Ever since I looked down into the crater of Kīlauea Iki in the summer of 2016 I wanted to hike through it. We didn't have the time back then, but when we stayed on the Big Island so close to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park this past January we hiked down to the crater, through it and back up again.
When you look down to the crater from the rim you can see clearly a path leading straight through it. In the background you can see the fume rising from Halema'uma'u Crater, its big sister and home of the goddess Pele (Kīlauea Iki means the "little" Kīlauea).
It looks pretty tranquil, doesn't it? Can you imagine that only 59 years ago - in 1959 - it was a seething lava lake? You can see the scale of the eruption in this very impressive video. The crater is a mile long, 3,000 feet across and the floor is more than 400 feet below where I was standing when I took this photo.
Let's begin our hike, shall we?
We start out by hiking about half a mile along the rim and descend through lush rain forest. This is a smooth, nice walk down the rim through gorgeous vegetation and the never ending sound of lovely birds. And then you're stepping outside the rain forest and the scenery changes dramatically.
The crater opens up and you can see all the way to what looks like the end of it. Here are still quite a bit of the 'Ōhi'a trees, but from here it looks like these are the last ones for a while. Or so you think.
We follow the trail along the stacked rocks, called Ahu. It's a good idea to do that because you can easily lose the trail if you don't pay attention, and since this is a still active volcano it is not advised to stray away from the path. Even though I haven't seen them, I know that there are still vents that blast out hot steam and you really don't want to get caught in those.
It's tempting to think that such a barren landscape is boring, but nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, it's black lava and lots of it, but the shape of it is ever changing.
But the really fascinating thing is to see the way nature recovers. There are 'Ōhi'a trees growing out of nothing, seemingly effortless. I saw ferns seeking their way to the light through the tiniest opening in the lava. In places where we don't see anything but black hardened lava, life breaks its way through. It is fascinating.
You can cross the crater in an hour if you're a good hiker. However, it took us more than two hours, since both the Geek and I stopped ever so often to take photos. I am so thankful that we share the same passion when it comes to photography. It would be agonizing if one of us didn't enjoy it.
Remember I said at the beginning of the hike you can see all over the crater to what seems like the end of it? Well, we're already past that "end" point. And it still goes on...
However, the landscapes changes and is getting rougher than the floor of the crater we passed through until here. We are much closer to the eruption center.
The Geek and I took our break here, eating granola bars and drinking water. We took our sweet time admiring (and photographing) this beautiful 'Ōhi'a lehua blossom.
Aren't they pretty?
Unfortunately there is a newly identified fungal disease called ROD - Rapid 'Ōhi'a Death. It attacks and kills 'Ōhi'a on the Big Island. The fungus clogs the tree's vascular system, depriving the canopy of water and may kill the tree very quickly. Since 'Ōhi'a is the keystone species in Hawaiian forests, ROD has the potential to cause major ecosystem disturbances. Fortunately, the 'Ōhi'a in the summit area - that includes Kīlauea Iki - are not yet infected with ROD.
Most of Kīlauea Iki crater consists of smooth lava called pāhoehoe. This lava flows rather slowly and forms a smooth surface or "ropey" shapes when it cools and hardens. It's easy to walk on. The other kind of lava, called a'ā, is rough and sharp. This is the lava we find at the end of the crater. It is not easy to walk on at all and a wrong step can be rather painful.
However, this is where we found quite some of Pele's hair. Remember, Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, but what's her hair? It's fine threads of volcanic glass. The strands are formed through the stretching of molten basaltic glass from lava. It is extremely light.
We're at the edge of the crater at the end. A last look back before we climb up to the rim, again through lush rain forest.
Here, the ascent is much steeper and the trail has many steps to make it easier. I'm glad that we chose this way to go, because my knees would not have liked to go down this trail. Yes, I was sweating and huffing and puffing, but I would do the entire hike again in a heartbeat .
And up from the rim we can see the fuming Halema'uma'u Crater of Kīlauea.