Volcano day 1 – When the flames are burning hot, they take you higher

20 Jul

A damp and soggy day, today – perhaps not the most appropriate for exploring a volcano.  Kilauea volcano is an active volcano – the entirety of Hawaii (the island chain) is built on volcanos, of which there are 5 that make up Hawai’i, and another one just being born in the sea to the south.

I started off the day with a walk to the local farmer’s market to pick up breakfast.. had to beat off the locals for a pack of english muffins… and then a three mile hike to the volcano visitors area – rescued by a young couple in the most beat up dodge I ever sat in… and then started a hike round the mountain caldera.  It’s a different world, walking round a volcano – everything is absolutely huge, and these pictures can only attempt to show the scale of it all.  In places the old road has simply fallen into the volcano crater.

There’s a walkable lava tube just off the crater rim – a hollow tube of lava where the molten lava has drained out, leaving a cave.  Apparently the largest one in the area (that they know about) is 45 miles long.  This one has a couple hundred meters that’s lit, and then the rest plunges you into the deepest darkness I have ever experienced.  Very spooky.

Further round the rim of the main caldera it’s possible to descend into Kilauea Iki, a smaller volcano that was the site of a colossal eruption, throwing lava 2000′ into the air.  Now, the mountain is solid, but the rock is still hot, and steam drifts from the surface.  Here and there ‘Ohi’a Lehua trees dot the landscape, but again it feels like walking on barbecue coals, crunching underfoot.

Ascending from the crater, it’s possible to walk further round the main caldera rim… steam issuing from the gulley from the active volcano below – and gusts of steam and sulphur dioxide rise from the caldera mouth itself. I stayed until nightfall just to see the glow from deep inside the volcano reflected in the steam… and then began the trek home. At least three cars from the hostel passed by me (they did apologise later) before I was rescued by a family from Trinidad.

And that, I thought, was the end of my day… I hadn’t seen lava, but I had walked into a volcano… and then I met Rachel, Caitlin and Paul. Rachel and Caitlin are geology students, and Paul had a burrito that needed cooking – and they needed to see lava. The fact that it was 10 at night, and the viewing area was a) 60 miles away, b) shut and c) partially covered in lava didn’t seem to faze them. So, an hour or so later we drove down the hill into the mouth of hell. Lava was rolling across the hill, sweeping trees in its wake. Methane flames burst from cracks in the ground. Ropes of darkening and cooling paehoehoe lava burst open to reveal new lava below.

During the day, the area is patrolled by security – at night, dozens of fireworshippers turn up with sticks to poke the lava, and in Paul’s case, with a burrito to cook. You can get as close as you want (and possibly closer than is really safe) to the lava flow. Sometimes, old lava rock shakes as new lava threatens to undermine it.

I got home at 2:30 am… happy that I had been so close to the lava experience.  Truly, I had come close to Pele’s heart – and had fallen in love.

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2 Responses to “Volcano day 1 – When the flames are burning hot, they take you higher”

  1. Small July 22, 2010 at 7:05 pm #

    Stay away from the flames, have you not read your Solzhenitsyin….and was it you that did the wooden deer’s antlers?

    • Tim Hodgson July 23, 2010 at 8:51 am #

      Hi, Small…. you know darn well it was me that did the deer antlers… I was a promaniac from an early age. Love you lots… Big.

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