Tag Archives: Lava

Hilina Pali Trail loop

The Hilina Pali Overlook

This week’s Sunday Stills challenge theme is ‘Thankful.’ See more responses here.

This theme seemed an appropriate time to feature my most recent hike in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. I’d been wanting to try some backcountry trails for some time, but the road to Hilina Pali Overlook had been closed since the 2018 eruption. A month or so ago it reopened so off I went.

I hadn’t hiked the backcountry there before so, to get a feel for the area, I decided to do the hike marked on the map. (For an overview map of the park click here. Ka’aha Campground is the westernmost campground on the coast.) From the overlook I’d go down the pali (Hawaiian for cliff) to the coast at Ka’aha, then take a connecting trail to the east to link up with the Hilina Pali trail again, and back up to the overlook. At somewhere around 8.5 or 9 miles it sounded simple enough.

The first section of trail switchbacked down the very steep, 1,500-foot high pali. It looked like it doesn’t get a lot of use and recent rains had caused the grass to flourish. Following the trail became an exercise in spotting cairns to see which way the trail headed, and then carefully making my way in that direction. Underfoot, it was rocky and uneven; an easy place to turn an ankle. On the plus side, the views were wonderful, up and down the coast.

After a while, the grass thinned out and the trail became clearer, though still steep and rocky. A couple of brave trees clung to the side of the hill and I thought, ‘those will give me a bit of nice shade on the way back up.’

As I got toward the lower part of the pali, the trail angled into an area of tumbled rocks, big and small. A landslide, this one from Kilauea’s 2018 eruption. Traversing this section involved clambering over whatever rocks were in my path. I kept hoping I wouldn’t step on a loose rock, causing it to slip and trigger another slide. It was a bit depressing to get through the area only to see the trail zag back into the danger zone. However, soon enough I was through the rocks, down at the foot of the pali, and on to the first trail junction.

Thus far, I’d been following the Hilina Pali Trail, but now that trail bore away to the southeast. I took the right fork, going south to the coast on the Ka’aha Trail. The area between the pali and the coast is all lava and scrubby grass and the trail was again hit and miss, but well marked by cairns. The most interesting feature was how close the trail passed by several caves, which are lava tubes where the roof of the tube has collapsed. These collapses are an illustration of why it’s a good idea to stay on trails. Lava fields are riddled with tubes and the roofs can be quite thin and fragile. One wrong step and you could be lying in a dark hole with a broken ankle or worse!

The caves tend to be shady, cool, and relatively damp. Ferns and other plants grow there, sometimes including trees. Birds and insects also frequent them for the moisture, so it was no surprise to see an abundance of spiders waiting in webs across the entrances.

I reached the second trail junction and headed down the slope to Ka’aha Campground and the coast. The campground, which consists of a covered shelter and a composting toilet, sits inland from the coast. Down by the ocean there’s more vegetation including some trees so people often camp in their shade. I didn’t see any sandy beaches on this part of the coast, but there were areas of protected water for taking a dip. Since I had the long, uphill haul back still to go, I didn’t linger.

Back at the second trail junction, half a mile inland from the coast, I was roughly halfway through my hike. From here, I walked east on a little used trail that would link up again with the Hilina Pali Trail. This was the start up the uphill return and when things started to go downhill for me. This part of the island is often cloudy, wet and windy, but this day was a scorcher with the sun out and only the occasional hint of a breeze. Now, in the middle of the day, it had become very hot.

The trail was rough and the cairns not so evident, so it was slow going. I made the mistake of thinking this leg, to the third trail junction, was a shorter one, but it wasn’t. Consequently, this section took longer than expected and, the longer it went, the more I wondered if I’d missed the next trail junction. Trail junctions in the park are usually pretty well marked, but it was always possible that in this less-traveled area one might have been knocked down so that I missed it. I could see cairns ahead and hadn’t seen any off to my left, but my stopping and starting and looking for the next trail was getting wearing.

Eventually, I spotted little wooden signs ahead and reached the junction with the Hilina Pali Trail. By this time I was pretty hot. I had water, but I was frying in the sun. Still, the next section of trail was largely on the level and I hoped to make steady progress back to the foot of the pali. I was also encouraged to see clouds building up over the pali. Tackling the hill back up would be much easier in the shade.

Alas, it was not to be. I slogged my way over the rough ground toward the pali and, as I did so, saw the clouds recede. By the time I got to the foot of the trail up the pali, I was fried. Had there been any shade in the area, I might have hunkered down and waited until either the clouds came back or the sun became less ferocious. But there was no shade so I decided I had to just take it steady up the trail until I reached the lower of the two shade trees. It was around this time I started singing “Put One Foot in Front of the Other” from the old Christmas special, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town!

One positive was that I was now back on territory I’d been on earlier so I wasn’t worried about where the heck the trail was. Perhaps I should have been. I was trudging through the jumble of rocks marking the landslide area, putting one foot in front of the other, and when I looked up I realized I couldn’t see the trail ahead of me. Turning around I couldn’t see it behind me either. Obviously, I’d missed a switchback in the slide area, but I wasn’t sure how far back that might be. I really didn’t want to go down again, giving up precious elevation I’d gained, so I decided instead to angle across the slide until I found the trail again or reached the shade tree. The downside of this plan was that it meant scrambling over all these loose rocks in the worst possible spot for it – the slide area I’d hoped to traverse as quickly as possible.

It seemed like forever before I found the trail, just above the shade tree. I trudged down to it and slumped onto a rock, finally out of the sun. I had a drink, dumped some water on my head and rested for a while. I don’t know how long I stayed there, probably 10 minutes or so, but it was a huge relief. Finally, feeling somewhat refreshed, I got to my feet again and clumped on up the trail. I repeated this process at the second shade tree, before tackling the last stretch to the top. Luckily, the clouds did return and this last stretch was a bit cooler. Even a light, but steady onshore breeze filled in.

