Saturday, January 28, 2012

Hawaii - Part 3

Lava Hike!

Hawaii can be a great place to see flowing lava. During my first visit in 2002 the flow was conveniently placed very near the end of Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii's Volcano National Park. We drove to the end of the road where further progress was halted by solidified lava:
Solidified lava blocks Chain of Craters Road in 2002.
From road's end it was a simple walk of about 400 meters to a spot where lava was slowly oozing along. The heat from the moving lava was tremendous! I could barely tolerate standing close by.
Feeling my hand slowly cooking near recently moving lava.
Occasionally, glowing molten lava would emerge slowly from the flow. It was a thrill to stand close enough to see this in person.
Molten lava conveniently visible in 2002.
Flowing lava was NOT so conveniently placed for us in 2011! It was about as remote as it could possibly be from access roads! On the map below the lava flow in December, 2011 is colored red and pink. You can see how far it is from both Chain of Craters Road and Kalapana where we started our hike. We had to hike across the 1986-1992 flow and the 2007-2011 flow to reach our goal.
The day before the hike we took a scouting trip to the northern edge of the flow outside the National Park boundary in Kalapana where entire subdivisions were overrun by previous eruptions. It was amazing to discover people still living in isolated homes surrounded by acres of solidified lava!
It's hard to understand how plants and small trees can manage to grow on this lava plain.
It would have been fascinating to watch these twisted braids take shape from molten lava.
We walked to an observation point where we could see gases emitted by the distant flowing lava. (Click on the image for a better view of the gases.)
White gas plumes rise from the light brown area sloping down in the middle of the picture.
We learned the flow was four dangerous miles away. Hiking out to moving lava was forbidden without a guide.
Fortunately, a friendly, knowledgeable guide happened to be waiting by the roadside looking for customers.
We made arrangements with friendly Cheryl to meet at 8:00 the next morning for a guided tour to the distant lava flow. Cheryl lives among the solidified lava and promised we would get close enough to molten lava to "poke a stick in it".

So, at 8:00 the next morning, we began our lava adventure. Ellen, Keegan, Keegan's Dad, Steve, and I followed Cheryl out onto the lava field.
Ellen, Keegan, Steve, and Cheryl head out on the lava field.
The hike was a monumental experience! I've run marathons and done 100-mile bike rides, but not much hiking. This lava hike was the most brutal, exhausting hike I've ever done. Although it was four miles out to the viewing site and four miles back "as the crow flies", the actual distance was much greater because we were continually zig-zagging and climbing up and down jagged little hills of lava. The hike was 6.5 hours long with hardly any rest time. We were either moving or standing nearly the whole time. The Sun beamed down almost continually. Without the constant 25 to 30 mile wind we would have been thoroughly roasted.
Unfortunately, on the day of our hike the volcano had "deflated". The day before, lava flows were visible on the surface. But for us, the surface flows had disappeared. They were still visible only where they entered the ocean. Our guide, a woman with incredible stamina, suggested going to the ocean entry point instead of further uphill where she had originally planned to take us.
A guy actually lives in a house among the group of trees left of center in the midst of the lava flow!
After about 2.5 hours hiking we approached the ocean. When we were about 100 meters from the cliff edge we could see waves of heat shimmering up as helicopter tours circled overhead.
Approaching the ocean
Steam plume from lava entering the ocean looms ahead
Our guide took us across silvery lava that had been deposited only the day before in order to get to the edge.
This was some very hot stuff solidified only the day before!
The footing, although solid, was still extremely hot, too hot to touch. My legs felt like they were being slowly roasted. When we reached the edge we could see three lava streams entering the ocean from a nearly vertical cliff face. One of these, near the top of the cliff, was huge with glowing boulders tumbling down. The other two, just above the ocean at the cliff's bottom, were smaller but faster flowing. Giant steam plumes rose from the water as waves hit the falling lava. The ocean color in the vicinity was light green instead of darker blue. I'm sure the picture below doesn't show how incredible it was. (Click on the picture to see all the detail.) Meanwhile helicopter tours circled above us. We wondered if the folks on board envied us or thought we were freaking crazy!
Viewing flowing lava from the cliff's edge
The guide promised we could poke sticks into molten lava, so she roamed off in search of some slowly moving surface lava. While she was doing this we wandered on the hot recently solidified stuff. Once again my legs were beginning to fry. I bent to pick up a piece of very black lava, but it was so hot I had to drop it immediately. We were briefly soaked by a passing shower, but, within a few minutes, we were completely dry again. The heat and strong winds acted like an enormous blow dryer.
Walking on this recently solidified lava was like walking on a griddle.
After a while we found a crack where an orange glow could be seen. The glowing stuff was only about 8 inches beneath us!
Steve stuck his wooden pole into the crack and it caught fire. This was the closest we came to poking a stick in molten lava.
At this point I was ready to head back. I had seen enough solidified lava to last the rest of my life!

The return hike was a death march for me. I had to walk slowly and cautiously to avoid hurting my recently injured knee. The cold I caught from my granddaughter, Sophie, now moving into my chest, was not helping. I kept falling behind the others. It was a humbling experience since I work hard to keep in shape. But this was not one of my better days. I've done a lot of endurance events in my life so I knew I could eventually pace my way to the end, but it was a real grind. The route back seemed a lot more uneven than the inbound route. The landscape was completely desolate. It was black, broken, rolling lava as far as the eye could see. On every step my ankles were twisting or slipping on the crumbling surface. I honestly don't know how I managed to avoid re-injuring my knee.
Thanks, Ellen, for staying behind to keep me company on the long return hike.
Climb up five steps, climb down five steps. Repeat this a thousand times. When the endless 6.5-hour trek finally finished at 2:30 pm I was thoroughly exhausted. Back at the beach house I hit the bed for a couple hours and still felt miserable. I went to bed early and slept for almost 12 hours. In spite of all the fatigue this was a thrilling and worthwhile experience!
Keegan, Steve, Ellen, and me, thoroughly cooked at hike's end
The Hawaii blog continues next week with some attractions near Hilo.

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People say I'm crazy doing what I'm doing
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin
When I say that I'm o.k. well they look at me kind of strange
Surely you're not happy now you no longer play the game

People say I'm lazy dreaming my life away
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me
When I tell them that I'm doing fine watching shadows on the wall
Don't you miss the big time boy you're no longer on the ball

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go

John Lennon