Fire in the sky; Mauna Loa

Also known as Red Hill Cabin. Photography is my own.

August 8th marked the new moon, August 12; the peak of the Perseids Meteor Shower. My coworkers and I booked a back-country cabin for the evening of the 9th to catch a sweet spot in between for excellent stargazing. This adventure would take us up Mauna Loa, the largest active volcano on the planet, which makes up roughly 51% of the island of Hawai’i. The tricky part was that none of us had been to 10,000 feet in elevation before, some of us were backpacking for the first time, and I was leading the charge. Though I have been working my way back into fitness for years, I only recently managed a seven-mile hike earlier this year, whereas my limit for a long time prior was four to five miles. This hike is over seven miles with an altitude gain of 3,600 feet.

The day prior we picked up our pass from the back-country office and the park ranger warned of a wasp infestation at the trailhead. He seemed to be attempting to scare or deter us from going. Perhaps they wanted to ensure only the truly dedicated went forward with a high-altitude hike up an active volcano. We set out on the road the next morning under the cover of darkness. Witnessing the sunrise over the horizon as we drove up the winding Mauna Loa Road. The trailhead was absent of wasp swarms due to the cool morning hour and we were able to pause for photos briefly before strapping on our packs and beginning our ascent. From 6,600 feet in elevation at the trailhead to the 7,000-foot signpost was all it took for me to need to pause. My moment of disappointment from the realization I only managed a 30-minute starting stretch was overshadowed by the intensity of breaching my previous elevation record. Lightheaded is not the right description, but it’s the first one that comes to mind. An altered state of consciousness may be more accurate.

Turning around to witness the view of the Kilauea caldera, the town of Volcano, and the ocean beyond was the highlight of our time spent acclimating. As we continued on my lungs gradually required greater expansion, by 8000 feet it seemed like I was using capillaries that had not been used in over a decade. At times my heart would suddenly pound hard and fast, causing me to call for a rest. The young athletes in our group charged ahead, while the rest of us stuck together and took as many breaks as we felt we needed. Dizziness, sinus pressure, or heart palpitations all necessitated an abrupt stop and deep breathing. As time went on we adjusted, our sealed snack bags expanding due to reduced air pressure and our bodies expelling gas for the same reason. I belched repeatedly as if I had chugged a carbonated beverage for the rest of the climb.

In the distance, the red hill from which the cabin’s nickname came appeared, and finally, the 9000 feet elevation marker appeared. Thank Pele we were closer! The sun was approaching its highest point in the sky, I was starting to feel the weight of my pack as an uncomfortable burden and my friends were struggling with leg pain and sinus pressure. When the red dirt finally appeared under my feet I was ready for it to be over. My whole being felt like we had changed dimensions. This was no longer the world we left, it was an entirely alien place. It took seven hours for those of us who took our time and frequent breaks to reach the cabin, and a well-deserved nap followed.

Normally I wake up for the sunrise, this day I woke up for the sunset. Twin hills surrounded the cabin, each providing a unique viewpoint to the West or the East. Venus and the moon followed closely after the Sun in setting to the West. Perseus wouldn’t rise to the North until 10 pm, so we retreated into the cabin for dinner and coffee. Our dehydrated meals were amazingly delicious, a welcome comfort after such an arduous journey. When the time arrived we prepared a place to relax inside an existing windbreak arc made of rocks, and I began taking photos of the milky way.

My photography and artwork can be viewed at http://productionninja.art

Meteors can appear at any time of year, and though we were aiming our sight on the constellation of Perseus we witnessed light streaking across the sky in all directions. Some faint and short-lived, others long and bright. Some of the most epic meteors I have seen in my life appeared before me as I gazed at more stars than I have ever seen before. As the evening wore on, a few of our crew retired to bed. Though I wanted to stay up through the entire night I only made it to 2 am myself. After another brief nap, some of us roused ourselves to climb the East hill for the sunrise.

The decent provided ample time to integrate my experience into my life. The little things which do not matter had long since faded away when survival was the top priority. Despite the muscle strain and lack of proper sleep, when the wind blessed us with its cooling touch, I felt truly alive. Each day is an opportunity to reach new heights, work through old ailments, and pursue your true self. Uncertainty is merely the feeling we have when possibilities exist. We should embrace that feeling and charge forward into uncharted waters where awe and inspiration await.

Mauna Kea viewed from Mauna Loa at sunrise

The decent provided ample time to integrate my experience into my life. The little things which do not matter had long since faded away when survival was the top priority. Despite the muscle strain and lack of proper sleep, when the wind blessed us with its cooling touch, I felt truly alive. Each day is an opportunity to reach new heights, work through old ailments, and pursue your true self. Uncertainty is merely the feeling we have when possibilities exist. We should embrace that feeling and charge forward into uncharted waters where awe and inspiration await.

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Esoteric Spiral

Esoteric Spiral

Art and evolution on the edge of chaos.