That morning after breakfast, we broke camp and then climbed up and out of the opposite end of Haleakalā crater, found the road and caught our ride back up to our rental car on the summit. We had successfully completed our first major excursion with no real problems and without bad weather, and we had a great time. We rewarded ourselves with another relaxing and restful day at the beach, but this time we saved our honeymoon passions for later that night, in the privacy of our cottage and in a very large and comfortable bed.
The next morning it was time to leave Maui and catch a flight for the Big Island of Hawaii, landing in Hilo, renting a car, and driving off for Volcanoes National Park, where we would stay very comfortably for the next two nights in an old but very cool hotel called “The Volcano House”.
Volcanoes National Park featured Kilauea; the most active volcano in the world. We walked around the rim of the center of the Kilauea Caldera, and looked down into the belly of the beast; a former huge and open molten hot lava lake on the surface in years past, that had cooled into an uneven and broken crust where hot steam and volcanic gases rose up from the cracks leading upward from the still molten magma chamber down below.
Slope of Kilauea Caldera Crater
Center of Kilauea Caldera Crater showing the surface of the formerly molten lava lake, now cooled and solidified.
But the real action on Kilauea was the lava flows issuing from fractures in the flanks of the volcano and rolling down the sides until the lava flowed into the sea below. Getting a closer view of these lava flows as they glowed bright and fiery orange at night was our next big objective.
Our plan was to tent camp near another black sand beach within hiking distance of the molten lava flowing down Kilauea’s flank, and then after dark, to use our flashlights to march across the old lava flows nearby, until we reached the active lava flows, and then get as close as we safely could, to watch the fiery orange, 2,000 degree hot molten rock flowing like burning rivers down into the ocean, as we witnessed the primeval process of new land being created by the immense and ancient forces of nature and geology.
But late that afternoon it started to rain… light at first, then more increasingly steady towards sunset, and finally turning into heavy rain just after nightfall, and just before we were ready to leave for our next great adventure.
I was furious that it was raining – because of bad memories of all the rain during the 1985 trip, and even worse, because of some serious problems that I knew the rain was going to create for us while we tried to get closer to the active lava flows.
The first problem was that the rain would cause our hiking route across the old lava flows to become slippery and treacherous now that it was wet, and this increased the likelihood of slips and falls resulting in painful scrapes, gashes and even serious cuts from falling down on the sharp and abrasive surface. There was also the possibility of seriously spraining an ankle or a knee in a slipping and twisting fall on the wet and treacherous terrain.
Even more serious was the fact that heavy rain falling on molten lava could produce clouds of toxic steam that could be hazardous to our lungs and respiratory health, depending on whether the winds were blowing the toxic steam away from us, or towards us. And of course a favorable wind blowing the steam away from us could suddenly change direction and blow the clouds of hazardous steam back at us, before we might be able to get out of range.
The sensible thing would have been to swallow my bitter disappointment and cancel the hike. But our trip schedule made this the last night we had to see the lava flows, and we couldn’t change it, with us having to leave the area the next day. So in a state of anger, I told my wife that I wanted to go ahead and do it, in spite of the risks involved. She reluctantly agreed.
The end result of our night hike across the old lava flows in the rain, was a partial success as well as a bitter disappointment. We were fortunate since neither of us fell, and we were uninjured by our hike, in spite of the wet and slippery terrain that we traveled for quite some distance. The wind was blowing at our backs most of the way, which pushed any toxic steam ahead and away from us, and we did manage to reach one place where we were able to watch lava flowing out from a rock face and tumbling down into the ocean below, which was a truly awe inspiring event for us to witness.
A similar view to what we saw that night.
But we never made it to the wide open and biggest rivers of lava flowing down Kilauea’s flanks, which remained thin and distant glowing ribbons of orange in the night, and out of our reach.
A much closer and better view of what we were hoping to see, but were unable to reach.
The wind did change direction and began to blow towards us, and even at night, there was enough light from the combined lava flows that I could see a steam cloud a long distance away from us that appeared to be getting larger, which meant it was slowly getting closer. There was another lava exit point into the sea several hundred yards ahead of us that I wanted to reach, but with the wind changing direction and bringing the lava steam towards us, there was no choice but to turn around and retreat.
Then as I looked back for one last time at the lava exit point we didn’t reach, and were now heading away from, I saw something very dramatic happen that made turning back seem like not such a bad thing.
An unusually large rush of lava gushed into the sea, but as it hit the water, the lava recoiled up and backwards in a huge flying ark, and then fell back down on the land in an explosion of fragmented globs of burning molten rock flying back up into the air, while spreading out and then falling down over a large area behind the exit point. The lethally hot molten rock shower would have probably killed anyone who had been standing where it landed – and where we would have been standing, if we had reached that exit point… instead of turning back.
Jean had also been watching what had just happened, and her response was to turn to me, and in a tensely emphatic and gravely serious voice, she pointedly asked me, “Now, do you think that it’s a good idea to get out of here?” My only response was to meet her gaze and quietly nod yes, and then quicken my pace as we moved farther away from the scene.
To be continued with next post – Sorry… I didn’t mean to turn this into a book!