For our final big day in Hawaii we endeavored to see some real, live, oozing, flowing lava! Unfortunately we couldn’t find any, but the trip was amazing nonetheless. At the time of our visit, Pu’u O’o was erupting (in fact it is still erupting at the time of this writing – you can read about it in the news). The recommended approach is from the North – you drive through some neighborhoods, park near a trail head, formerly used by geologists, hike through the jungle and pop out near the volcano. This would have been a modest hike along a reasonably well traveled trail for most of the way, and then some off-roading if we wanted to go look for some lava. Unfortunately, the damn trade winds were still not in our favor, and we were forced to approach from the South – further round trip, uphill and off road the entire way…
We drove to the end of Chain of Craters road where the old lava flows eventually swallow up the road near the ocean. The drive snakes through flows from past eruptions and is well worth it for the stark beauty of the barren landscape. At the end of the road, there is a parking area where tourists stop to check out the lava arches that tumble into the ocean. This was cool and all, but we had way bigger plans.
Before starting our hike we took some time to check out the wildlife and the arches. Pretty cool. We actually were more excited about the Nenes (pronounced Nay-nay) than the arches: signs cautioning us of Nene Crossings and Nene Nestings were literally around every corner, yet we didn’t see a single specimen the entire trip until now. We had started to think they were already extinct and nobody had bothered to remove the signs. In any event we got really excited and took a whole bunch of pictures of them, had a good look at some arches, and then started our off-roading.
We used Backcountry Navigator to plot a few waypoints (namely our start and stop points) and started picking our way through the rubble. Clambering through the lava flow was made our brief trek through Kilauea Iki seem like a walk in the park and we soon began to wonder if we’d bit off more than we could chew.
The route was essentially uphill the entire way, punctuated with a few steep escarpments. The steepest parts of the slope was broken up by patches of surviving foliage, so route finding was more complex than we had anticipated. We leap-frogged from one pitch to the next trying not to get cliffed-out by the undulating lava flows and impassably dense shrubberies.
Atop the last big escarpment, we take a look at our progress – a source of both pride and sorrow. Backtracking through this labyrinth of crumbling rock would be no easier the second time around.
Eventually we approached our turn around time – the point at which we would be arriving back to the car after dark if we didn’t head back immediately. He had no strong desire to clamber down steep lava flows by the light of two headlamps, so we decided not to push our luck. We did manage to a glimpse of Pu’u O’o, our ultimate destination, but were unable to spot any glowing red lava. We saw some steamy smoke rising up from the crater and managed to give the optical zoom on my camera a nice workout, but were ultimately defeated. We’d just traveled one of the slowest 6 miles of our lives and were pretty burned out, not to mention less than excited about the return trip, so we decided to bail. We set the navigation back to the parking lot and began following the compass back downhill.