Sunday, February 25, 2018

Crater Hiking

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.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

An Image and Its Story - January 2018

Last year I joined the year long Scene & Story and liked how by the end of the month I looked through all my photos that I took during those 28 to 31 days before and finding my favorite one, or the one that spoke to me the most. Sometimes I already knew "the photo" when I took it, but that didn't happen very often. It was interesting to see how I could still find a favorite photo in difficult months like October when I pretty much didn't take any photos because we were busy making it somehow through the month without losing our minds; it was equally interesting to realize that in a month when I took all my autumn pictures it was a completely different photo that made the cut in the end.

This year is not even two months old and I miss Scene & Story. But why not going on with my own twist of Scene & Story? Why not pick a photo of the month - and it doesn't have to be a favorite one - and tell the story behind it?

When I looked through my January photos I was convinced that I would choose a picture taken in Hawai'i. I should know by now that it seldom works out this way. It was a photo I took in the early morning of the last day of the month, and it's not even a particularly good one, but a rather blurry image of the eclipsed Super Blue Blood Moon.

The very first time I had seen a lunar eclipse was back in Germany. I was living on the top of a hill in Tübingen at that time and I just had to walk to the other side of the hill to see the entire valley before me with the red moon hanging over it. It was one of those unforgettable moments, and though I have seen a few more lunar eclipses since then none was as beautiful as that first one.

Until a couple weeks ago.

The Geek and I had our alarm clocks set for 4:30 in the morning. Thankfully we didn't have to go anywhere but just stepped out in the backyard. From there we could watch the natural show, and it was incredible beautiful. Often mornings are foggy here when the ocean sends over the clouds, but this morning was clear (and chilly for Californian standards) and crisp. I didn't take a lot of pictures, just a few and wasn't impressed with them. I put the tripod with the camera to the side and just enjoyed the silent spectacle in the sky.

The big difference to a solar eclipse is that a lunar eclipse takes so much longer. You can really enjoy it and have enough time to take it all in.

When I looked at my photos later that morning I was surprised that there were even some stars visible in the images. The moon might be a bit blurry, but having the stars balances it all out.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A Late Honeymoon

When the Geek and I married we never had a honeymoon. It didn't come to mind back then - there were other things that were way more important and urgent - and we never thought that we had missed out on something. But when Kaefer left home to go away to college, things changed. It took us a while to get used to the fact that we were kind of "free" people now and could go on trips and weekend excursions whenever we wanted. Well, not quite, there are certain times when I have to be at work like the beginning and end of the school year because that time is always mayhem. But that's only a few weeks a year, and the rest is for us to decide what to do with it - on top of my free time during the summer.

Last year the Geek and I also decided not to give each other gifts anymore for Christmas and birthdays but instead save the money and go on trips instead. We both love to travel and it really isn't hard to "sacrifice" those gifts. Traveling is a gift in itself.

When we had a family vacation in Hawai'i back in the summer of 2016 for Kaefer's graduation we fell in love with the Big Island. Back then we stayed in the Avocado Tree House and thought that we should have spent more time there. So it was a very easy decision to go back there and finally have a honeymoon after 20 years of marriage.

This time we stayed for ten days. This part of the Big Island is in the Puna District which gets a lot of rain, and we certainly got our share of that. However, the island is so small that it only takes an hour to drive or so to be in the sun, and it's always warm, whether it rains or not. That wasn't the only difference to our last stay, though. The fruit that we got from our hosts was different as well, of course. This time we had the apple bananas (so delicious), abiu, papaya, rollinia and rambutan which were my favorite.

I was very happy to meet our old friends again, the Gold Dust Day Geckos. They are incredibly cute and quite some fun company.

Whenever I was thinking of the Big Island the volcano came to mind. Kīlauea was a magical place when we first visited it, and it kept its magic this time.

We did a lot of hikes at the volcano, hikes that I had dreamt of for the past 18 months. Now we finally hiked those trails, craters and desert, over old and newer lava, faithfully following the rock cairns - called Ahu - and enjoying nature in this special place.

There was no lava flow in January, no ocean entry of the hot fiery liquid stuff. If you were willing to do a very long and hard hike (we're talking 10 - 12 miles here) you could see some lava flow further up the slope, but since we had seen the lava in 2016 we skipped on that hike since we know how hard it really is.

For the first time we saw Nēnē, the endangered Hawai'ian goose and state bird. Back in 2016 we never saw a single one, but this time we saw so many of them. They are quite beautiful birds.

The Puna District belongs to the rain forest and it certainly rains a lot here. The result is wonderful vegetation, a lot of birds and the drives along the rather narrow roads here are beautiful. I like it when the trees form a tunnel over the road.

The 'Ohi'a Lehua is a unique tree that is endemic to Hawai'i. It grows in different habitats and it usually is one of the first plants that grows out of lava. It's quite astonishing to see a huge field of dark lava and there are trees with the most beautiful flowers growing seemingly effortless out of it.

Of course we went to the ocean - you can't really avoid it when in Hawai'i. After all, the islands are surrounded by the wild and wet stuff. And wild it was!

There are warnings everywhere on the cliffs not to go too close to the edge, but there are always people who know better. I find it quite amusing - human stupidity doesn't know any limits.

I found a heart shaped coral at a beach that was covered in white, orange and pink corals. And we were so lucky to see some Green Sea Turtles resting at a Black Sand Beach or swimming and feeding in low water. Some more unforgettable sights.

Of course there were rainbows and sunsets.

We ate lots of Poke - and I mean lots of. There's a shed that makes the best Poke that we frequented often - it is just so darn good. I have to learn how to make real good Poke since I get sushi grade ahi at my neighborhood market.

It was sad to leave the Big Island after ten wonderful days. I'm pretty sure we will be back. This is such a magical place. During those ten days I didn't read the paper neither watched TV (there isn't a TV in the Avocado Tree House) and it was very relaxing not to hear any disturbing news. We were on an island!

This is what we brought home from Hawai'i - you can see our priorities... little pouches for Kaefer, lots of Kona and peaberry coffee, Macademia nuts for me and Alaea Red Hawai'ian sea salt (for Poke).