The past three days have been crazy. Three days ago I was hiking across lava fields, jumping across live portions of lava flows, all to see lava pouring into the ocean. Two days ago I was on the top of Mauna Kea braving 70-80mph winds, literally scared I was going to get blown off the mountain. And yesterday I snorkeled through coral reefs and drove around all of Big Island. Saw everything from towering mountains to Oceanside cliffs off the end of the world.
The lava plume in the distance
It started on Sunday, Easter morning. Austin and I woke decided to drive out to do the lava hike at 4:20, and by around 4:40 we were at the lava fields and were beginning to hike in. In order to get to the lava you have to hike over two or so miles of dried lava flow—all very recent flow; ten or twenty years ago the dried flow we were walking on didn’t exist, and there were portions of the flow later on that were less than a year or six months old. All you can see is darkness except for the glow of the lava in the distance—when the lava hits the ocean it creates a giant cloud, and that cloud glows bright orange in the night. Even this is pretty spectacular. It is not, by any means, an easy walk though. The terrain is so varied and you are jumping , climbing, and running for the entire hour and a half walk (and that’s just one way) out there. Getting out there is definitely the easiest part—just follow the glow in the distance. There were two plumes of smoke that you could see, so we had no idea which one to head to. The constant height change of the terrain also makes it difficult to see long distances, so we really just kind of hiked straight and were adjusting our route as we walked. Around 5:45 it started to get brighter outside, and it was at this point we realized the ground around us was pouring out smoke. Austin, who had been talking
This was a dried piece of the live flow. You can see the lava underneath the hardened rock.
about falling through into the lava long before the ground started smoking, began to minorly freak out. I assure him that it’s all fine and that it wasn’t a big deal, but, to be quite honest, I had no fucking clue if that was supposed to be happening. I convince him to walk further out with me, but he just kept freaking out the further we went. At this point the heat is definitely starting ramp up and, while it hadn’t hit the point of being uncomfortable yet, it was definitely noticeable. Not only that, but at this point we were beginning to pass some areas where you could see lava underneath hardened rock. You could see this fantastic orange glow coming out from cracks in the rock at certain points as well. As you can imagine Austin just used this as more fuel to freak out, and eventually he refused to go any further. I convince him that the smartest thing to do would be to climb the highest point we could find and look out from there. He was skeptical but eventually he agreed, so we began climbing this outcropping of huge lava rocks that was probably about 20 or 30ft high or so. As soon as we reached t he top we could see people in the distance (but they were still relatively close)—I gave Austin a vicious “Told you so” look and we climbed back down the outcropping to head to where
A view of the landscape we had to climb over for hours
the people were. As we got closer we began to see a few more people sitting down watching something. Since it was Easter there were only about 8 others there, and they were all sitting down on a ledge just above a massive70ft cliff drop into the ocean. We got to the edge and realized what everybody was staring at—a few hundred feet away you could see the lava just pouring into the ocean, but since it was morning at this point (we were about 10 minutes late to the lava to get to see it in the darkness because we were lost) the lava was really obscured by the smoke and steam. In person it was still awe inspiring—in the pictures I took, well, not so much. The plume from the lava went a few hundred feet into the air and it was just massive. The water by the lava was actually smoking because of the heat, it was surreal. Even the water that wasn’t near the lava was smoking. Eventually, we looked up from where the lava was coming from and realized that where we had been standing before was /just/ before the live flow. The portion of rock that we could see had lava underneath it (that neither of us had stood on because it sketched us the hell out—thank god) was actually an older portion of the active flow. Once this was discovered Austin gave me a pretty nasty “I told you so” look of his own. But that wasn’t enough to stop me from wanting to go further.
