Friday, November 22, 2013

Visiting Volcano National Park: Part II

Last post I introduced my trip to Volcanoes National Park last week. The first part was a bit short because I felt a single post would be too long, and the Kīlauea Iki hike really ought to get a post to itself.

Kīlauea Iki is the name of a pit crater that developed to the east of the main Kīlauea caldera in 1959, catching vulcanologists of the time by surprise and forming a lava lake measuring 0.7 by 0.4 miles. You can see it below as it looks from the trail head up on the top of the surrounding cliffs:

Kīlauea Iki, seen from the top of the cliffs around it.
The large bare hill in the center of the picture was created during the 1959 eruption from some spectacularly high lava fountains (up to 1,900 feet! [580 m]) and is known as Puʻu Puaʻi, which translates to something like “gushing hill.”

The trail makes a loop around the north rim of the pit, then dives swiftly down to the floor of the frozen magma sea and cuts across it back to the base of the cliffs below where the trailhead is, before steeply ascending to come out near another famous park sight, the Thurston Lava Tube (alternatively you can walk the trail in reverse order, that's just the way we went).

Here you can see the floor of Kīlauea Iki. The gray streak from left to right is the path.
Cores drilled in the lava field show that the entire lake solidified within a few tens of years after the eruption, but the rock is still quite hot. Putting my hand on it at one point I was surprised to feel that it was markedly hotter than would be expected from solar heating based on the weak sunlight coming through the cloudy, overcast sky. In a few places steam could be seen continually wafting off the surface, similar to the Steam Vents I showed last post.

Eventually we wound our way around the crater rim till the trail began to switchback steeply down the inside of the bowl, until we got to the bottom where this sight met our eyes:

Panorama of Kīlauea Iki. Ignore the horribly overexposed sky.
From the floor of the crater, a landscape more reminiscient of Mordor could hardly be imagined. For some reason this immediately suggested the following picture to me:

After this, we set out across the great arid plain, following the trail to the base of Puʻu Puaʻi. Although the vast expanse of rock showed no signs of life from the crater rim (other than the many tourists wandering along its trail), we soon found various plants, shrubs, and even young trees sprouting up in places through the rock, clinging to life in an inhospitable environment. One such example is the ʻōhelo berry bush below:

ʻŌhelo berries growing in Kīlauea Iki crater.
ʻŌhelo (Vaccinium reticulata) are endemic to the Hawaiian isles and are adapted to grow on volcanic soil high up on the flanks of Hawaiian volcanoes. They're an important source of food for the state bird, the nēnē, and being relatives of cranberries and blueberries they are also human edible. ʻŌhelo berry jam from wild-picked berries is a popular home-canning project.

Near the base of Puʻu Puaʻi I found a large crack in the ground about as deep as I was tall, and tried to pose for a picture of me desperately hanging onto the edge. The lava turned out to be a lot sharper on bare skin than I had anticipated, however.

I did, however, manage to get the picture below:

Hang in there!
After these shenanigans at the foot of Puʻu Puaʻi, we set out on the trek across the main portion of the crater floor towards the far side and the trail leading back up to where we started. It was a fascinating experience, walking over the crystallized undulations of the solidified lava lake, its final random motions frozen in stone and time. Most extruded lava in Hawaiʻi is bumpy and rough to some extent, so it was very strange seeing (and walking on) such smooth rock. In places it had been broken up, victim to the stresses and strains of thermal expansion and contraction as parts of the lake cooled down unevenly. A little ways out from the base of Puʻu Puaʻi I looked back and got this picture:

At a few places on the crater floor steam was rising from the ground in a continuous display, reinforcing the Mordor look. You can see one such place in the picture below:

I investigated one to see if the steam was coming from a crack or other aperture, but it simply seemed to be rising straight out of the ground.

From across the floor of the crater we took one last look back at Puʻu Puaʻi across the frozen lava sea before turning and beginning the torturous ascent back to the crater rim.

I would have to say that this hike across Kīlauea Iki was the high point of the trip for me. There's just something incredibly cool about walking across the surface of what was a roiling, boiling lake of molten lava a little less than four score years ago. If you ever visit Volcanoes National Park, have the time, and are prepared for a hike of several miles, I would definitely recommend going on this one. Especially if you read some of the helpful information boards at the head of the trail first.

As a final photo, have this picture of an ʻōhiʻa lehua blossom that I took at the side of the trail along the rim of the crater. They're quite spectacular up close.

Anyway, that's been part two of my photo series. Tune in next time for the last part of our trip, and to see what happens when lava runs over a modern asphalt road! A hui hou!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Daniel! Do you have any pictures of ahihi flowers? I have a hula for it but I really don't know what they look like... I was told they bloom in Ka'u. But I'm a Linguistics major. :)


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