5 Ways We Almost Died Hiking an Active Volcano

1Erin_at_Lava_Death_March_GoErinGoSo I don’t do stupid things just by myself. This time, my partner in crime was my mother, which just goes to show that genius doesn’t run in the family.

While in Hilo, Hawaii for the holidays, we decided to take a tour of the lava fields at Volcano National Park. We, along with 4 others, signed up for a “night time lava walk” that took you out to see the flowing lava on Kilauea. Sounds cool, right?

Right. Until you really think about it. Lava is black, the night (with no lights out there) is also black. We were basically hiking in a void and stared death in the face multiple times over.

Here are the 5 ways we almost died on Christmas Eve:

1) Stepping on hot lava ashes and falling through into molten hell – We were trying to get ever near the “flowing” lava, and kept inching closer and closer. We had steam rising up around our ankles (the heat of the lava several feet underneath) and could see the red glow in certain patches. Then at one point, we noticed we were actually standing in a relatively loose pile of ashes with the red glow perilously close. In fact, our shoes were starting to melt. We were told by the guide (also standing in the ashes), to slowly step back off the active area. NG (not good).

2) Falling into the deep crevasses of the lava field – It was seriously hard to see. We had flashlights and walking sticks but when lava dries it forms a rope-like surface and huge chasms opened up that were very difficult to traverse. And that’s in daylight. At night, it was virtually impossible to see and there were several near misses (and a pretty bad scare when mom’s right knee bent behind her as she tried to scamper down a ledge). I’m sure this is exactly the form of exercise her doctor would recommend 1 month before her double knee replacement surgery. Oops.

3) Trampled by wild pigs living in the forest – Part of the park is covered in forest and there was plenty of evidence that wild pigs were in the area, with fresh routing marks in the dirt. We had to continually beat the bushes and make noise as we walked to ensure that we didn’t surprise the pigs (much like walking in bear country). One of our guides had actually been attacked not that long ago and still he forgot to bring a knife to fend off an attacking pig. Sheesh!

4) Walking off a cliff into the thundering ocean and rocks below – A week before a whole portion of the sea cliff – called the shelf – had fallen into the water. (We actually saw the footage recorded on the guides’ cell phones). With part of the trail hist-o, the new trail led dangerously close to the edge at several points. One of us could have easily walked right off into the abyss below.

5) Wandering aimlessly for hours in the black of night – Our guides (names withheld for obvious reasons … screw it! Brandon and Mike — you almost killed us!) actually got us lost on the lava field. Yep – lost! We ended hiking for at least 6 miles and wandered around lost for nearly 6 hours. Seriously crazy! One of the guides actually cried at the end and vowed to quit his job because he was so traumatized by the “lave death march” – his term! In my opinion, this is a sensible career move.

So that’s how Sam and I spent our Christmas Eve, wandering lost on the active lava fields of Kilauea Volcano. In retrospect, maybe it was fortuitous that it was Christmas, because a miracle occurred to get us out of there alive.

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This entry was posted on Friday, January 14th, 2011 and is filed under North America.

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