You can see the second lava plume off in the distance towards the right of the photo
We could see a second smoke/steam plume in the distance, and I told Austin “I want to see that” . He called me crazy, and maybe I was to do it, but I figured we had hiked all that way so we might as well see everything we could see. A tour boat pulls into the water a few feet from the lava at this point, and after five or so minutes they head off around the cliff and down to the second plume, and this just strengthened my desire to see the other flow. We began talking to other people who were there about whether or not they had hiked down to the second flow, but none of them had. In order to get to the second flow you had to hike even deeper into the lava field and even deeper into areas where the ground was smoking, and this seemed to be enough to deter most everyone from trying. But fuck it, I’m not most people. Austin surprisingly agrees to hike with me, claiming he was less sketched out about falling in or getting hurt since he had seen the actual flowing lava. I suggest we take a long route to the second flow, and suggest going in a very winding way to make sure everything is safe. Surprisingly, Austin says “Nah man, fuck it, lets just charge straight in. If we’re gonna do this lets just do it.” I ask him if that is what he seriously wants since a few moments earlier he was having a minor panic attack, and he says it is, so I, somewhat reluctantly, start heading for the second column of smoke in the distance. After about five minutes of walking, I hear Austin gasp behind me and notice he has completely stopped. He looks like he just saw a ghost, and makes the “No way” signal. I try to motion for him to continue, but he won’t budge. I later learned that the reason he stopped was because the heat around him was enough to make him sweat and that he felt the ground beneath him shift. He even claims the slab of lava rock he was on cracked. Not knowing this at the time, I decided I would continue on my mission, even if it meant heading out into potentially really dangerous territory by myself. And that’s what I did. I just kept walking, and I could see the fear in Austin’s face as I started to walk away from him. I continued walking for about ten more minutes, and it was definitely extremely sketchy. The smoke coming from the ground continued to intensify as did the heat. I was honestly more scared I would break my leg on loose rock then I was about falling into lava. You could feel the earth almost melting under your feet in certain areas, which was pretty crazy. I eventually made it to the furthest end of the lava field—further than anyone else had made it that day and completely on my own. At this point my knees are shaking because it has fully hit me that I am walking on a flow of the most active volcano on earth. To say I was terrified wo
The sea arch right next to the lava. Extremely fucking cool.
uld be an understatement. The furthest end of the lava field was yet another cliff, and below the cliff there was a beautiful, untouched black sand beach. There was also a sea arch on the beach , and you could see the lava billowing out smoke from behind that. I considered climbing down onto the beach but didn’t want to risk getting eaten by a huge wave since the
waves looked relatively strong. I walked a bit further along the edge of the cliff, just far enough to see the origin of the smoke/steam plume with my own eyes, and then I immediately turned back. I had accomplished my mission, now it was time to make it back without dying.
The walk back to Austin was about the same as the walk there was, except for one key point at the end. At this point I’m walking with my hands touching the ground, just so I could feel the rock with my hands before stepping on it to keep from stepping on anything with lava underneath. We had avoided stepping on any rock with lava right underneath it this entire time, and I wanted to keep it that way. But alas, that wasn’t going to happen. About ten minutes after I decided to head back I start to see people in the distance. I head towards them, but I get to a point where the rock all around me is part of the live flow. Put your hand on the rock and you could just feel the heat that was underneath it, and it was so incredibly obvious that lava was a few inches beneath that. I had avoided walking on this the entire time, but this time I was completely surrounded and needed to get to the other side. So, I did what I had to do—I lifted up my pants legs, started saying “Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckshitshitfuckfuck” and quickly ran across the live flow. I could feel the heat through my shoes and it felt like time moved in slow motion. I was only on the live flow for about ten or fifteen seconds, but it felt much longer. Pretty terrifying. Thankfully I made it through to the other side without plummeting into the lava beneath me to my death, and I set off to find Austin. I eventually found him at the location where all the people had been watching the first lava flow , and he started laughing about how crazy I was for doing what I just did but said I had massive balls. We stayed watching the lava for another thirty minutes or so, and then we decided to head back. The walk back felt much more tiring—the sun was out at this point, it’s extremely hot, and we didn’t have a fiery orange cloud to guide us in the right direction. The walk back ended up taking about 2 and a half hours, and when we finally made it back to normal ground I got on my hands and knees and kissed the ground around me. It was 10am at this point—we had been out for 6 hours almost. Feeling like our legs were made of jello, we slowly made our way back to the car and proceeded to head home.
So yeah, that’s a rough recall of my lava experience. I had originally planned to post about Mauna Kea in this same post but since this story ended up being so long I will make a separate post about Mauna Kea in a day or so.