As soon as the car stopped, Jacob, then 11, and Nathan, then 9, leaped out of the car and started scampering like mountain goats. Seasoned hikers, clad in proper footwear, equipped with flashlights and canteens, they didn’t want to waste any time getting to the lava. We were on Hawaii’s Big Island; and no trip is complete without a visit to the Kilauea volcano.
“Take the Chain of Craters drive,” the ranger told us at the Visitors Center. “If you go around 7, it will take about 45 minutes, and you’ll have plenty of time to catch the sunset, then walk to the lava flow.”
After dinner, we drove the 20 -mile road that ends at the base of the volcano. Signs warn: No facilities. No gas. Bring water.” We had gas and water and had hiked a lot. We’d even driven the road during the day, just to see what it was like.
We started on the trail, holding Lydia’s hand, feeling the heat from the lava warming the soles of our hiking boots. Though the thick air parched our throats, the breeze off the ocean cooled us. Signs warned about getting too close to the edge of the cliffs.
Dusk turned to dark, and our slim flashlights barely lit the path. Though a trail existed, it was difficult to find and the crowds seemed to just walk toward the orange fire ahead. It looked close– maybe about a half a mile. But after a half hour of walking, we realized it was much further. We were hot. It was pitch dark, and the boys were nowhere to be found. The ocean muffled our shouts. We asked hikers, returning from the flow, if they’d seen two boys. I blamed my husband for allowing them to rush from the car. He countered it wasn’t his fault. I feared they were lost and imagined them dead.
We kept walking and worrying. At some point, at least an hour later, we turned around and decided to return to the car. We watched everyone leaving, asked again, and waited. It seemed no one was still out there. Finally, in what seemed an eternity, they appeared, happy and laughing, accompanied by a couple hikers who had a primitive GPS – this was long before smart phones and other devices could have pointed the way. Why did they take off so fast without us? Who knows. They too didn’t realize how vast and far the flow was. They had envisioned camping out on the rocks, however, which made me even more relieved they were safe.
We returned to New Jersey and I suggested to another family planning a Hawaii vacation, with two boys of similar ages, to hike the volcano at night, though warned them what happened to us. They listened, and upon return, told us their sons had done the same thing. There’s something about hot flowing lava I guess that compels people or at least young boys, to follow the fire.
I thought about this experience recently when a friend told me she was going to Hawaii this week. I told her she must visit the Kilauea volcano, and know she’s sensible enough not to disappear off the trail. Then I read that the lava has been creeping since June, advancing faster and causing evacuations from homes, building of emergency access roads and closing of main roads. I hope everyone will be safe. I’m not sure how close my friend will get to the lava; I’ve asked her to send photos.