Categorized | Featured, Sci-Tech

Walking to the edge of the earth

National Park Service volunteer photographers shoot the Waikupahana ocean entry flow Jan. 2, 2010. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

National Park Service volunteer photographers shoot the Waikupahana ocean entry flow Jan. 2, 2010. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Contributing Editor

Pele is not known to be very cooperative, but she cut one group a break this weekend.

As part of ‘Volcano Awareness Month,’ a trio of U.S. Geological Survey scientists treated a gaggle of media representatives to a 2-mile hike across a newly deposited lava flow to get a close up glimpse of the Waikupanaha ocean entry spot.

More than 1,000 visitors each day make the three-quarter mile hike to the  Kalapana viewing area, but they are kept a relatively safe distance from where Kilauea is creating new land.

Saturday afternoon, with the winds and weather ideal for such an excursion, scientists Janet Babb, Matt Patrick and Tim Orr escorted seven journalists past the safety of the county’s viewing area to within a quarter mile of the spitting, spewing spectacle of molten lava dripping into the ocean with giant hissing sounds and clouds of stinky steam.

USGS geologist Tim Orr (orange shirt) points to the Waikupanaha ocean entry Jan. 2, 2010. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Decked out in the required sturdy shoes, long pants, long sleeves, gloves and a flashy orange vest on loan from the USGS, the group picked its way over lava from October’s surface flow.

“Please, watch your step. It’s going to get real rough from here,” Orr said. “It’s tough hiking. It’s like doing stairs all day.”

The ground alternates between shiny smooth stretches, ropy ribbons and unstable chunks that wiggle under foot. In some areas, the lava looks like shake or shale, crunching and cracking like walking on ice.

Chasms split the landscape that undulates literally to the edge of the earth.

Wisps of steam drift from vents and splits, radiating heat up though those sturdy shoes. Some hardy, scrubby brush already have poked through the lava in places – tiny dots of green against the vast gray.

It’s dramatic and dynamic and dangerous. Not a place to really wander along enjoying the view. Each step has to be carefully considered and about every 10 yards, a new path has to be plotted.

“We say you can’t be walking and gawking,” Babb said, as one misstep and tumble could result in nasty scrapes against the lava’s razor edges or a busted ankle.

Orr bounces along with the agility of a mountain goat, pointing upslope where the lava is coming from, where it is moving through the lava tube a couple of meters directly under our feet (it’s remarkably easy to see as sulfur turns the surface lava white or yellow).

Orr finally slows up just feet from the cliff edge and greets a couple of photographers who regularly volunteer to snap the action for the park.

Scientists have figured dangerous chunks of lava rock can be hurled about a quarter-mile and most of the time they stay well back.

“We’re about at that limit,” Orr said. “We’re actually entering the hazard zone now.”

It’s not often a group of journalists will just shut up. This was one of those times.

It’s an awesome view, this place where liquid land and ocean meet.

— Find out more:

hvo.wr.usgs.gov

www.nps.gov/havo

www.lavainfo.us

Photographers line up to snap the action about 400 yards from the Waikupanaha ocean entry Jan. 2, 2010. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

A sightseeing boat pulls along side the Waikupahana ocean entry Jan. 2, 2010. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

A sightseeing boat pulls along side the Waikupahana ocean entry Jan. 2, 2010. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

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