It was another hike out to see the lava. Not that I really need an excuse to make this hike. This time it was to take a friend along. I have worked with Olivier for several years, between the two of us we do much of the physical maintenance on the Keck adaptive optics systems. Shortly he will be departing the island for another opportunity. Before he leaves he wanted to cross off one more item from his bucket list, seeing the lava close up.
Unlike last time we found the ocean entry was going strong, lava pouring into the sea very near where we saw nothing in December. There were multiple small entries spread along hundreds of yards of sea cliffs. On the west end of a shallow bay, we could get a decent look from promontories on the east end, upwind of the acrid plumes. Right below us was one particularly good font of lava, in reach of a modest telephoto lens.
It was still completely dark, the light of the full moon masked by the clouds. The waves were lit by the crimson glow, occasionally surging against the cliffs and hiding the lava from view. The glow also illuminated the billowing clouds of steam rising above each rivulet of lava. The scene is surreal, something that is both unexpected and somewhat difficult to believe. This is something that is outside our usual daily experience.
After spending some time at the ocean entry we searched inland for a breakout we could approach more closely. A slight glow to the north indicated a possible breakout, but I had no idea if it was close or miles away. With hope we headed for the glow and got lucky. It was only about a quarter mile to the breakouts. Several lobes of lava were advancing over the slightly older flows. Dropping our gear well back from the active lava cameras were deployed. This is what we came to see and photograph, lava as close as the heat would let us get.
For two hours we shot the breakouts. As usual, the flow would crust over, just to break out and advance again. The changing flow would provide ever different photo opportunities as the light of dawn slowly waxed. It was a cloudy day, small showers moving through, softening the dawn light and making the hot glow stand out all the more. The photos and video capture the scene, but do poor justice to the sound. The crackle of the cooling crust, raindrops hissing on the hot surface, low resounding cracks from deep in the rock under our feet.
With the day well begun we headed back to the ocean entry to shoot a few more frames in the early light. We sat on rock that was fairly warm under us, shooting the lava pouring into the waves. Relaxing a bit, digging a few bites to eat from the pack, we talked of cameras and lenses, of life on the island, a last bit of camaraderie with someone I might never meet again. We sat and just enjoyed this spectacle of raw nature. This was why we came, there is some risk in just being here, but the experience is worth it.
Hiked out to the lava again today. My friend Olivier will be leaving the island soon and wanted to cross one more item off his bucket list. Another 2am dash across island… Worth it! Another 12Gb of photos and video!
Note: This post has been revised based on current conditions and access. You can see the revised post here.
Getting close to flowing lava is a great experience, but one that is fraught with risks. Sometimes the lava is relatively easy to access, near a road or developed trail. Most of the time it takes a serious hike across the old flows to get near, an arduous trip with no trail or map to guide you.
My most recent hike was my fifth trip out to the flowing lava, requiring my longest hike over the flows to date at just under three miles each way. OK, maybe I am not yet a veteran, but these trips have taught me a lesson or two. Going onto the lava is an inherently risky proposition and one must accept that risk. With a little knowledge and preparation the risks can be mitigated. Besides, the reward is spectacular!
You can take my word for it, or perhaps read the same information from someone who has been out far more than I. We will all tell much the same story.
The lava has been entering the sea for over a month now. I have wanted to hike out, but life and other commitments have consistently intervened. With off-island guests, I made the offer to lead a hike out to the flowing lava. My sister-in-law Darcy was the only one that took me up on the offer, the prospect of a 2am wake-up and a two hour trek across rough ground too much for some. We left the others in bed.
This is the same plan I have used before, a two hour run across the island to Kalapana gets us to the edge of the flow field about 4am. This leaves another two hours to hike to the lava flows. We would need the time! It would take all of that two hours to make just 2.7miles. Two hours over the rough ground of older lava flows, avoiding pits, loose plates, large cracks and small hummocks that rose 10-20feet overhead. This was in pitch black conditions with no moonlight to help. It was alternating bright stars and clouds overhead, two brief showers left us dampened but comfortable in the warm tropical dawn.
Jack Thompson’s house has become something of an island legend. When the rest of the development burned beneath the lava his house was spared. For three decades the lava has repeatedly run past the house. East and west there was nothing but lava fields, around the house lush Puna jungle created an island amongst the devastation.
Jack’s luck has finally run out, madame Pele claiming the last house in the Royal Gardens subdivision.
You can get the whole story, along with a set of photos at Leigh’s Hawai’i Lava Daily blog. Leigh was there for the last hours, photographing the lava, and helping Jack remove a few last belongings when the time came to take the last helicopter out.
Vintage film of Mauna Loa eruption during 1940 by Harold T. Stearns, a USGS Hydrologist-Volcanologist.
An eruption of Mauna Loa is something everyone fears and hopes for. This enormous volcano will erupt again, almost certainly within our lifetimes, possibly even the next decade. The last eruption was in 1984, the mountain has been quiet for well over two decades now, an uncharacteristically long period of quiescence. When it does erupt this volcano is capable of emitting huge volumes of lava, that reach the sea quite quickly down the steep slopes A dangerous mountain to be wary of.
Damon posted this some time ago, definitely worth re-posting here.