Tuesday, January 8, 2013

1-4/5/6-2013: Kalapana Lava Sunrise

1-4-2013: "Wait, didn't you just go to the lava flows recently?  Isn't one time enough?  Why must you be in danger all the time???" That was the response I got from my Mom when I told her I was going to head back to Hawai`i Island to view the lava flows at Kalapana for the weekend.  "Go get some nice shots of the flows when the sun is up!"  That was the response from my Dad.  Gotta love how parents go on each end of the spectrum when I'm about to embark on an adventure!  Almost a month ago, I went to Kalapana to view the active lava flow on the coastal plain and ocean entry for the very first time.  That trip was an unforgettable experience.  Now, it was time to raise the bar even higher.

Laredo and I were invited by Tom Kuali`i and Bruce Omori.  These guys go full force into Madame Pele's lava flows to capture that one in a million shot with their cameras!  They've captured photographs that one can only begin to imagine.  They risk their lives for it.  They are Extreme Exposure.  We would be led on a surreal hike that we will never forget as long as we breathe this fresh Hawaiian air.  I also have to mention that this trip wouldn't even be possible for these two very talented individuals, along with Christopher Wong, who let me borrow his truck for the weekend, and Brian Daniel, who offered his cottage up in Volcano for accommodations.  And mahalo to TJaye Ailama Forsythe for helping us conclude this epic trip smoothly by dropping us off at Hilo Airport for our return back to O`ahu.

Once we got to the Big Island at around 8pm, we got the truck and spend the first night at the "Hale La`au", the name of Brian's cottage.  Upon arrival, we were mesmerized by the secluded area.  The cottage itself had that Big Island feel to it!  This was to be our home away from home for the weekend.

1-5-2013: We virtually got no sleep that night.  We were super stoked for the hike and we just wanted morning to come by already.  And came it did.  The time was 2am and our scheduled meetup was at 4am.  Despite the lack of sleep, we were fired up!  No pun intended.  As we got closer to Kalapana, the street lights began to disappear and soon the only light visible were our headlights as it pierced the darkness.  We arrived at the lava viewing area and there were some cars parked.  I could make out some of the flashlights in the distant black horizon.  I looked up at the sky and saw the starry sky like no other.

A short while later, we were met by Tom and Bruce, who would accompany us to the active lava flow.  And away we went into the pitch blackness of Madame Pele's stomping grounds.  As I've experienced for the first time I was here, sure footing is paramount as the terrain is very uneven.  Blackness surrounded us in every direction, the flashlights being our only source of light.  Then, off in the distance, a red faint glow appeared in the horizon followed by others a short while later.  Then Tom received a report that a magnitude 4 earthquake just struck the Big Island only minutes ago!  Hilo felt the brunt but we didn't feel a thing.  The funny thing is was that the epic center was right under Kalapana, right underneath our feet!  I hope this wasn't a bad omen!  We stashed water at two locations prior to the flow to make our packs lighter, but keeping just enough for what was ahead of us.

When we got to the active flow and to the pali leading to the ocean, I was in total awe of what I saw before us: multiple glowing orange fingers heading down the steep cliff into the cold, black ocean!  The first time, we only had 2 fingers.  This time, I think I've counted 5 or 6, the farthest one being about a mile out.  I was about to open my bag to set up my equipment when I noticed Kuali`i and Omori starting to walk directly towards the active flow!  "We'll go to the other side of that last finger way out there!" Tom exclaimed.  I thought to myself, "Really?  We're going to hike over all of this?!" Just before entering the actual active flow, we passed by two tourists with expressions on their faces as we just walked casually towards danger.  I was concerned that they may try to follow us but fortunately did not after they saw us disappear behind a small mound of glowing orange.  We reached the first area where the heat was the most extreme.  I could see orange glowing underneath every crevice and puka.  Tom looked back at me and said, "One at a time!"  He then proceeded to walk directly on top of lava that was only minutes old!  Once he was some 30ft ahead, I followed his path.  The heat radiating from the new and crackling ground below me, surged into my shoes and legs.  Even with pants on, 600 degrees of thermal madness filled the air between my skin and the pant leg.  I charged forward, hoping that cooler ground was nearby.  About 30 feet later, the intense heat eased off and I caught up with Tom.  We had crossed the first finger.  Now, everywhere I looked were botches of red and orange all around us with a massive drop to a raging scalding ocean below.  It was unreal to be standing on land was newly created and was still cooling off, like newly forged steel cooling off.  Laredo and Bruce made it over and we were on our way to cross the next finger.  It was like we were in Mordor, on our way to the volcano to destroy the ring.

