying overhead.
‘I’ve been doing this for five years and when you’ve probably been inside more volcanoes than anyone else, this sort of life becomes the norm.
‘The one thing you don’t get used to is the intense heat inside volcanoes. You get amazing fluctuations in temperatures. Some areas have a rush of cold air but that can rapidly become superheated. It’s like putting your head inside a pizza oven. It’s the reason why we often have to wear silver suits.’
Chris, who hopes to publish a coffee table book with some of his remarkable photographs, is not simply an adventure junkie. There is a serious dimension to what he does, highlighting the plight of threatened tribes in remote parts of the world.
One cause is the building of the The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is expected to displace approximately 20,000 people. Particularly hard hit will be people from the Gumuz tribes.
‘They weren’t even told what was happening,’ says Chris, whose outspoken views can put him in conflict with foreign governments.
‘They have a just cause and more people should stand up for them. I act as a facilitator for film crews highlighting what is going on. Life is a constant battle for indigenous people threatened with logging and dam projects.’
Chris tends to head back to Lancashire – his mother now lives in Speke – to take a breather and grab fresh clothes before dashing off to his next adventure, in this case a trip to Madagascar where he hopes to get involved in discussions about solar power and visit a women’s health project.
After working in such extreme conditions how does he relax? ‘That’s always a struggle for me. You get what is called expedition blues and, sometimes, a feeling of guilt,’ he says.
‘I meet so many people facing great hardship and afterwards I can just walk away and stand under a hot shower. But I’ll keep on jumping in at the deep end. I won’t stop campaigning for just causes.’