by Lisa Frein, 2003
Kilauea Iki is a collapse crater adjacent to the main summit caldera of the active volcano, Kilauea. Beginning in August of 1959, geologists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory began detecting a swarm of deep earthquakes on seismographs located at the observatory. By early October, measurements indicated that the summit of Kilauea was beginning to inflate with new magma. From mid-September to November 1, more than 1,000 earthquakes were being detected. By November 14, all the activity beneath the surface had increased tenfold indicating that magma was making its way to the surface. At 8:08 p.m. that same day, an eruptive fissure broke through the south wall of Kilauea Iki Crater. Continuous fountaining occurred from a solitary vent located on the crater wall about 20 m above the small west crater of Kilauea Iki.
The lava rapids were described as “a bright orange, incandescent, twisting ribbon that made a slurred gurgling sound as it glided past. At the bottom of the cascade a stationary wave of lava, similar in appearance to a standing water wave in rapids, crested 1 m above the sluggish river and disappeared beneath the frozen crust of the lake.”
The lava fountain reached heights of 60-80 m by morning on November 17, and cinder, spatter, and pumice were falling onto the south rim of Kilauea Iki Crater. The falling fragments began to build a new cinder cone, which was eventually named Pu’u Pua`i (gushing hill).
A total of 71 million m³ of lava was ejected during the month long eruption, however because of all the drainbacks only 8 million m³ of lava actually remained in the crater when the eruption was over. The eruption stopped on December 20, 1959. For a more detailed description of the eruption please see: https://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/kilauea/history/1959Nov14/
Into the Rainforest:
On the way down, there is an abundance of ferns known as the hapu’u pulu distinguished by their three feather-like divisions or tri-penate formation. And of course, I am surrounded by the `ohi’a, the most abundant tree in the forest, holding on to its red lehua blooms. There are several bends in the trail helping me to make my way down to the caldera floor. There are also benches provided which I will make use of when ascending back to the top of the trail. Every detail of a tropical rain forest seems to be duplicated magnificently here that I almost forget I am on top of a volcano. Birds: There are songs of birds surrounding me like the ‘apapane (Hawaiian honeycreeper) feeding on the lehua and the `i`iwi (another type of Hawaiian honeycreeper) named for its song.
Across the caldera floor:
As I reach the bottom of the trail leading to the caldera floor I can begin to see the difference in landscape and feel the difference in climate. From walking through cool wet land, I now enter hot, dry, windy land. And as the vegetation lessens, the surface hardens. Stepping onto the caldera floor means a mile hike across a hardened lava flow from 1959, 21 years before I was born. It amazes me to see the rippled land from the pahoehoe flows. I imagine this is what the ocean would look like if frozen in a few seconds.
But what amazes me more is to see a tree, the prevalent ‘ohi’a, growing in one of the cracks still holding on to its beautiful lehua flower. Taking a step back, I look up to see the lush forest I just left and the rim of this caldera I was on top of moments ago. I feel like I have gone from person to ant as I know that’s what I look like from above.
Continuing my trek across the caldera, I see puffs of smoke coming up from the ground. On a closer look, I see steam vents, small holes with steam coming up from the ground, proof that the ground beneath me is still cooling off.
There is a faint path to follow across the caldera floor where many visitors have walked before me and many will walk behind me to see the incredible life of Kilauea Iki. As you walk along this path to ascend back up the cliff, another type of vegetation is thriving in the cracks of the crater.
Ascending to the top:
It can get a little tricky on this side because several other trails intersect at a certain point, but following the signs and taking right turns keeps me on the right path. And now I have a better idea of where I am and what trails to take next time.
I stop to notice the boulders along side of the trail, bringing me back to the reality that this was the site of a volcanic eruption with rockslides and all. As beautiful as it is today, I would not have wanted to be here in 1959. Here I take full advantage of the benches provided. As I make my way back to the top I see the overwhelming amount of non-native ginger taking over the forest floor. I also see why the park is working to remove it so that the natural beauty of Hawai’i can shine through.
Back at the top:
Last updated: October 5, 2018