It was still a haul up the final slopes, and I was happy and relieved to see the shelter at the overlook. I sat at the picnic table and enjoyed a cold drink from the cooler in the car. This was the closest I’ve ever come to getting heatstroke while out hiking and I was very thankful to have made it back in one piece. When I changed out of my hiking shoes, I realized my feet were in bad shape with a couple of huge blisters and several blackened nails. With all that was going on, I hadn’t even noticed my feet were hurting.

I certainly got the feel for the area that I’d been looking for, but I doubt I’ll do that hike again. The views were great and the coast quite lovely, but in between – not so much. It was a grind. As we say in this household, a learning experience!

Also posted in response to this week’s Friendly Friday challenge theme of ‘Whilst Walking.’ See more responses here.

For more information about Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, go to nps.gov/havo/.

A kind of trail

It’s often easy to see cracks in a lava field because there are endemic ‘ae ferns (Polypodium pellucidum) growing in them and they make a distinct green line through the mostly gray lava.

Posted in response to Becky’s October Squares challenge theme of ‘Kind.’ See more responses here.

Ohelo ’Ai

Ohelo ’Ai (Vaccinium reticulatum) is an endemic shrub also known as the Hawaiian blueberry. It’s one of several kinds of native plant adapted to the harsh environment of a volcanic island. This plant was growing on a lava flow off Saddle Road, which is typical here. It does well in disturbed ground above 2,000 feet.

The berries, which are edible, are a food source for nenes, but I really like the delicate flowers and the leaves, which start out as a matching red.

Posted in response to Becky’s October Squares challenge theme of ‘Kind.’ See more responses here.

Halema’uma’u Trail

The trail winds down through woods and abundant vegetation.
Steps lead down from the mossy pass featured in a previous post.

Recently, I posted a couple of photos (here) of a section of the Halema’uma’u Trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. I thought I’d follow up with a few more photos of the trail, which runs from near the visitor center down to the edge of the summit caldera of Kilauea Volcano.

For more information about Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, go to nps.gov/havo/.

The trail suddenly emerges at the edge of the summit caldera of Kilauea Volcano. In the morning, the bench is a shady spot to take in the view.
Halema’uma’u Trail carries on across the caldera, marked by cairns, but this section has been closed since 2008, when the Halema’uma’u Crater vent became active. These days it would lead straight into the depths of the greatly enlarged Halema’uma’u Crater.

Part of Crater Rim Drive in Halemaumau Crater

Halemaumau Crater, at the summit of Kiluaea Volcano, underwent profound changes during the 2018 eruption. When lava drained from the summit vent, the crater floor experienced a series of collapses, radically changing the appearance of the crater and its surrounds.

I had seen this area from the air and posted about it (here). The middle photo was taken during that flight and shows where a section of Crater Rim Drive slid into the crater. When I last visited the park, I got a different view of this.

The recently reopened Byron Ledge Trail has good views across the crater. In the top photo, the chunk of road is clearly visible with its white line running down the middle of it. The bottom photo shows the longer view across the crater with the road in the distance. In the center of the photo, equipment used to monitor the volcano’s activity, can be seen. The tree in the foreground is an ‘ōhi‘a lehua with its brilliant red flowers. It’s an early colonizer of new lava flows and all those little dark spots on the main crater floor are ‘ōhi‘a lehua trees, mostly still shrub-sized at this time.

Amaumau fern

The amaumau fern (Sadleria cyatheoides) is endemic to Hawaii and grows in a variety of areas from wet forests to recent lava flows. I saw these on the Powerline Trail, off of Saddle Road, where the elevation is above 5,000 feet.

These ferns are quite common, but on this day, the color of the new growth really caught my eye. New fiddles are orange to red, changing to green with age. In these photos, the various stages of growth can be seen. These ferns were low growing, but they can also take the form of a tree fern with an upright, trunk-like appearance.

Pinkhead smartweed

This week’s Friendly Friday challenge theme is ‘The Color Pink.’ See more responses here.

Pinkhead smartweed (Polygonum capitatum or Persicaria capitata) is a groundcover that hails from western China and the Himalayas. It’s variously known as pinkhead knotweed, pink knotweed, Japanese knotweed, pink-headed persicaria, or pink bubble persicaria. I use pinkhead smartweed for the very good reason that I like the name. It sounds like the name of someone pretentious, but slightly seedy, from the alleged upper crust of society.

In this bounty of names, a couple of elements stand out. One is ‘pink,’ the other is ‘weed.’ This is a very pink plant and, in Hawaii and elsewhere, an invasive weed. Drive eastbound over Saddle Road (officially Hawaii Route 200, the Daniel K. Inouye Highway) and, once you cross the saddle and begin your descent, this plant will become obvious very quickly. It lines the road on both sides for several miles with very little in the way of other plants competing for that space. This is because pinkhead smartweed will grow in poor ground and lava fields fit that description.

This is also a stretch of highway that, relatively recently, was converted from a narrow, winding road, that rental car companies routinely forbid their clients from driving on, to a wide, smooth thoroughfare, the only place on the island where you can legally go 60 mph, and where you can expect to receive a ticket if you go 80 mph like everybody else.

Redoing the road left verges of rock and gravel and very little else. Pinkhead smartweed was quick to move in and colonize this unpromising territory so that now the descent toward Hilo begins with pleasing pink borders.

The top photo shows the rugged kind of ground pinkhead smartweed can grow in. To the right, bees appreciate the flowers of this plant growing at an elevation over 5,000 feet. Below, the collapse of a lava tube has left a shady hole where pinkhead smartweed, an endemic amaumau fern, and an ohia tree have established a good foothold.