The plan is to hike through the National Park during the day then back at night. I had to see the glowing red flows at night. This plan was carefully calculated based on the first attempt chronicled back on December 6th.
The trip starts off with a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Kailua to the parking lot at the end of the road in Volcanoes National Park. We've been told the hike is 4 to 5 hours one way. The sun will set around 6:30 p.m., so if I get there at about 2:00 I will be in good shape. It's 11:00 a.m., better get going.
I stopped off at the ranger station to get an update on conditions. The ranger is very clear. It's not worth the hike. You probably will not see anything. The lava flow has gone underground to the ocean. When it gets to the ocean you can't see anything because of the cliffs and straight coastal edge. Nothing to see here, move along people. He's probably right, a foolish venture, but isn't that what this day is all about?
|One of the warning signs.
|Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii 2013
It's strange to see the old lava flows completely covering the road in places. I'm a half mile from the car and at beacon zero, the last time I will see any kind of level surface. I meet a small group of people coming back from the flow. "Is it worth it?" They all agree that it is. The woman in the group describes the look, "What seems like an innocuous small silvery ooze or bulge, then it would break and the red lava would appear. You can tell where the fresh lava flow is by how silvery it is." The guy chimed in, "...and hot, it's really hot!"
|Interesting lava formations along the way.
Sitting on wispy steam vents.
Video of amazing steam and lava.
I attempt to retrace my path. The footing becomes a little different, like walking on charcoal, the ground seems firm but gives about an inch with a crunch on every step. This is new. A few yards more and I can feel wafts of steam. That is not new. A couple of yards more and I feel an intense heatwave, like walking up to a massive campfire, but there isn't anything glowing, or red, or orange. The ground looks a little different, more silvery than black. It dawns on me what the woman told me at the beginning of the hike, "Fresh lava is silvery." Well, it's silvery all around me. All I can think is, "This is a little disconcerting." I hear that refrain in my head over and over.
I try to determine where the heat is originating and head away from it. At one point, I am straddling a crack, and I looked straight down into it. It is glowing red. "Disconcerting indeed." My first thought when snorkeling with dangerous animals is get the camera and take a picture, yet this situation calls for nothing but an exit, stage left.
I cleared the area. With only the barely-discernible shoreline and my faithful Orion to guide me, I headed in the darkness towards the unseen beacons and the path back home. Up a black lava stack and down, repeatedly, I carefully move through valleys and crags. My legs are getting tired, and my biggest concern is tripping and falling on the sharp glass-like lava. Every step is calculated. I wonder when I'll be able to see a beacon. A little further, still no sign of beacon 7. I know my path is not straight, probably zigzagging all over the place, but generally the right direction. Still no beacon in sight. Getting more fatigued, I think, "When I get to beacon 7, I'll only be half way. Disconcerting." Between weary steps, I think, "Someone has either removed the beacons or they are not flashing. A true conspiracy against me is at foot. Why would someone remove the beacons? I will definitely leave a complaint letter with the park rangers!" "I know this is crazy, but I haven't seen a beacon which can be visible at over a mile away, if I'm at the right angle and height." I come around a bend, and I see something white up ahead. I go off my intended course a little to check it out. "Ah ha! I was right. There is a conspiracy against me. A big pile of beacons and warning signs."
I get back to the car at 5:00 a.m. April 2, exhausted, wishing I'd started earlier, and taken a snack that wasn't sweet, more water, and our best camera. It was a difficult fourteen-and-a-half-hour hike. Just a short three-and-a-half-hour drive to my bed. I now check this off my bucket list, and move along.