Lost In Lava

We’d been driving up the coast north from Kona, Hawaii about 45 minutes, it was hot, and we were looking for things to check out along the road on the way towards Moana Loa when I spotted what appeared to be a remote lagoon located maybe a mile or two off the highway.

The color was a bright teal, clear and looked like the oasis’ you used to see in the old movies as the main character began to hallucinate. There was what looked like a thin strip of light sandy beach that was shaped like a giant fish hook extending from the shoreline out into the calm water.  Bracketed by a stand of coconut trees and I could imagine my partner and me lying beneath them listening to their huge fronds swaying in the pacific breeze as we let the cool waters rush over our naked feet. I wanted to be there immediately, I wanted to dive into that cool water and let it wash over my hot, dry body.

I sat up quickly in the driver’s seat and whipped that rental van around suddenly; it tilted to one side and the tires squealed and I think my partner was startled awake from an afternoon daze.  I pulled off of the black asphalt ribbon and slid to an abrupt halt while a cloud of red dirt swirled around us. When it settled I told my partner we were going to go on a short hike to this wonderful looking lagoon I spotted from the road. Supportive and intrigued she exclaimed “let’s do it”.

We jumped out of the van into the hot afternoon sun, it was high overhead, the air was still, and there was no breeze. I locked the doors and off we went, we ascended a small burm and there in front of us, between the road and the sea was a field of long dried, red lava which seemed to reach for acres. It was jagged and clumped in huge boulders. We climbed it and stumbled over a number of these before deciding that it appeared almost impossible to traverse with any simplicity. We looked over the landscape and saw a gully open up a few yards ahead of us, we climbed down into it.

In the gully the ground softened, it was sandy and thick with Kiawe trees.   These are shorter, barren trees that are covered in huge woody thorns that appear to be 3-6 inches in length, and their limbs and trunks are bizarrely twisted as though they are reaching out desperately seeking moisture from the air in the arid terrain. We navigated between them like we were performing some sort of native dance. As we did so there was a feeling that crept up the back of neck seemingly to warn me we were being watched from somewhere deep in the thicket. As we grew more frustrated at the difficult maneuvering it took to travel a short distance within the gully we spotted a Tribe of goats, standing within the Kiawe trees watching us, and it was unnerving.

We decided to climb out from the trees and onto what was now the only alternative. The lava field had turned to jet black; it was no longer filled with huge jagged red boulders. It appeared like miles of taffy, rolled out and twisted into ribbons, sometimes looking like massive hills of bread dough as it sits on grandma’s counter settling, its edges rolling over the surface of the counter and then frozen in that form. Only it was all just black. It was certainly easier to walk on, though periodically the round domes would collapse under foot and shatter like fine china. There were great tubes that had formed when the lava cooled and dried, leaving the center hollow. There were caves and sometimes the roof of which had crumbled and fallen in. It was fascinating, and eerie.

As we walked, ascending and descending, travelling through sections of tubes sometimes 10 feet high and skirting other collapsed tubes, leaving open ground that seemed to fall away into deep dark caverns, we considered what might happen if we were to trip and land on the lava rock. Our bare knees striking the sharp, glassy surface would surely split and tear open eviscerating muscle and tissue. We were careful and strategic as we continued our hike. We were too far along now to turn back. Finally we began to see green foliage growing between the smaller cracks and sand began to fill crevices and lower, shallower portions of the ground. After what we had estimated to be an hour or so we reached the shoreline. Indeed it was cooler, the water was magnificent but from where we stood it wasn’t the idealic lagoon I thought I’d spotted earlier. However it was a nice respite, refreshing and breezy.

I felt like the main character after crawling through the hot desert sand to the oasis I spotted only to find that it was a much smaller patch of green than I’d anticipated, a single tree protruding from the ground and at its base a spot of moist sand that accentuated my misinterpreted desire for something grand.

We shrugged and decided not all struggles, not all explorations and adventures’ culminate in discovery of something awe inspiring, and turned to find our way back. After a short amount of time trying to decide which way to go, with the sea at our back and the infertile fields before us, we stumbled upon a makeshift pathway.  It was marked by other travelers with white chalky symbols etched out on rocks to the right and to the left most likely with pieces of coral, suggesting a safe trail by staying between them as we hiked. We would follow these symbols, but it was difficult, you couldn’t allow your eyes to wander from under foot for fear of tripping.

Bones bleached from the sun, lay in stark contrast to the rock littering parts of the path, out in front of us you could see transparent waves of heat rising from the rock, and through the souls of your shoes. We rarely spoke, keeping our eyes focused in the direction of our rental van, we couldn’t see it but knew generally where it must be and praying that inside it was the water we’d incidentally left behind. It took us nearly an hour and a half to reach the road, the bottoms of our shoes shredded from the severe, razor-sharp rock. Our throats dusty, we were absolutely parched and the skin on our arms was blistered, covered in hundreds of what appeared like tiny droplets of sweat but these weren’t sweat, we’d run out long before, these were diminutive though no less obtrusive, clear blisters.

In spite of the challenging journey, our clothes soaked through with sweat, our ankles and feet tired, we reveled in the idea of being lost in a lava field and surviving it. We would move on to more adventures, great elevations, searching for green sand beaches and rolling through small villages blanketed in thick, wet fog in the mountains of the South end of the Big Island; Hawaii. Some fruitful and some challenging but all adding so many memories, feelings of accomplishments’ and fueling the imagination even more, wondering what other strange and wonderful places we might discover along the way.

