Sublime… One word in the English language that comes close… A frozen world of snow and ice, dark rock, illuminated by ethereal moonlight. A place more of the arctic than a tropical island. Recent storms have again created such a place on the summit of Mauna Kea. Just need to make a point to get out there and enjoy it.
The plan? Set the alarm clock for 2am, out of the house before 2:30am, arrive at the trailhead about 3:45am. I would take a walk with a camera, then drive back down to Hale Pōhaku for breakfast, then join the crew for a normal day working on the summit. A good plan, if somewhat exhausting. A plan that was executed exactly as originally envisioned.
It was the timing that was the factor here. A few things to come together to make this work… A good covering of snow, the summit road open to the public, and good weather with clear, starry skies. Clear skies have been in rare supply lately, a succession of winter storms bringing weeks of clouds.
The road being open to the public is also an important bit. While I could drive past the roadblock, the rangers know me, we are forbidden to engage in non-work activities on the summit if the road is closed to the public.
The needed factors came together this particular morning and I set the plan into action.
Our mountain is home to a wide range of geologic features, Aside from the wide range of volcanic features expected on a shield volcano, there are also glacial features and a small lake. Indeed, one could teach a fairly thorough course in geology simply visiting places on Mauna Kea. It is the lake that seems completely out of place, Lake Waiau should not exist.
The lake nestles in the crater of Puʻu Waiau, a low cinder cone on the south side of the summit at an elevation of 13,000ft (3,900m). It is not very large, about 100 yards across and about ten feet deep.
The lake is an anomaly. The cinder of Mauna Kea is highly permeable, water disappears into the ground at an impressive rate almost anywhere else on the summit. Something within the crater forms an impermeable layer that allows the water to persist at the surface.
The two most common theories are a layer of volcanic ash and/or clays, or a layer of permafrost beneath the surface. I prefer the ash and clay theory, there is suitable material present on several of the other cinder cones, most notably seen as yellow streaks down the side of Puʻu Poliʻahu and on the sides of Puʻu Waiau itself.
Manning the Keck Observatory table at AstroDay had me in Hilo again this weekend. Already close, why not visit the volcano again?
This time I drug Deb along with me, not completely unwillingly I admit. A simple plan… Drive over the island early, do lunch at Hilo Burger Joint, off to the mall to do our thing at the table, breakdown the displays, and straight out to the volcano.
That “straight out” to the volcano part was a very good idea, I had made that clear in the plan. Arriving at the park we could see preparations and extra personnel ready for an onslaught of visitors. We got there just in time, parking in the Jagger Museum parking lot. A short time later we learned from the folks just arriving that they were parking at another lot further out. At least the Park Service had a shuttle bus running.
A bit of video put together from the clips I recorded at Kilauea Caldera this morning. The video was shot with a Canon 6D and a Televue 76mm telescope. It really does not do justice to the image through the ‘scope with a mark I eyeball. But it will have to do.
The soundtrack was mostly wind noise and random comments from the crowd of people watching the spectacle. Very faintly you can hear some of the noises from the lava, but only in spots. Instead of this annoyance I just threw a copy of Fireworks Music in place of the mic noise, much better.
I have plenty of video from this morning, but no time to post it yet. What I do have is a video from last night taken by my friend Dan Birchall. Yes the same Dan who got the four laser timelapse I wish I had gotten. Apparently we missed each other at the overlook by just a few minutes!
It was worth the predawn dive across the island!
Up well before 3am and on the road. Blitz across Saddle Road, through Hilo and up to the volcano. I expected a small crowd at that time in the morning, what I found was a mite more than that. The parking lot was nearly full, I was lucky to get a spot as someone else was pulling out. Several hundred folks were already on the terrace at the HVO Jagger Museum. No surprise, it was a beautiful view of a lava lake with small fountains along the edge. I did have an advantage over most of the crowd, I brought a small telescope.
I will put in a better write-up later when I get a chance to process the photos. In the meantime one quick process..
A small lake above a remote bay on Kruzof Island, Alaska. A mile long hike through the rain forest and muskeg to climb to the shoreline. Rocks covered with moss and dwarf tress line the northern shore, creating vignettes any master Japanese gardener would treasure.