Sunset, Kailua-Kona, The Big Island, Hawaii, March 11, 2024

Sunset, Kailua-Kona, The Big Island, Hawaii, March 11, 2024
Sunset, Kailua-Kona, The Big Island, Hawaii, March 11, 2024

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Neither Wind, Nor Rain, Nor Lava, Nor Rules... - Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, Part 3

...could keep us from seeing hot lava flowing into the ocean at night. This is the remaining portion of today's story.

Upon driving to the end of the road in Kalapana, we were directed where to park. Thankfully, a car had just departed from a parking spot about 1/4 mile closer to the trailhead. Good karma for us. At 5 pm we put on hiking boots, hats, and Bob let me use his lightweight windbreaker. I also grabbed one of my two hiking poles to use when we arrived at the lava.

Wind was blowing, rain was spitting, and we started our walk, passing through a gauntlet of bicycle rental stands. "$20 per person to rent a bike!" we were told. "Not for us, thank you, we like to walk." We used the Port-A-Potties at the start of the route. 

Let me preface this "hike" for you. At the Volcano Visitor's Center, we were given the ranger "talk" about safety when you go to see the hot lava flowing into the ocean. Tips such as:
  • Wear long pants
  • Wear gloves to protect your hands
  • Wear closed-toed shoes or hiking boots
  • Take 3 quarts of water per person
  • Take one flashlight per person with back-up batteries
  • Do not go onto the lava "bench" (more about that later)
  • Beware of hot lava hitting the ocean that can explode sending Pele's hair (strands of volcanic glass), and lava bombs the size of basketballs sailing through the air
  • Do not go downwind of the dangerous fumes, if the wind shifts and you have trouble breathing, leave the area immediately
  • Be especially careful walking on the new lava, it is uneven with cracks and it will be pitch black out there
  • Don't get too close to the hot lava. How hot is lava, you might ask? Bright red lava flows in Hawaii can get as hot as 1,165 F, with the glowing orange flows getting hotter than 1,600 F, according to USGS. 
At the start of the hike to see the lava flows, is this sign:
"Slippers" = flip-flops in Hawaii

Beyond the sign below, you can see the wide gravel road we walked on for 3.7 miles. With the fear of Pele in us, we were as prepared as we could be for the adventure ahead. 

Stark new lava flow landscape from the Pu'u O'o vent was all we saw, along with a few homeowners in cabins/houses with no electricity, sewers, or city/well water. The people who live in these houses were displaced from their property in a previous lava flow. For bathrooms the occupants use either a septic system or composting toilets. Their water is from a catchment system which collects rainwater from the roof and they pump water into their house with a generator. This is true off-the-grid living.
The skull adds a certain
je ne sais quoi.
The "fog" in the lava is actually steam above the
flowing lava. Lava in foreground is from 1990.
We'll walk over cracked lava like this after dark!

Property owners whose houses were destroyed
by lava have put up new houses on their property.
Steam plume from lava hitting the ocean
Below is a kipuka: an island of vegetation that the 1990 lava flow missed.

More re-built homes.
Sunset on the hike was okay, but not magnificent. The steam plume was more interesting. Once the sun goes down and darkness descends, the steam plume takes on a warm, reddish glow which can be seen over quite a distance. We will see it tonight, both at the lava flow into the ocean, and up at Jaggar Museum in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Wind whipped around us, sending stinging sand-sized particles of lava rock around our legs and ankles. Unfortunately, we did not wear long pants today. Rain with the wind cooled us down considerably. I had on Bob's windbreaker and a wide-brimmed, waterproof hat, but the cold rain was getting to be too much for me. I dug out an old, lightweight plastic poncho that had been in my backpack but never needed to be used before. 

While the wind whipped the plastic into a crazy frenzy, I was trying to put it on. It had a hood and sleeve holes. Bob had to help as I was trying to keep a grip on it. It would be gone so fast if I let go. Once it was on, it helped keep the wind chill off and kept the rain away from my cotton shorts and T-shirt. However, it was noisy as heck, flapping in the wind. I couldn't sneak up on anyone in that outfit!

When the rain stopped for a while, I took off the poncho. We continued on and had sprinkles from time to time. Because the wind was so strong, it actually dried our clothes, and the temperature didn't get below 68. It felt colder because of the wind.

Bicycles kept passing us and it sure looked like a better way to go. We finally arrived at the spot where we would go off the road onto the lava. Bikes were parked 10-15 deep along the sides of the road. People were milling about, deciding if they wanted to hike on the lava in the pitch black, in the rain and wind.

Bob took off down through the lava. I got out my walking pole and used it to stabilize my footfalls as we went up and down the lava, avoiding large cracks and holes. I was very careful not to fall. The walk to see the flowing lava is about 1/8 mile over the new hard lava, but it seems much longer because it is dark, you try to see with the flashlight, avoid other people, and keep yourself upright. Nerve-wracking!

