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With rains continuing over much of the island (and snow falling on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa), we headed to the drier south side of Hawaii and the Ka'u Desert. The desert lies in the rain shadow of Kilauea, the most active volcano on the island for the last four decades or so. Most of the area is covered in lava, the smoother pahoehoe type that makes for fairly easy cross-country. There is also a lot of compacted black sands among the lava fields that give it more of a desert feel. Today's outing visited two of the named cones found in here, making use of both trail and cross-country travel. Afterwards we stopped off at the park headquarters to pay a visit to the Kilauea Crater highpoint. Ingrid had some stuff to do at home today, so it was just Eric and I on today's adventure.
We walked through the campground heading roughly north, our first summit less half a mile away. Pu'u Ohale isn't much more than a low lava mound, disappointing as a summit, but it does sport an HTS (Hawaiian Territorial Survey) survey monument from the 1930s and a newer USGS benchmark. Judging by a few beer bottles looking surprisingly fresh, it seems the summit does see some traffic. The point also marks a corner of the Wilderness boundary into which we would venture as we headed to the next summit, Pu'u Koa'e, about 3mi to the WNW. Our direction of travel was roughly west, expecting to come across the Mauna Iki Trail that connects the campground to Pu'u Koa'e and points further west. We came to find that the trail is not where depicted on the maps or the GPSr, but further west by almost a quarter mile. Not that it mattered much, since the cross-country travel isn't difficult and the trail is little more than a series of cairns marking a route across the lava. About half a mile from Pu'u Koa'e we came across an unexpected find, a pair of deep craters marked as Twin Pit Craters on the topo map when I examined it later. The craters were surprisingly deep and marked only by a simple wooden sign noting the danger. It was clear that lava had flowed over the area since the craters had originally formed, some of it oozing over one edge into the crater. The crater walls were vertical, allowing no way to explore inside without ropes and climbing gear, so we settled on walking the periphery and marveling at the colorful rock layers exposed and the hardy plants growing on the shadier sides of the crater. Closer to Pu'u Koa'e we came across a few small steam vents, their location marked by the slow rise of wispy water vapor clouds. They were warm to the touch but not dangerously hot and when we looked around carefully we could see others in the same area.
Pu'u Koa'e was now a short distance to the west and we left the trail for the cross-country climb to the summit, not much more than 100ft above its surroundings. We climbed up the north side and walked to the crater rim's highpoint around to the south, then discovered a rough trail descending the crater off that side. We descended the south side and returned more directly to the trail before starting the 3mi hike back to the campground.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Kilauea Volcano
This page last updated: Wed Aug 25 14:06:53 2021
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