Mt. Erebus is an active volcano on Ross Island in the Antarctic. It has the world’s only persistently convecting anorthoclase-phonolite lava lake. Anorthoclase feldspar crystals (aka, Erebus Crystals) grow in the magma beneath Erebus and are ejected inside lava bombs. The only other place where these crystals can be found is Mt. Kenya, Africa, although no new crystals are being produced there since it is no longer an active volcano.
Not many people get to go to Mt. Erebus. For all practical purposes, it is accessible only by helicopter. It is not a tourist destination in any sense of the phrase – lousy weather, the distinct possibility of being clobbered with a lava bomb, no accommodations, and nothing to do except survive and do science. The few who do go to Mt. Erebus are scientists from McMurdo Station and the people who support them.
These lucky few provide a limited source of Erebus crystals, many of which are bartered at McMurdo and are seldom traded outside of that venue.
In Greek mythology, Erebus was the son of the primordial god Chaos and was the personification of darkness. Erebus married his sister Nyx (goddess of the night) and their offspring include Aether, Cer, Hemera, Charon, the Hesperides, Hypnos, the Moirae, Momus, Nemesis, Oneiroi, Phlegethon, Styx, and Thanatos. In Greek literature, Erebus also refers to the part of the Underworld that the dead had to pass through immediately after dying. It seems only fitting that Ross Island has another volcano (dormant) named Mt. Terror.
From the finder:
For two austral summers I worked as a carpenter at McMurdo Station and the South Pole Station in Antarctica where I was contracted by Raytheon Polar Services to support the National Science Foundation. In November 2006, I drew a lucky straw and was one of three carpenters scheduled to open Lower Erebus Hut (LEH), 11,400 feet up Mt. Erebus (elevation 12,448 ft), the world's southernmost active volcano. Over the next three weeks, we made several attempts to fly a Bell 212 Helicopter to the LEH but were turned away by the lenticular clouds that commonly shroud Erebus. Finally, on Thanksgiving Day, the clouds lifted and we managed to land at noon. The helo dropped the three of us off and left. We were the first NSF personnel on the volcano that season.
The helicopter was scheduled to return in just under six hours and during that time we were tasked with digging the hut doors out of the snow, lighting the stoves, unshuttering the windows and generally preparing the huts for scientists who would arrive in a day or two. The Austral winter of 2006 was one of the most active winters recorded on Erebus and even though the volcano had recently quieted, we were told to face the crater as we worked so that we could watch for incoming lava bombs. Just as we were finishing, the clouds rolled back in and the helo that they sent for us had to turn back.
As I watched the skies and ate my sack-lunch turkey sandwich for Thanksgiving dinner, I began to look around. Dotting the other-worldly topography of Erebus were dozens of new lava bombs, sparsely scattered across the snow and ice. I soon found that they crushed easily in my gloved hands and that each one contained two to ten perfect anorthoclase feldspar specimens, known as Mt. Erebus Crystals. This type of crystal is produced in only two locations on Earth - Mt. Erebus and Mt. Kilimanjaro. Raytheon sent three helicopters over a six hour period to retrieve us from the volcano until finally a New Zealand pilot managed to land and take us back to McMurdo around midnight.
In humanity’s existence on this planet I estimate that fewer than 1,000 people have been to top of Mt. Erebus. I was lucky enough to be counted in that group and even luckier to be there in November of 2006 when fresh crystals were on the ground. I hoped to hold on to my unique collection but I'm paying for grad school so that I can someday become a high school teacher and share my experiences with the next generation of scientists and explorers.
More about Mt. Erebus and Erebus crystals