This would repeat itself for the next 5 or so crossings.  Keep going was all what was in my head.  Down in the ocean, I could hear the hissing and an occasional explosion as red hot lava entered the ocean and flashed the seawater into steam.  Since we were hiking downwind, we had another problem to deal with: plumes of hydrochloric acid and sulfur dioxide!  This stuff is nasty to breathe in and I was starting to cough a bit.  "My lungs are probably scarred by now!" yelled Tom, referring to his numerous treks out here.  The ground all around us was crackling.  I could even see some of the small pebbles popping upward from the ground.  We hiked parallel to the sharp drop off into the ocean on our left, choosing the relatively 'safe' path over each active flow.  The heat was turning up and the water in our bottles were going down.  My intake of water was much higher than what I was used to drinking on other hikes.  The heat really dehydrates you quickly.  Without adequate water, you'll get into trouble really quickly so bring lots of water!  I could feel the extreme heat on my shoes.  I just waited for them to catch fire at any moment!  "If you can't handle the heat, get out of the kitchen!"  In this case, we were deep within Pele's kitchen!

Active flow after active flow, we pressed on.  I felt like a video game character, where if you walk over a hazard area on a level, your life meter begins to drop temporarily, but as soon as you reach safe ground, your meter returns back to normal.  Take too long and it's game over.  One can only take the heat for so long before it gets too painful.  What am I doing here?!  I chuckled out loud because this was actually so much fun at the same time!  If only I could call my Mom right now!  Up ahead was yet another flow.  We knew the drill.  Shields up and full speed ahead!

Once we cleared the finger, the land ahead of us was pitch black.  We had successfully traversed the mile wide active flow in it's entirely.  In fact, we were now officially in Volcanoes National Park as we had crossed the border between the Puna District and the national park during the hike through the active flow.  This border virtually runs right along the active flow from the ocean all the way to Puʻu ʻŌʻō.  This hellish hike turned into a tranquil and serene walk.  We were in the middle of nowhere.  We stopped and our fearless leader said that this is where we will set up and watch the sunrise.  Since the active flow was now to our east, we could photograph the lava as the sun rises.  I've never experienced anything so surreal as this in my life.  Just wow...

As the sun began to shine her first rays on the barren landscape, we began shooting the last finger that we've crossed.  The light was just perfect to capture that perfect photo!  And off our cameras went.  "Click! Click! Click! Click! Click!"

Once we have shot probably 400 photos each and enjoyed the otherworldly sunrise, it was time to head back.  No, not towards the end of Chain of Craters Rd. but back the way we came from.  That's right, we had to do everything in reverse.  Time to turn up the heat once again!  Actually heading back through the active flow wasn't as bad as the first time.  It appeared it was starting to lose it's energy somewhat, something that was going to be confirmed by tomorrow.  It was, however, much harder to identify which rock harbored molten rock below due to the sunlight.  We just had to judge it based on temperature spikes. We passed by a Pāhoehoe flow and a stick was nearby.  Bruce suggested that Laredo and I grab the stick, poke the lava, and watch it catch fire. At about the same time, a rainbow formed overhead of us as we hiked along.  What a perfect opportunity for an "action shot"!

We cleared the final flow and were back on cool ground for the duration of the hike.  We rested up, rehydrated ourselves, and set off on a leisurely pace back to 'new Kalapana'.  Since we had our stashed water this morning, we could go back to our "rest stops" and relax.  Along the way, Tom told us a story about a lone house off in the trees somewhere that is the only structure that is part of the original Kalapana Village prior to the lava flows!  It was said that the owner of that house is a powerful figure and was able to fend off the approaching lava by spirtual means.  Three times did the active lava encroach ever so closer to her house and stopped dead in it's tracks at the exact spot!  Her home is still standing as of writing this blog entry!  Along with that, they explained to us about the cultural aspect of Kalapana and her people.  Despite their village is in ruins, they refuse to leave.  They will always call Kalapana home.

We made it back to our cars and decided we were going to do this again the following morning and we part ways.  After lunch in Hilo, Laredo and I decided to catch up on some much needed sleep back at the cottage.  The time was about 5pm.  We would ultimately sleep until 1am the following morning.

1-6-2013: At 2am, the alarms blared and it was to be a repeat of day 1.  But I've received a call from Tom and told us that they were not going to make it after hearing a report from a lava tour boat that the flows were not flowing very well and that it wasn't worth another hike.  Since we were already on our way, we made the decision to go anyway since we had nothing better to do for the day.  We said our goodbyes and thanked them for leading us.

