Best vacation ever!

Discussion in 'Non Disney Photos / Mobile Phone Photos' started by ddindy, Sep 13, 2017.

  1. ddindy

    ddindy Member Staff Member

    Sorry for the delay. I'm having a little trouble linking to Flickr videos. Stay tuned!
  2. ddindy

    ddindy Member Staff Member

    Trip report part 6

    Things Get Hot!

    We're up to Friday, August 25, 2017. We had booked an early-morning lava hike with Epic Lava. That meant getting up at 2 am and driving for an hour to the town of Kea'au where we were to meet our guide at 4 am. On the way, we passed near Kilauea where the red glow from Halema'uma'u crater was clearly visible. I wanted to stop for a photo, but decided it would be better to wait until later in the trip.

    Our guide, Yvonne Baur, met us at the designated location. Yvonne is originally from Germany and spent many years in Utah before moving to Hawai'i. She's also quite a good photographer. (More on that in part 8.) We were the only people on the morning tour, which meant we would get all of the attention. We followed Yvonne on the 30-minute drive to Kalapana, where the public road ends and the emergency access road begins. Kalapana was covered by lava in 1990. In the wake of that, there is a parking area and many temporary bicycle rental businesses (for people who don't want to hike to the end of the access road). As we neared the town, we could see what looked like street lights on top of a hill. But those weren't street lights. What we were seeing was lava pouring over the edge of Pulama pali. (Pali is the Hawai'ian word for a steep slope or cliff.) I took that as a good sign.

    We parked our car in the Kalapana parking area (really just a wide spot in the road) and transferred to Yvonne's car to drive another mile up the road. The tour company pays a homeowner a small fee to park at the end of their driveway, a much-appreciated saving of two miles of hiking.

    The tour company provides all hikers with a small backpack with water, snacks, gloves, a rain poncho and a flashlight. The gloves were for protection in case of a fall in the lava field. Lava can be sharp, thanks to a high silica content, so a fall could be mean a painful hike back. On this day I made a few slips, but fortunately no falls.

    We started the hike around 5 am. Why hike in the morning? The lava field is basically a black surface. Imagine an asphalt parking lot on a sunny day. Would you rather walk on that in the morning, before the sun heats it up, or in the afternoon, after it has been baking in the sun all day? That's why a morning hike is better. Plus, if you do it soon after arriving in Hawai'i, your body hasn't had a chance to shift to Hawai'ian time. In the summer, Hawai'i is six hours behind Eastern time. (It's only five hours different in the winter, since Hawai'i does not observe Daylight Saving Time.) I kept telling myself that even though it's 5 am in Hawai'i, it's 11 am back home. It didn't help.

    Enough trivia. We hiked two miles along the gravel access road in the dark. For the first half mile, we were instructed to stay quiet, as we were passing several houses and we didn't want to disturb the residents. On the return hike, in daylight, we saw that the "houses" were several very small (one might even say tiny) buildings sitting on the lava. Not anything like what I had imagined in the dark. It's probably the perfect place for someone who wants to get away from it all.

    Along the way we passed a couple of locked gates that prevent people from driving down the road. Hikers and bicycles are free to pass. The second gate marked the entrance to Volcano National Park, and is the site of the only comfort facilities (porta-potties) on the hike.

    Park Back Entrance

    After two miles we reached the "end" of the gravel road. It was blocked at this point due to the current path of the 61G flow from Pu'u O'o to the ocean. At this point, my sister, who had a cataract in one eye that greatly hampered her depth perception, realized that hiking over the lava was going to be difficult, if not impossible. She reluctantly decided to stay put while Yvonne and I headed off in search of lava. Fortunately, it was going to be a cloudy day, so she wouldn't have to worry about the heat.

    We turned inland and hiked across the lava field for another two miles. Thanks to many layers of lava over the past 35 years, the hike is far from easy. There's as much up-and-down as there is horizontal progress.

    Challenging Terrain

    I could see Pulama pali in the near distance with several plumes of smoke indicating lava movement.

    Smoke on the Pali

    Surprisingly, there were a few areas which had still not been covered with lava.

    Surviving Pele

    Eventually, I started to feel some heat coming up from the ground. I asked "Is it just me or is it getting warmer?" Sure enough, as we crested the next hill, there it was: actual hot, glowing, moving lava.

    Lava Hike 1, 6:45 am

    Yvonne uses her phone to make time-lapse videos of the lava. Since she sets it up so close, the video ends when the phone overheats and shuts down. She has to take it away to cool off before shooting another.

    Lava Hike 1, 6:44 am

    The terrain in the area was relatively flat, so the lava moved very slowly. Actually, ooze is probably the correct word to describe the motion. There was no threat of being overrun by onrushing lava. It was relatively quiet, but the hot lava made a sort of sizzling sound, like meat cooking on a grill. (Click the photo below to view the video.)

