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355. Kilauea Crater (11/17/03)

Hikers (7): Cal, David, Peter, Russ, Sue, Taylor, Tim
Distance: 13 miles
Rating: 3 difficulty, 9 beauty
Park info: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii

Write-up by Peter -- Pictures by Russ

The first INCH trip to Hawaii! The trip here was not without its moments ... we blew out a tire on the CalVan on Hwy 101 a few miles from SFO (right after Rusty said "We've got it made!") and almost missed our flight, but we figured we'd get the bad luck out of the way early.

The trip almost didn't happen!

After that, it was all smooth sailing ... we arrived in Kona to find the temperature in the 80's, nice and sunny. It was a little more humid than we were normally used to, but hey, these are the tropics! Break out the shorts and slap on some suncreen!

For the inaugural hike, Cal had chosen to explore the area in and around the Kilauea Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We got up bright and early on Monday morning (the 2-hour time difference worked in our favor) and headed south from Kona towards the park.

1, 2, 3, ... INCH!

From the Visitor Center, we walked past Volcano House and headed out on the Crater Rim Trail towards the Waldron Overlook. This part of the trail was just an old road that had been closed off to cars. Not too pleasant to walk on, but things soon got better. From the overlook, we got a great view of the huge crater -- very impressive! Hard to believe we were going to walk all the way across it (and back). From here, the trail led through tropical trees to the Kilauea Iki Overlook where we got another great look at the massive crater.

Tropical growth surrounded the Crater Rim

After a brief detour into the Thurston Lava Tube (highly recommended for those who have never experienced one -- make sure you take a flashlight), we headed down into the Kilauea Iki Crater. This is a smaller, but still huge, crater off to the side of the main Kilauea Caldera. I felt like a tiny ant standing at the bottom of the crater and staring up at the huge walls surrounding me.

Our intrepid crew bravely ventures into the Kilauea Iki Crater

We made our way across the crater, through the smooth lava flow and sharp jagged rocks to the other side, then back up the side to the Byron Ledge. It was a pretty good climb up, and were all huffing and puffing by the time we made it to the top. We strolled along the ledge, and then back down into the main Kilauea Caldera. We stopped for lunch at the edge of the crater floor. This would be the last shade we would see for a while.

Walking across the Kilauea Caldera

Oh, no! Cal's stuck his hand in a steam vent!

From here, we hiked 3 miles across the lava flows to the Halema'uma'u Crater, a crater within a crater. This area is very active, and the trail map warns of hazardous fumes. There was definitely a strong smell of sulfur in the air (nothing to do with me, for a change). Some of the INCH members paused to take some pictures at the edge of the crater, but I was not so brave.

Kuki is all smiles, despite the hazardous gas fumes

After fighting our way through the gas fumes and busloads of Japanese tourists (who had driven here), we continued back on the Crater Rim Trail, passing by some steam vents along the way. David got his glasses fogged up by the steam, so we had to make sure we didn't let him get too close to the edge of the crater. It would be bad form to lose a hiker on the first day of the trip.

There was only one trail left on the plan for today, and it was the oldest and one of the most beautiful trails in the park. The tricky part was that the trailhead was near the Visitor Center, and I had to make sure people didn't bail out on us at this point. In Cal's words, "Don't let `em smell the barn!". Well, Kuki's little toe was pretty much ravaged by the lava rocks so we let her smell the barn while the rest of us continued on the Halema'uma'u Trail, going back down to the bottom of the crater for the third time. It was well worth it, as this trail was gorgeous, with lush vegetation, huge ferns, giant bamboo, and all sorts of exotic plants. I expected to see a dinosaur coming through the jungle at any moment.

The Hawaii trip was off to a great start. I couldn't wait to see what the rest of the week had in store!

Sue's 40th leaf

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