We arrived at around 3am.  This time, the parking area was filled with cars and people.  Not wanting to get attention, we discreetly made our way by and hiked into the night.  It was me who took the "ramrod" and led the way back to the lava flow.  We felt confident enough that we could get there on our own without any mishaps.  We noticed the big group of people following behind us, but by the time we were on open lava fields, that group quickly dropped back behind us and were soon distant faint lights in the horizon.  Our pace was much faster this morning than day 1, due to our restful night and me actually eating breakfast before the hike, a habit I need to develop.  Yesterday, it took us probably 2 hours to reach the flows.  This morning, we were looking westward along the pali with maybe 3 fingers dropping into the ocean about an hour after we started.  We decided that since we caught the sunrise from the west side of the flow already, we would try it from this end and photograph the massive pali and her flows.  We actually decided to cross one small flow to get to a nice vantage point that overlooks the rest of the pali.  Since I was the one up front, I had to navigate us through the hot zone as quickly and as safely possible.  It was my very first  test to see if I could navigate in hot extreme conditions solo but quickly did we find the other side and back to cooler grounds.  Since we got there a bit early, we had to wait an hour or so before the sun started rising.  While we waited, I took some practice photos of the ocean entries as Laredo found a level spot on the rugged landscape and drifted off to sleep as the warm heat from below kept the ground just at the right temperature for a soothing experience.  It was so inviting that I wanted to take a nap myself, but somebody had to keep an eye out for the sun.  I proceeded to take more photos.

As night slowly turned into day, I could make out the dark silhouette of the south shore and woke up Laredo.  The sun was about to rise.

The sun was now up and soon we were greeted by another young local guy who showed up from behind us.  "Hey, Rustyboar!" he said, referring to my shirt that I was wearing.  He then asked how the flows were.  I told him that it wasn't as great as last night.  We then talked stories for a bit and he proceeded to head back. At the corner of my eye I spotted a small headlamp to the east of us on the other side of the first flow that we crossed.  It was the large group that we passed by at the parking lot.  We decided we would head west and cross one more finger to get to a nice vantage point above the ocean entries.  Heat?  What heat?

We felt small vibrations underneath us and agreed that we did not feel safe here anymore so we backed off and decided to call it a day.  This entire pali area is very unstable land and has been known to just suddenly collapse into the ocean.  Not wanting to be boiled human beings for breakfast, we headed back the way we came, but not before getting this shot!

Once we reached the final flow to be crossed, I pulled out my Wayde's World Hawai`i hat and took a few shots for the owner of said business.  As much as I wanted to get closer with it, it was just simply too hot for me and the hat!

The last flow was crossed and we made it safely back to the truck.  We were now "certified lava chasers"!

Once again, another huge mahalo nui loa to everyone that helped make this trip possible!  Tom and Bruce, it was truly an honor to hike with you guys.  You guys are welcome to hike with us anytime!  This will go down in history as one of the most memorable hikes to date and it's our first hike of 2013!  Imua!

Video coming soon!

DANGER: Do NOT try to cross active flows unless you have a thorough understanding of the terrain.  This is not your average hike.  Tom and Bruce are professionals who have been doing this for decades and even they have gotten into life threatening situations themselves!  Wear shoes (absolutely not steel toe, heat and steel conduct very well) that are rugged in design.  My shoes held but the treads took a huge battering from the intense heat.  Wear long thick pants to protect your legs from the heat.  Bring more water than you normally drink.  Dehydration will settle in fast and hard.  The ground near the pali is unstable and can break off at any moment.  Do NOT try to go on lava benches as these certainly will collapse into the ocean.  Also explosions down in the ocean as hot lava flashes into steam can hurl hot lava up to 100ft, fly past you, and land BEHIND you!  The hot white misty steam radiating from the ocean entries contains hydrochloric acid and sulfur dioxide.  You're practically breathing in car battery acid!  Have a GPS in hand for navigation since you are hiking on vast lava fields.  Finally, the most important: whatever happens, DO NOT PANIC!  If you find yourself stuck, find an area that has the least amount of hazard and move in that direction.  Heed all these warnings and you increase your chances of surviving.  Failure to heed these warnings can lead to serious injury and/or death.  Common sense is apparently NOT enough for this kind of hike.  People have died trying to capture that perfect shot.

Please show respect for the residents of Kalapana.  These lands are very sacred to them and it is private property.  Do not park past the public parking area.  The residents use these roads to get in and out of Kalapana and will become extremely agitated if you park on their roads and/or cross into their properties.

