OHE August 1, 1997 (c)

Contributed by Eric Edward Stelene (ees129@psu.edu)
I did Napau Crater on the Big Island a few months before the recent eruptions I have been trying to keep current on it. I heard a fisuure opened up on the west rim of Napau during the Episode 54 eruption and saw a map of the flow on the HVO web page. It looked like it came real close, if not on top of, the Napau Crater campsites. Does anyone know the condition of the camp? And is there anything left of the trail that crosses Napau Crater and goes to the older Puu Oo flows? I know the Park Sevice closed the trail beyond Puu Huluhulu but I bet it'll make for great hike if they ever reopen it.


Reply from Kirby D. Young (kirbyd@teleport.com):

During my visit in mid-May, that is, during the fairly continuous activity of the still-ongoing Episode 55, the Park Service was allowing hikers to walk as far as Napau crater. The campground is fine, though I think camping was still forbidden due to the possibility of a change in the character of the eruption.

The January fissure eruption you mention was apparently spectacular, but short-lived. Imagine waking to a bright orange glow on your tent walls, and peeking out, seeing lava fountains rising above the Ohi'a-fern forest! Apparently, visiting rangers from Yellowstone were so lucky. They were evacuated by helicopter within a couple of hours (though they wanted to walk out!).

The eruptive fissure did reach the west wall of Napau crater, but no further. The campground is set back about 1/4 mile from the rim, so it was not affected. There was some scorching of trees on the rim at the fissure end, but the forest must have been quite moist; it didn't seem that any forest fire spread beyond. It may be that the original trail where it ended in forest overlooking the crater was affected. I didn't visit that view point.

Lava remaining at the conclusion of the eruption has only a limited extent within Napau crater. It is very obvious as a black, elongate mass of pahoehoe straddling the fissure, amidst the brownish grey, tephra (cinder)-covered lava that lay in Napau before the activity. The trail from the Napau campground on to Pu'u O'o was unaffected by the eruption. At the time of my visit, the Park Service made it very clear it was "illegal" for people to proceed past Napau campground. Using common sense, there was little increased danger for a hiker to proceed to the area near Pu'u O'o, but once there, it would be enticing for some folks to do something very stupid in an attempt to view the erupting lava close up. I can understand how the Park Service would not wish to deal with the consequences!

The major change you would see at Pu'u O'o would be a cone now bisected by the collapse of its center. In front of this now double-spired cone (west) and to the right (south) would be a lava shield that has enlarged significantly by eruptions from several vents on these sides of Pu'u O'o. If you were lucky, you would see lava fountaining at one of these vents. You might see lava overflowing the lava pounds at the top of the shield. If flows were westward, you would have a great view. If it went south, likely you would only see evidence of it at night. More rarely, lava apparently fills the crater within Pu'u O'o itself, flowing out west from the crater breach. Most of this I must imagine, though I did see intermittent, very low lava fountaining at the top of the shield.

Nittany Lions, huh?

Regards, Kirby

Reply from Mae Moriwaki (mae@hawaii.edu):

As of Aug 1st, Napau Crater is open. I'm now sorry that I didn't ask the rangers about the condition of the trail (we didn't have time to do it).

There is another way to get to Puu O'o. (Napau being 18+ miles) Take South Glenwood road to the end--you can hook up to the old Volcano trail there. Only 3 1/2-4 miles to get to the eruptive site. I have not done it, but know people who have--easy--with ribbons. They actually got to see lava flowing through lava tubes. Of course, no one recommends that you do this (falling into lava tubes can be forever)


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