Adventures must be done!

Adventures on the Big Island (Hawaii), 7th-13th August 2010

Day 1

I flew from Kauai'i to the Big Island via Maui.
It struck me ominously that I could not spot my backpack being unloaded from the aircraft in Maui. But this was not the time to be worried; it was rather time for a cold beer and a good burger while watching traffic; this is one of my favourite pastimes and I seem never to grow bored of seeing aircraft land, taxi and liftoff. I noted with satisfaction that I spotted the exchange of signals between the ground handling crew and the pilots indicating that handbrakes should be loosened!

Island Air

Upon arrival in Kona I dubiously watched the luggage belt and was not surprised at all when my bag did not turn up.
The ladies at the Island Air counter were already waiting for me and announced that my luggage was left behind by mistake. It would arrive with the next carrier due from Lihue, ETA in a good hour. Fair enough. I made the most out of this and got the handling agent sorting out the car booking business for me. It was to be a rip-off. Either a truly horrendous or just shocking one, but a rip-off nontheless. I figured that pre-arranging a car might have been smart, but there was no other option to see this place as planned and I settled for Thrifty. That thieving Thrifty agent ripped me off some more by suggesting that convenient full-tank option. Blast!
They even upgraded me to a limousine; I had asked for the smallest and cheapest car and walked out with a Chrysler 300C or some similar model. Way too conspicuous; I'd rather enjoyed that old dump I'd driven over in Kaua'i ...
Anyhow, after I had figured out how to operate the parking brake (having resorted to reading the manual!), I showed up at the airline counter again and collected my bag.
Next plan was to get groceries in Kona. Bad plan, couldn't find a food shop in the darn place, just fashion shops and other useless facilities. I resorted to the next best option: drive South.
In some unknown place, might have been Captain Cook (for some reason, there is no such thing as a single place-name sign in that country), I spotted a typical store trading in food, clothing, fishing rods, gardening tools, maps and you have it. Excellent. The choice was limited but sufficient; I even found emergency water treating tablets!

Having attained the first two levels of the Maslov pyramid (immediate food and supplies), I made my way towards a place called Milolili, as small fishing village that sported a camp ground.
A winding road descended several hundred metres down to the coast, crossing extensive lava waste land.
The camp ground turned out to be a gravel parking lot next to a Hawaiian meeting place where a lot of people were gathered for a party. I felt somewhat lost and wondered what to do next when being spotted by an old, energetic lady who invited me to join her grandson's birthday party.
Soon I had a plate full of crab, fish and those leaf covered rolls filled with pork and other stuff and tried to get a conversation going with a bunch of fisherman, all powerfully built Hawaiians with artful tattoos that were similar to Maori ones.
One bloke had traveled some in his younger days and stated:

"Big cities are #&*%ing shit!"

"Yeah, man, that's right! For example: Honolulu's useless!!!", I heartily agreed.

Day 2

I was happy to pack up early next morning; the night had been very stuffy and cars had kept driving past my tarp, me dreaming about being robbed by some Islanders, meeting an end similar to Captain Cook, who had snuffed it a few miles further North.

Climbing Mauna Loa

I arrived at the national park centre of the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park by mid morning and went to gather information on my intended trail. I learned that the top hut had no water supply as the tank was polluted. That could mean only one thing: haul in water!
I left the car at the end of Mauna Loa Road and started out for the Red Cabin around lunch time. Soon the forest ended and the landscape was dominated by old lava flows with scattered trees and shrubs.

Shrub trying to survive in lava desolation

I found the going rather dull but the thought of reaching Red Cabin and maybe get some views other than an endless hillside in front of me spurred me on.
After 5 hrs the Red Hill Cabin came into sight, and so did the view!

Arriving at the Red Cabin

Mauna Kea, famous for the scientific observatories on its summit.

I enjoyed a well deserved tea with macadamia-chocolate cookies on the front porch and wondered about the musty smell hanging around till I read a note in the hut book:

"Peeing of the front porch will NOT do!!!"

I then spent some time reducing my gear weight for the summit attempt by leaving some food behind which I would pick up on my way back.

The Red Hill Cabin at dusk.

The sun was already fairly low when a bunch of other trampers turned up, them having walked from the Observatory Road to the Summit Cabin yesterday, then did the summit and the hike down to Red Cabin today.
They were fun to talk to and we had a good laugh about porridge.
When it got dark we went up on the hill behind the cabin to see the stars and try spotting the red glow of the Kilauea caldera, which was barely visible due to the current cloud layer.

Day 3

My alarm went off at 5am and after munching some muesli with condensed milk I left the hut and started along the trail towards the summit hut before the sun was above the horizon.

Dawn over the cloud covered Pacific.

Lava, clouds and air

Colourful rocks

Cake dressing?

The landscape and terrain was varying quite a lot; volcanic rocks changed from the jagged and rough A'a to smooth Pāhoehoe to sandy or pebbly stretches of Lapilli, the latter being a form of tephra ranging from 2 - 64mm in diameter and very light.

Approaching the Steaming Cone

Tephra on the Steaming Cone

12'ooo feet

Pohaku Hanalei

Lava shades

A lava creek

Entering the Moku'aweoweo Caldera

It took me 6hrs and 40' to reach the Mauna Loa cabin, a welcome sight to have a cuppa and shelter from the relentless, cold wind. First hut I ever been to having red curtains!
I found a cozy spot in front of the hut and enjoyed a few crackers and macadamia biscuits till a French couple arrived, having walked in from the observatory road.