    Lava hike 1 video, 6:58 am

    Lava Hike 1, 6:49 am

    Lava Hike 1, 6:50 am

    Lava Hike 1, 6:52 am

    Lava Hike 1, 6:53 am

    Here I am taking the photo above. How hot was it? Lava like this is over 1000 degrees. My forearms felt like they were next to a hot fire. (I'm sure @gary can relate to that.) This was about as close as I could get for any length of time. On the plus side, after this, taking food out of a hot oven doesn't phase me any more.

    Getting Toasted

    Lava Hike 1, 6:56 am
  3. ddindy

    ddindy Member Staff Member

    It was relatively quiet out here in the middle of nowhere, but the hot lava made a sort of sizzling sound, like meat cooking on a grill.

    Lava Hike 1, 6:57 am

    Lava Hike 1, 7:00 am

    I was wandering around the perimeter of the flow and took this shot looking down into a crack. Leaving the spot, I noticed loose flakes of lava sticking to my boot soles. The ground was a little warmer than I thought.

    Lava Hike 1, 7:08 am

    Here's what my boots looked like as a result.

    The Aftermath

    Even though the surface looks cool and solid, danger lurks beneath.

    Lava Hike 1, 7:18 am

    This video shows an interesting phenomenon: As the lava moved forward, small flakes of lava from the underlying surface are flicked into the air. (Click the photo below to view the video.)

    Lava hike 1 video, 7:19 am

    Another tour group, from Kalapana cultural tours, found our secret lava spot. They were the only other people we saw on the lava that day.

    Lava Hike 1, 7:22 am

    (Click the photo below to view the video.)

    Lava hike 1 video, 7:23 am

    Another sign of the ground's flatness is the width of flow.

    Lava Hike 1, 7:27 am

    About this time, a light shower passed through. It was interesting to hear the rain drops hiss as they hit the hot lava and instantly evaporated (you can hear it at the 1:00 point in the video). (Click the photo below to view the video.)

    Lava hike 1 video, 7:34 am

    Lava Hike 1, 7:37 am

    The first wave of tourist helicopters showed up, buzzing around like angry hornets. Yvonne said it was time to head back. Once back at the access road, the three of us took a short walk over to where we could see the point where the lava flows into the ocean. We couldn't see any actual lava from here as it was flowing underground. The rope in the foreground is all that prevents people from walking into dangerous areas. The fresh lava is not very stable, and frequently slides into the ocean. A big chunk of land along here disappeared at the end of 2016.

    Growing Island
  4. ddindy

    ddindy Member Staff Member

    Five hours and eight miles later, we returned to the car. It was hard work, and thanks to my melted boot soles, the hike back was fairly uncomfortable. Yvonne thoughtfully had a cooler of cold juice in her car, and as we chatted she mentioned that on Sunday she would be making an even earlier hike to photograph the lava before dawn. Would I like to come along? You bet! All I need to do is find a new pair of hiking boots.

    Here's a map showing the route of our hike. Yvonne sent me a copy of the data from her GPS tracker and I imported it into Google Maps. The numbers on the map are mile markers. The lava was at mile 4, and the little loop at mile 6 was our side trip to the ocean entry.

    Lava hike 1 route

    Google's satellite photo must be a few years old, because the plume of steam in their photo is nowhere near where it is today. It's an ever-changing landscape.

    Due to road construction, there was a massive traffic backup on the road from Kalapana to Kea'au. It was especially bad because there are no alternate routes in the area. Once we finally made it to Kea'au (around 11:30 am), we stopped for lunch. On the way back to the condo, stopped at the Volcano Winery to sample their wares. The rest of the day was spent resting up from the day's activities and making plans for Saturday. We were exhausted!

    Yvonne likes to post photos of her hikes on Facebook. Here are the photos from my Friday hike. (You may be required to log on to Facebook to view them.)

    You don't need log on to see her compilation of time-lapse videos from that day:

    In part 7, we take a break from the bleak volcanic landscape.
  5. ddindy

    ddindy Member Staff Member

    To give you something to look at while I'm working on part 7 of my trip report, here are some links for Yvonne Baur:

    Yvonne has gone into business for herself, offering lava photography tours in both English and German. Her web site,, is the place to go to book a tour, buy her 2018 lava calendar (highly recommended) or prints of her outstanding photos. Pro tip: If you go to Hawai'i and want to do a lava hike, wait until you're there to book your tour. Lava flows change every day, and there's a chance that there won't be a viewing opportunity during your visit. There's no point in spending money to see nothing.

    Yvonne is very active on Facebook and Instagram, and frequently posts videos to her Youtube channel.

    You can see some of her current and older photos on Smugmug.

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