July 3, 2017

Hiking Kilauea

What is it like to hike through a volcano?  In her book, High Tide in Tucson, Barbara Kingsolver includes two essays on her trip to Maui and hiking the dormant volcano, Haleakala. Ever since reading those essays, I have wanted to hike in a volcano!  

Nature is a huge inspiration to me, both spiritually and creatively.  From luscious greens to beautiful flowers to geographical magnificence.  These loves have taken me all over the United States searching out beautiful places where I connect to the Earth.

In July 2014, my husband and I flew to the Big Island of Hawaii for our honeymoon. This was not your traditional Hawaiian vacation focused on sandy beaches and coconut drinks.  We came for the volcanos, more specifically Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. The main feature is the active volcano, Kilauea with its Crater Rim Drive and Chain of Craters Road. The date we were there, the south side of Crater Rim Drive was closed between the Jagger Museum and Chain of Craters Road due to volcanic activity.  While we could not get close enough to see the lava flowing, we saw the glowing smoke rising from the Halema’uma’u Crater.

To the east of the main Kilauea Caldera is the Kilauea Iki Crater, dormant since 1959.  The crater is a mile long and 3,000 feet across. Beginning with a steep and rocky descent, the hiking trail takes you 2.4 miles across solid lava with scattered steam vents, then back up switchbacks through lush rain forest.  Ahu (stacked rocks) mark the trail across the crater floor.

The porous and jagged rocks of the western side of the crater made for difficult hiking. Sturdy shoes are a must!  ‘Ōhi‘a bushes populate the rugged terrain bringing back vegetation to the crater.  The ruggedness turned to a smooth surface about midway through the crater.  Also the temperate increased.  At 3980 ft, the beginning of our hike was drizzly and chilly even in July.  As we reached the steaming part of the crater, we were unzipping our coats and removing our hats.   

It was truly amazing to see the remains of volcanic eruption.  That a force from under the Earth’s crust shot up sprouting red hot lava 1600℉ is mystifying.  The Hawaiians attribute this activity to Pele, the spiritual force of the volcano, and her various moods. Whether it is science or gods, it is truly amazing.  We live on an amazing planet that somehow has the right combination of elements to create this geological and ecological beauty.

I hope you have glimpsed the impact this hike has had on me.  I will always remember it.  If it is not already on your list of places to see, put it there!  

All photos taken by myself

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