For a safe lava viewing experience, I highly suggest you sign up with Kalapana Cultural Tours.  They have the best guides available and will still get you within feet of the active lava flows.  Happy lava chasing!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

12-29-2012: KST (Waikane [Ka`aumakua] to Poamoho)

Head north--- Thru hiking the Ko'olaus? ---Head south

Happy New Year!  We've survived the great apocalypse and the world keeps turning, as it has been for the past 4 billions years.  With 2013 in full swing, I would like to bring you the last hike of 2012 and what a hike to close out the year.  I am ever so slowly inching my way towards my personal goal of completing the Ko`olau summit in it's entirely.  On December 29th, a beautiful gem of the Ko`olau Summit Trail has been added to my collection.  It's said to be one of the best stretches of trail on the island and perhaps the best segment on the Ko`olaus.  If one had just one chance to do a summit walk, then choose this one.

The initial itinerary was to start in Waikane Valley Road and hike the Pu'u Ka`aumakua Trail, where it eventually merges with the KST.  From there, we would head northward along the summit trail towards Pauao Ridge.  Pauao was recently opened up by several trail clearing crews this past summer so we were to use it to head back down into Kahana Valley.  Chenay Borja, Gerwin Canoneo, and Andrew Wilhite would join me for this excursion.

At around 5:30am we pushed off into the darkness on the long road walk.  I remember last time we were on this road, we've encountered a pack of dogs and it was the same case this time around.  This time, they were not as alarmed by our presence, unlike last time, and we quickly made our way through them without incident.  Daylight started coming upon us shortly after we got on the actual Waikane Trail and began the long winding trail to intersect the KST.  We got to the lookout where the trail begins to contour on the north side of the spur ridge heading up to Pu'u Ka`aumakua and decided to check out a side trail that heads makai down the spur.  About 50ft, we came across another clearing with a splendid view of Ohulehule and Kanehoalani.  Directly behind us, Chenay noticed a cross at the top of a small hill and proceeded to climb it to investigate.  Looks like it was recently erected with "Henry" enscribed on it.  A last name also has been written but we couldn't make out the spelling.  Look at the summit crest, it was completely devoid of all clouds.  Despite having absolutely no trade wind, as we got closer to the summit trail, thick clouds began forming as a result of the warm sea breezes being warmed by the sun and rushing up and over the cool windward pali.  Just like water condensing on my cold lens, it was the same for the mountains.

We reached the junction with the KST at around 10am.  The clouds completely engulfed us but fortunately not enough to rain.  I pulled out my phone and checked the weather report on the NOAA website.  Not a green speck anywhere on the island or other islands.  I assumed the clouds would burn up quickly as the sun warms the Ko`olaus.  I noticed my lens was no longer fogged up.  It would be the same for the mountains.  About 10 minutes later, a break in the clouds revealed the windward expanse below and a view of Ohulehule, Pu'u O Kila, and Kahana Valley was had.  Unfortunately, the clouds shrouded the view once again.  We began to get discouraged if we were going to do the whole summit walk in the clouds.  It didn't take long to get that answer.  After about 5 minutes into the summit walk northward towards Poamoho, the clouds made a grand departure from the summit crest for good and the magic of the hike began!

We pushed onward, enjoying the incredible views to windward.  The trail contours almost exclusively to the windward pali, but every now and then, the trail does head to leeward.  When it does though, an incredible view to leeward as far as the Wai`anae Mountains can be had.  Although it can get overgrown on these leeward sections, the contour does not last long and quickly does it head back to the windward side.  Since the weather called for light sea breezes in the absence of tradewinds, I opted for comfort over shields and wore shorts.  While the overgrown conditions were not as bad as let's say, Waikane to Waiahole Uka, my exposed legs would take a beating by the time this hike was pau (done).  I highly recommend pants for any Ko`olau summit traverse.

After a half mile or so, we came across a grassy clearing, with a grassy hill.  There was a trail coming in from leeward and figured it was the Schofield/Waikane Trail.  We rested here for a bit, taking in the awe of what was around us.

Beyond Schofield Trail, the clouds dropped back down on us and stayed with us but not for long.  Even when the clouds are socking the summit, it makes for a mysterious walk.  Chenay posed by some trees, even climbing one.  Quickly the clouds lifted and we were treated to more epic views!  We could make out the KST etching it's way into the windward side all the way to Pauao Ridge.

