Last week I decided to visit the current Pu’u O’o vent lava flow front. I wanted 11-11-11 lava flow images and I figured I most likely would be the only person on the ground way up there.
You see, its a very very long and difficult hike. One I’ve done many times before during past eruptions. This time the many new shields would dictate where I could go and what route I took. I’m sure some of you have noticed I haven’t been doing any hikes for the past few months. I’ll keep this short and to the point. A kidney stone was unknowingly causing all sorts of health issues for me that kept me at home way too much. Severe back aches. It was a bummer as I was wanting to hike to a few of these great eruptive events. Oh well, now that I passed the little/big bugger I feel better than I have in 4+ years. As you can imagine I was more than ready for a serious adventure and I surely got one on this hike.
The current lava flow has been slowly advancing towards the abandoned Royal Gardens subdivision since September. The line of shields that were built during the 2007-2011 eruption are keeping the flow directed towards the remnants of RG. The forecast last Thursday the 10th was for heavy rains and strong winds. I didn’t matter. I was going regardless. The hike started great with the bright full moon lighting up the old lava flows. The wind was strong but, the rain stayed to the east. I could spot a faint glow from where I parked but, I couldn’t tell for sure if it was from the flow front or the new skylight near Pu’u O’o or if it was Pu’u O’o its self. It gave me hope the flow was still going. That was the last time I would see a glow until I arrived at the flow.
The hike was as difficult as ever. Especially with the newer flows since my last venture up the pali. This is where experience is very important. I’ve hiked the entire area so many times I’m always able to recognize exactly where I am and I’m able to know what lies ahead. This really saves time and hassles of A’a lava crossings and slabby pahoehoe too. I power hiked non-stop and made my way to the flow front in 4 hours flat. Uphill hill hiking is my strongest ability. I struggle on the descent due to a bad foot. I was about 1/2 mile away when I first spotted specs of flowing lava. I would need to cross a few stagnant fingers of fresh lava to reach the area. The smell of the flow and to feel the heat was great after so long. Hard to explain if you haven’t spent much time doing what I do. I was between the 2000′ and 2100′ elevation to the west of the old lava shields. The few remaining Kipukas were in the path of the flow. It was about 500′ wide and moving at a normal rate. This area is what I call the upper flats. Its the area you can’t see from the coast. The climb is much higher and more difficult than you can imagine. My luck with no rain would last until sunrise and then the weather moved in. I was able to capture typical pahoehoe flows with the setting full moon at morning twilight. I took very few photos but, did shoot some video too. Shot a short time lapse also. The weather was horrible but, I expected it. Really was fortunate that I had the clear night. The rain was horizontal with the strong winds when it arrived. My other goal was an image at 11:11:11am. I had to kill 7 hrs waiting for that moment.
As its nearing time for that 11:11:11am photo the rain is getting intense. I set up for a small flow heading into some old fallen trees. Didn’t have too many choices as I needed to keep the rain at my back. By this time my umbrella was destroyed. Had my video camera set up to record it all. Its water proof so, no worries there. Just as it was the magic minute the flow sealed up. Of course only having 1 second to get the flowing lava shot, it was too late to try and move. Add in the rain and the slowed activity overall and it just wasn’t to be. But, I did have that great night and got the nice setting full moon shot. I do have a 11:11:11am shot. Its just not anything special other then the time it was captured. From that point on the rain only got worse and there was no use in putting on my rain gear. The entire hike back was with very limited visibility and I had to stop a few times to empty the water from my boots. I finally gave up. I’m not sure if anyone will ever truly appreciate what I go through to get most of my unique images. No one goes to the extremes I do for Kilauea lava flow images.
This brings me to the “Don’t try and do what I do” statement. I can’t stress enough just how desolate this area is. You always have to ask yourself, “Can I navigate these areas with little or no visibility?’ If your unsure, then you should stay away. The upper pali areas can have little or no visibility for days at a time. There are lots of nasty slabby and shelly flows all over and the occasional A’a flows. Sure, you would eventually find your way (maybe) but, will you be prepared for the amount of time you’ll be out there? I hiked for 9 hours total (that would be 12+ for the average person) and explored at least 6 of the 7 hours up there. As always I had plenty of food and water. That kidney stone had been messing up my previous hikes without me knowing that was the issue. I’ll give details to anyone who wants to know. On this hike I felt great and was able to handle it.
The flow was moving along in surges and doing lots of inflating. Hiding behind old tumulus’s next to inflating flows kept me nice and warm. Until the hike down. I was freezing.
The map is a NASA satellite map from Oct 29, 2011. I’ve marked notable locations and landmarks. This hike was short compared to my past Kupaianaha and TEB shield hikes. With zigzagging and exploring my estimates are between 16 and 18 miles round trip. In other words, its not the half an hour walk to the Waikupanaha ocean entry everyone was use to for 3+ years. I started at the end of Hwy 130.
Like I said, I took few photos. They can be seen here. The first similar ones are a short time lapse video.
Hopefully I can get the GoPro video footage done this year 🙂
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