 

Advertisements

This is the Boundary Waters

There’s nothing as special as the earliest morning light, as it spills over the horizon, reflecting in the tiny drops of dew hanging from the pine trees in the forest. The coolness of the fresh air, the silence of the lake and the haunting call from a loon somewhere out on the water.

This is morning in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. It’s tranquil and serene. It’s where my heart and soul regenerate and where my mind slips away from all time.

Where casting off in a canoe and setting my paddle into the water is like holding hands with a loved one. It’s a place where one can breathe and sleep undisturbed under an unequivocally and brilliantly depthless field of stars.

Industrialization has no place here, this is for the wild, the pure, the natural world where the bears roam and the deer wander and people can regain a sense of self and wonder.

This is where the rains soak deep into the thick moss carpeting islands of granite, replenishing groves of uncultivated, rich blueberries.

This is a haven of pure spiritualism, freedom and peace, this is the Boundary Waters.

Kalaulau Trail

The trail was perilous and wonderful, dangerous and exciting; the stay on the remote beach was deliciously hot and sweet. The sunrises were only second to the sunsets, with the oceans waves shimmering in the late days astounding bright hues of drenched tangerines and warm golden light that almost seemed to drip into the bright blue water and wash up on shore.

There were wild cherry tomatoes lining the path to a thousand foot waterfall that fell to a cool, clear, fresh water pool in a small lush oasis where the beautifully tanned locals bathed nude, above the moss and the fragrant penny flowers, cliffs seemed to thrust forever skyward above the shoreline. Black rocks the size of softballs falling from crags overhead periodically to the hot sand below, landing with a soft thud, kicked from above by mountain goats.

Our stay on the beach was delightful, mourning doves cooed and pecked at the sandy ground in the grass around our campsite each afternoon, we ate by campfire and fell asleep to the sound of rushing waves upon the coastline. And our march back, our precarious and tremendous hike home came too soon. Our eleven and half mile trip to the beach was hot and dry, but our trip back would be anything but that.

It began under a blue sky peppered with a few clouds; the air was cooler than a few days before. We hoisted our packs and tightened the laces on our boots and stepped onto the trail once again, it was a bittersweet farewell but we had just under a dozen miles to leave behind us before we would rest the souls of our feet. The majority of our trip was fine enough though it had rained extensively on parts of the trail we had not reached yet. The ground was wet and slippery, the path barely wide enough to lay a school ruler across it and never flat and always sloping towards the edge looming thousands of feet above the rocky shores of the Pacific Ocean.

We passed over the area where my partner, only days before had lost her footing on ground that crumbled and slipped away, she fell to the path hugging the cliff to the inside, her left cheek crashing onto her heel as her right foot dangled weirdly off the ground and over the edge as rocks and dirt plunged into the sea far below. My heart stopped as I am certain hers did as well. It was scary and exhilarating all at once.

Then we made our way around the infamous “Crawler’s Ledge”, a section of the path that really isn’t any sort of path as it is described in Webster’s, but rather an almost vertical slope holding small rocks that one clings to, and steps across for about 200 meters around the face of a portion of a ridge, that frames the East side of the Hanakoa Valley. This section serves to eliminate many hikers from going further along the Kalaulau Trail, simply the site which seems to turn them around without any consideration at all.

We spent the second half of our nine and a half hour hike navigating wet, sloppy trails, boulder chasms and soggy rain forest valleys before coming to our final creek crossing. We had traversed many til now but this one had become a raging torrent of rushing water dropping thousands of feet from the mountains far above us. The sound of the rushing, ice-cold water was deafening, the site of it frightful. We assessed the crossing and considered staying put for a while but it seemed the rain wasn’t stopping and so neither would the creek for some time, could even be days.

Then to our delight we found there were a few men helping others across as they awaited their friends they’d been separated from what now looked now more like a swollen river. It wasn’t slowing but appeared to stay consistent for now. With much trepidation but a stronger desire to get off of the trail we made a decision to cross with help from the locals. One made his way to us and demanded we hand him our packs, he was of slighter frame, but tall and marvelously cut, he grabbed our huge packs and delivered them to the opposite shore with a honed skill. Then came back and threw his wet, pickled hand at Shira, she glanced back at me with fear and determination in her eyes, then stepped into the stream and grasped at his hand, her other firmly held in mine.

As we made our way, fighting the tremendous strength of the furious water beating against our chests, threatening to take our feet out from under us, we kept our eyes on the other muddy side. Half way across I mis-stepped, slipped and banged my knee on a rock under the surface, both of my numb legs flew back behind me, Shira looked back as I struggled to hold on and saw my legs floating straight behind me. She had to let go and leapt for the next man in the human chain, I found a crevice in the same boulder that drew blood from my knee and held on tight until the other guy was able to get to me, he pulled and I fought against the current and we made it eventually safely to shore. I would be lying if I were to say I wasn’t scared.

Soaked to the bone, our hiking boots now heavy and waterlogged, we grabbed our packs thanked those that helped us across and began our climb to complete the final two and a half miles of our incredible journey. A little over two hours later we stood at the trail head, tired, cold, wet and hungry. We did it though; together we survived the Kalaulau Trail along the Napali Coast of Kauai. Number four on National Geographic’s top eleven best hikes around the world and Backpacker Magazine’s Top Ten Most Dangerous. There is a spiritual power that exists deep within the valleys along the Kalaulau, it is palpable and the locals call it mana. It seemed that each time we rounded a corner and looked out over the breathtaking scenes like that of Nu alolo Kai, one of the western most valleys, we got, again as the locals call it, chicken skin. I think that spirit will never leave us, it has made us stronger and it has left a mark on our souls.