The trail never got too terribly overgrown and was in remarkable shape.  There are 2 or 3 landslides that covers the KST but are easily passed.  The last one requires a minor scramble but nothing too difficult.  Just watch your step because there's a huge drop to windward behind you on this scramble!  Looking back where we came from, we could see the KST tracing back to Pu'u Ka`aumakua.  Views are what it was all about!  Chenay had a solar panel charger that she won on Instagram and was using it to charge her phone.  I should get me one of these!

Pauao Ridge was getting near.  The KST wraps around it's ridge spur and continues to Poamoho.  With that thought in my head, I began to contemplate with myself if we were to stick with our original plan and head down Pauao, or continue onward towards Poamoho.  We staged a car in Kahana Valley but none at the Poamoho trail head.  That would mean walking down 6 miles of road.  The weather was epic throughout the day and shows no signs of clouding up anytime soon.  It was about 2pm when we came across the sign and ribbons marking the terminus of Pauao Ridge.  I ventured slightly downward to check out it's profile.  It looked akin to Waiahole Uka.  I then went around the bend and my jaw nearly dropped.  The KST was clearly visible and it was so distinct that it must have been blasted recently by trail clearers.  I went back to the others and suggested that we continued onward towards Poamoho.  Compared to Pauao, this looked more inviting.  After a votation, the plan was to head down Poamoho Trail and walk the entire 6 miles of dirt road back to Wahiawa.  As we made our way we noticed how ridiculously wide the trail got!  This stretch of trail was a blast!  We were all smiles as we went full speed ahead on what could have been mistakened as a bike trail!  "Looks like a scene from 'The Hobbit'!"

We came across a grassy meadow and rested here.  I was shoving a ham sandwich down my throat when Gerwin pointed something flying near the summit.  I glanced over my shoulder and saw nothing.  Then he exclaimed again and I dropped my lunch and headed to the edge of the pali.  Sure enough, a paraglider was flying effortlessly above us.  I jumped up and down and waved my hands at him.  He saw us and he proceeded to get closer to us.  He then started doing circles above our meadow spot and probably got within 50ft of us.  "He's going to land!" yelled Gerwin.  Then I heard a call from the guy.  "What are you guys doing here?!"  "Hiking to Poamoho!" I replied.  After doing some more maneuvers, he gained altitude and went back over the windward side.  I ran back to the edge of the pali and saw him making his way to Poamoho and quickly disappeared out of sight.  What a treat!

The trail went leeward but not before it cut through a large notch to regain the windward contour.  We posed for some photos on this notch and continued on our way.  This place was so special that I didn't want to leave this stretch of trail.  Off in the distance, I could make out some fences forming a perimeter on a hill.  It must be the Poamoho terminus as I recalled this fence line the last time I was on Poamoho, some 3 years ago.  A short while later, we came across the Poamoho Cabin, all newly built and complete with a water catchment system!  There was water in it so as of this date, there is fresh water in the cabin.  We signed the log book and posed for a photo.  The time was about a little after 3pm.  We knew we had 6 miles of unnecessary road walking to do so we had to double time it.  Just past the cabin I looked leeward and spotted a swampy lake.  One of these days, I'm going to get a closer look at it.  Another half mile and the vegetation opened up to a very large grassy meadow with the Clines Memorial on it.  We made it to Poamoho!  The time was about 4pm.

The sun was beginning to set towards the Wai`anae Mountains and our attention shifted to the long 9 mile (6 miles of dirt road and 3 miles of Poamoho Trail) hike back to civilization.  The Poamoho Trail is a pleasant walk and while it dragged somewhat, we made it to the trailhead and the start of the road just after sunset.  We began our longest walk ever on the road and came across a truck!  Would be nice to get a ride down.  We knew if we had walked the entire road, we probably wouldn't be back until after 11pm or so.  We walked past the truck for another 500ft until we saw a group of hunters!  They asked if we were serious about walking down the road and we nodded.  It was then the final piece of this epic adventure was upon us.  They offered us a ride in their truck that we passed a while ago and they even gave us some tamales to wolf down.  Nom, nom, nom we went.  Vroom, vroom, vroom went the truck.  I glanced back at the red tail lights piercing the pitch black road behind us.  "That would have sucked if we had to walk down this blasted road!"  I gazed at the sky and while it was no Kalapana starscape, it was still beautiful.  We could see the military installation at the top of Mt. Ka`ala aglow with lights and soon the lights of civilization was near.  Past 2 gates and then the final gate, we were back at the main road.  The time was a little before 7pm.  Success!

I want to thank those hunters for giving us a ride back down!  We are grateful for you guys!  I'm sorry I've forgotten your names!  We hope you can find this page and see why we were there at that time of the evening!  Mahalo nui loa!

This was yet another epic Ko`olau summit adventure!