Once night falls, the glow from the lava is wonderful. In the photo below, I want you to notice two things: 1) the amount of light two flashlights put out (the people in the foreground), and 2) the silhouette of the people who are out on the lava bench watching the lava flow into the ocean (way in the background). 

Glowing steam
Earlier in my post I said I'd explain the lava bench. The lava bench is a newer lava flow on top of older stable lava that has been there a while. Near the ocean, a lava bench is subject to undercutting from waves, to compression from lava tubes collapsing, or the whole bench can slide off the side of the older flow. The park service has signs and rope up telling people not to cross over onto the lava bench. Guess what? People do it anyway because it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience to watch lava and the sea do their dance.

Bob decided to cross the rope to see the lava flow into the ocean. I stayed back behind the rope. As I was waiting for Bob to return, I saw someone fall who was on the other side of the rope. I heard them yelling for their partner. I pointed my flashlight toward where I saw the person fall. A few minutes later a man helping a woman came into view. He sat her down on the lava and she was crying. Her ankle was cut wide open and she was bleeding profusely. Her tennis shoe was filling with blood. 

Bob was on his way back and there was a small first aid kit in the backpack he had on. I got out a sterile wipe for them. The husband cleaned her wound. It looked really bad. My small band-aids would not do her any good.

Thankfully, a more prepared gentleman came along who had an Ace bandage, the kind that sticks to itself. He directed the husband to take off her shoe and put on a tourniquet. The man said he didn't have anything to use as a tourniquet. "Yes," our makeshift medic said, "you can use her shoelace." He also asked the husband to take her huge camera from her.

Once the ankle was bandaged, the guy who provided the tourniquet carried her up to the road on his back. Someone tried to call 911, but didn't have a very good signal. When we got up to the road, we saw the couple get onto one bicycle. She was riding behind him. We saw them again a mile later. They were going as slowly on the bicycle as we were walking. We never did see an emergency vehicle.

Silhouette of lava viewers in distance
Here is the sign that tells us not to enter, area closed. In the dark, you can barely see the ropes attached to the sign. The ropes are easy to duck under. 

After we saw the lady get taken out, Bob told me I had to go see the lava flow into the ocean. I hesitated and had an argument with myself about crossing the rope onto the lava bench. Those benches can collapse at any time. Other people being out there did not make it safe. After about five minutes of hemming and hawing, I decided to go for it. But I didn't want to dwell out there. 

Bob led the way. The two photos below show the difference between two flashlights and the flash of my camera. That is all the light we had to cross the lava.
The light from two flashlights, no camera flash
The light from my camera flash

As we got to the edge of the lava bench where all the people were sitting, the wind and rain kicked it up a few notches. Once again, I donned the dreaded plastic poncho with its noisy flapping. It was so miserable I wouldn't even get out my camera to take a photo lest it get wet. [Note: All of this lava is from the Pu'u O'o vent.] With 3.9 miles left to walk back to our car, I just wanted to get on with it.

We made it off the lava. Hallelujah! Once we were back on the gravel road walking was more normal. However, we had to make sure we did not get run over in the dark by any of the bicyclists. Even though the bicyclists had headlamps and front headlights on the bicycles, the light didn't penetrate very far forward in the darkness. I kept my flashlight trained on Bob in his white shirt. We saw one bicyclist take a spill. He said he was okay.

Back at the car 3-1/2 hours later (8:30 pm), we changed out of our hiking shoes before the drive back to our timeshare. I turned on the heater in the car for a bit until we defogged the windshield and I warmed up.

We chowed down on Trail Mix and crackers and drank lots of water. It's a good thing we had eaten a hearty, late lunch.

On the way home, we had two more stops. The car needed to eat too, so we found a gas station and filled it up. Next stop would be Jaggar Museum overlook so we could see the lava lake at night, and the glow from the lava at Halema'uma'u Crater.

The Jaggar Museum is at 4,000 ft. elevation and it was cold! Not only that, the wind was howling and it was raining. Our attire consisted of shorts and T-shirts. From the parking lot, we ran to use the restrooms. Then we ran to the overlook, spent about 30 seconds looking at the lava lake and the red glow, then high-tailed it back to the car and more heat and defogging. It was my turn to drive.

The day had been exhausting and we were both tired. It was about 9:30 pm. We had left the timeshare at 9 am. We would not get home until midnight.

The rain, low-hanging clouds, and wind stayed with us for about 30 minutes more. I had been driving about an hour when I became very sleepy. I thought I could drive a little longer, but when I fell asleep at the wheel for a second and drifted half-way into the right-side emergency lane, I knew I needed to let Bob drive. We switched places and he got us home safely. He said I fell fast asleep and snored while he drove.

As soon as we got to our room, we brushed our teeth and headed for bed. We were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow. Whew. What a day!

Travel Bug out (like a light).

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