Cirrus clouds

The Mauna Loa Cabin at 4039m

After a nap behind a rock wall I went in search of the waterhole, some 400m from the hut. It was indeed a tight fit down in a crack in the lava, but I managed to source some water using my cup.
Back in the hut, I had a good chat with the French and did some brainstorming for a new tarp design.

Day 4 - The Summit

I once more got up very early to catch the sunrise, then headed off for the summit.

Mauna Loa Cabin at sunrise

Gap in the caldera, probably originating from the 1975 lava flow

Forward scattering of sunlight by lava surfaces

At the Lua Poholo Crater

Looking towards the summit across the caldera

The climb towards the summit seemed endless as there essentially is no definite summit but a highest point on a gently sloped surface. On the way I spotted a number of seismic observation stations.

Cliff of the caldera, looking towards the 'summit'

Floor of the caldera, covered with lava tiles

At the summit after 2hrs 20' (4169m)

I didn't stay long on the summit; there was still a cold wind blowing and my slight headache suggested that a change in altitude was advisable.

Pāhoehoe on the trail to the Red Cabin


Wind, sun and desolated land were getting to me. There were moments when crossing rugged A'a that I felt being observed and pursued by some malevolent entity; stopping did not feeling comfortable and thus I pressed on to reach comforting Red Hill where green grass grew near the water tank.

First glimpse of Red Hill Cabin

Green grass surviving on the dripping tap at Red Hill Cabin

Back at Red Cabin after 8hrs on the trail

View from the Red Hill

After a good rest I took the time to inspect the various inscriptions in the hut, some of which were odd or interesting enough to be captured:

We talking about brush-tailed possums here?!?

Part of the lyrics from Child of the Wind

As the sun went down I climbed the hill behind the cabin to observe the interesting spectacle of a shadow cast by the mountain on the horizon in the East. I suppose that the orange glow on the horizon opposite of the sun at sun down is an effect of orange-red light of the sundown being scattered by larger particles (Mie scattering) on the horizon. Therefore, shadow casting of a big mountain over large distances seems feasible.
Later on I watched the glow of the Kilauea Caldera 1800m below my current position.

Mauna Loa casts a shadow in the orange scattered light on the horizon opposite of the sun

Sunset in the West

Kilauea Caldera (middle) glowing in the evening

Day 4

I hiked out next morning, covering the distance to my duly waiting car in 2.5hrs.
Seeing some vegetation again seemed extraordinarily.

Braided lava.

I found a little note squeezed under one of my windscreen wipers, saying that the road was now closed due to fire risk, but that I should just close the gate behind me but not lock it. Fair enough.
Down at the gate I figured that it was not only already closed but also locked!
I talked to a dude just finishing a jog and he called the park headquarters, arranging for a ranger to drive out and open that gate. In the meantime, we had a good yarn and I learned that this bloke was writing speeches for Abercrombie, currently running for governor.
When the ranger arrived, we figured out that he didn't hold the right keys! We had a good laugh about it and joked and chatted around some more till some guys from the maintenance crew turned up with the correct key.

Pu'o O'o

I then proceeded to the park HQ where I was 15' late for my 12'o clock appointment with Daniel, but there he was, and after having talked to a ranger and receiving 'backcountry-portable toilets', "Gotta give you those ...", he smirked, we headed out for the next adventure: visiting the Pu'o O'o crater.
We parked our cars at the start of the Napau Trail and hiked towards the Napau Crater Campsite.

Berries on some hardy shrub

Ferns surviving in the lava wasteland

Fern thickness close to Napau Crater campsite

We set up camp in a little clearing barely big enough to hold the tarp, then set out along a path that led across Napau Crater, choosing to ignore the 'Trail Closed' signs.

Interesting volcanic structure, similar to a sponge but quite fragile

Meterosideros shrub, Pu'u O'o cone visible on the horizon

Looking towards Pu'u O'o

Last sunlight illuminating a dead forest

A fair warning

Dani observing Pu'u O'o. Is there something to be seen up there?!?

Do NOT try to go here ...

... nor should you be here!

After some hardships, which I shall not describe here, we were back at camp.

Day 5 - Lava and Sea

We hiked out next morning and once more parted. After a well-deserved wash at Namakanipaio camp (showers closed, but the basin in the toilet did the trick) I set up my tarp at Kulanaokuaiki camp site, then went exploring along the crater rim track, where I got some views of steam rising from the Halema'uma'u crater.

Halema'uma'u crater in the Kilauea Caldera. Apparently, you shouldn't be here either ...

Meterosideros flowers

I then drove down to the coast near Kalapana, parked the car and hiked along the coast towards the point where the lava meets the sea, indicated by the big plume rising into the sky.

The coast

Braided lava

Steam rising a few hundred metres from our position

Forces of Nature

I arrived at some point where the cliff ended and a beach was covered in seemingly fresh lava. There was also a couple from Israel hanging around, waiting for someone who would know if going on was safe. I joined their waiting activity and did a little excursion into the forest behind us, finding burnt coconuts and a wave of heat emitted from the lava flow.
Eventually, a guide with some tourists arrived and walked out into the still warm lava!
We figured that it was probably safe to tail along and thus we arrived at the point where the lava currently hit the sea!
The sight was beyond anything I had ever seen: white glowing rock was dripping into the sea, chunks of lava fell into the water, exploding and sending bits of still glowing rock floating on the sea surface till the next wave rushed up and all sight was lost due to strong vapour building instantly, illuminated by a reddish glow.

Lava exploding on contact with water

Another explosion

Lava dripping into the sea with chunks from the last explosion still afloat

Twilight at the lava flow

Day 5 - Back to Honolulu

Drying and sorting out gear before leaving for Kona via the Saddle Road.