Almost a Crater too Far

November 1, 2017

The Volcano House breakfast buffet was more than we needed, but crater creatures need to be prepared. We had done our research about the best way to do the Kilauea Iki Crater walk. The consensus was to do the walk counter clockwise. There were no clues about where to start the clock backwards. We launched into the 5.5 mile hike a little after 9am with coffee sloshing about as we careened down 1.2 miles of switchbacks.

Actually, the trail was to government specs being no more than a 7% grade with proper water bars and related elements. Of course there were the Hawaiian additions like steam vents, fissures and cascading topical plants. The switchbacks were easy going down the 400 feet to the floor of the crater. It was a bit eerie descending to what was 400 foot deep pool of lava in 1959. It is still hot below but no longer Morton until you get another 400 feet under the current surface. It was a bit disconcerting to read the sign posts talking about an eruption in the 1970’s when there was only. 3 hour warning. What can go wrong?

We reached the frozen in stone molt on surface and started our mile or so adventure across this moonscape. We would come across steaming vents with plenty of caution signs about testing them with fingers. The rock piles that guide you across the plain are easy to follow despite the up and down nature of the lava. It was weird to see the roughly one foot thick crust that took but minutes to form after the last eruption. Little ferns were pioneering the landscape in the cracks and crevices. We dutifully read the information about the signed locations that became increasingly tortuous to navigate. Peggy was doubting our ability to make the round trip because of the rapidly rising temperature.

In reality, we didn’t need to recross the bottom of the crater. We only needed to climb a steep stretch of stairs cut into the crater “bathtub ring”. A Park Service guy with a chainsaw checked our water supply and announced that we had almost conquered the climb out of the crater. What was left was two miles of mostly gentle trail back to the car through rain forest untouched by volcanic activity. It took us a little over two hours but we were happy that we didn’t wait until the afternoon. The guide books say to allow 4 hours. Oh well.

The hike inspired Peggy to look for appropriate souvenirs. I was content with my t-shirt but my partner had her sights set a bit higher. We found the Art Center and the Koa wood serving bowls and platters that Peggy needed. I confess that I liked them too. We then headed for the road to the coast called The Chain of Craters Road. It used to allow a circle drive across the major flows but today dead ends in the Pacific. In 1969 to 1974 the Mauna Ulu flow covered 12 miles of the highway along the coast and destroyed the town of Kalapuna. The road has not been repaired since Madame Pele is still working on it. We did go to the end of road a greeted the Pacific standing on ground only a few centuries old.

On the way back we stopped at any craters that we missed on the way down. Needless to say, we were cratered out. We retuned to our cute camping cabin in the park where we settled in for the evening. We did manage to eat dinner at the Volcano House before collapsing. The glow from the Halema’uma’u Milton lake at the bottom of the Kilauea Crater was not as impressive as the previous night.

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