Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What a Weekend. Part I

Jenny and I decided to finish our time on the Big Island with a bang this past weekend: Mission Accomplished. I must warn you though, this entry has so much awesome stuff in it that there are a ton of photos.

Things began Thursday night, when Jenny, Tad, and I headed up to the kipuka to do some night work (I promise I'll explain what it is we're doing sometime), a long, cold, rainy 6 hours. As we wandered around the kipuka a front moved in, providing 6 hours of less-than-30-ft visibility and chilly gusts. At least we all looked happy at the start of the night...

Things actually went really well considering the weather, and all in all, I'd say it was a (somewhat) fun, successful night.

Our big adventure began Friday around noon when Jenny, her sister Annie, her mom Jean, and I headed up Saddle Road to drive over to Kona for the night dive with the Manta Rays. After a couple hours we arrived in Kona and boarded the boat to go see Mantas!

The dive itself was definitely the most surreal part of the weekend. The Mantas were first attracted to the area by the lights from the Sheraton Resort in Kona shining into the water and attracting Manta Rays' primary food source, plankton. After years at the Sheraton, the Rays mysteriously disappeared and were missing for months, until they were found by the airport in Kona, again attracted to the lights. After the Manta Rays settled in at the airport, the dive operators devised a way to attract the Mantas every night by having divers descent 40 feet to the bottom of the cove and shine lights upward and having snorkelers on the surface direct their lights downward, creating a column of light to attract plankton and their predators: Manta Rays! Jenny and her family got the snorkeler perspective while I scuba dived (is that really the past tense?). Before the dive I did manage to snag a shot of a Manta attracted to our boat by its lights:

Down at the bottom, the Manta Rays barrel-rolled and twirled around the divers, even brushing through my hair with their wings a couple times. The video on the website of our dive operator gives an idea of what the Manta dive is like, although I must warn you, the music that plays during this video is truly terrible: http://www.konahonudivers.com/mantaray.shtml. All in all, 11 Manta Rays showed up Friday night, ranging in size from a tame 8 feet across to nearly 13 feet across.

We spent Friday night in Kona, partly because I couldn't leave Kona for 12 hours after my dive because all of the roads out of Kona ascend above 2000 feet! Saturday morning we went to nearby Kahalu'u Beach for some snorkeling. "Beach" is a somewhat misleading term, because although Kahalu'u certainly has awesome snorkeling, the "beach" consists almost entirely of rocks, which aren't so nice for a warm nap. We did get to see tons of fish, an eel, and even a turtle, so no complaints here (though I know that last statement may have seemed like a complaint...).

After an hour or two at Kahalu'u we headed south and stopped at world famous Kona Joe coffee to try some of their famous coffee and get my caffeine fix. Kona Joe's coffee is grown on trellises like wine to maximize sunlight exposure and enhance sweetness or something like that; their coffee bar and the accompanying view were the highlights of the stop. Consequently, I may have missed some of the finer points of Kona Joe's growing methods.

We left Kona Joe's and after (a jittery) two hours, we arrived at the southern-most point in the U.S., the aptly named Southpoint. Here, after a few moments of gathering courage and forgetting my desire to live, I jumped...

... 40 feet off of the cliffs into the bluest, clearest waters I've ever leaped into- from any height. The fall really wasn't too bad; I only had time to ask myself what the hell I was thinking for about the last half second before I crashed into the water with fairly decent pencil form. 5-10 nervous, heart-thumping minutes later, Jenny joined me:

I particularly enjoyed Jenny's little jig of the top. After getting it together at the bottom, Jenny and I climbed back to top, a path that involved swimming into a little cave, waiting for the waves to wash us up onto a ledge, and then scrambling back up to the top.

After I took another plunge (slightly more painful than the first), the third musketeer, Annie, took a leap. A cruel trick of gravity lead to the slightly unfortunate result documented in agonizing frame-by-frame fashion below:

The dreaded butt-flop, a result which though exceedingly painful for the past several days, will make a great story someday (easy for me to say). Definitely a 10/10 on that splash though.

After the most dangerous activity of the summer, we trekked 2.5 miles out to Green Sands Beach, just east of Southpoint. The beach is green because of the weathering of olivine-rich basalt. Regardless of the geological mechanism, the beach was certainly one of the coolest beaches I've ever seen.

We finished out the day with a drive to Volcano for some of the island's best Thai food at the Thai Thai Restaurant, and then stopped by Volcano National Park for a look at the caldera at night. It turns out the caldera glows!

It was much cooler in person I assure you. Sunday was another awesome day, but is perhaps a little too much for this entry, so tune in for What a Weekend, Part II coming soon!

Wow! What a weekend! And what a teaser! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Mauna Loa Summit: 13,679 ft
Miles hiked: 43
Elevation gained: 9,699 ft
Standing on top of the world's most massive mountain: Priceless.

Here's a few more summit shots for good measure:

Now, as to how we got to here...

Jenny and I began packing Thursday night. Since we didn't have access to a stove, we had to bring all dry food, and consequently we had a TON of food.

We woke up at 4:30 Friday morning, planning to catch the bus to the Volcano National Park visitor center that departs Hilo at ten after 5, only to discover that the buses weren't running because it was a state holiday (I bet you can't name it): Statehood Day. What a bummer. We gave up and decided to try again Saturday morning, and instead went to work for the day. After another night of packing and carbo-loading, Saturday began much better. We caught the bus and arrived at the visitor at about 6:45, where a sympathetic Park Ranger let us in before opening to get a permit. After he wrote us a permit for one night at Red Hill Cabin at 10,000 ft and then one night at the Summit Cabin at 13,200 ft, I made a nearly tragic mistake: I asked, "Why is there a road closed arrow on the map next to the Mauna Loa Trailhead Road?" To which he responded, "Oh! Actually that road is closed because of the potential for visitors to start fires. You can't do this hike at all."

Two weaker (or perhaps more law-abiding) souls would have packed it in right there, but not Jenny and I. In addition to having no way to get to the other trailhead to hike Mauna Loa, we also had no way to return to Hilo until 6 PM, so we did the best (and most legal) option we had: we decided to play dumb. "Wait, you mean this road is closed?" "Oh! You mean this isn't the road to the beach?" and my personal favorite, "The ranger just said the road was closed. We're actually on the shoulder." Fortunately we didn't run into anyone, so we didn't have any need for our [bad] acting skills. At noon we got to the trailhead, where we also ran into the last people we would see for 48 hours.

Saturday afternoon we trekked 8 miles from the trailhead to Pu'u'ula'ula, also known as Red Hill, at 10,035 feet. About 9,000 feet or so we passed the last living creature we would see till Devin and Tad picked us up Monday morning:

No, not me. The tree.

Red Hill was how I imagine the surface of Mars- exceedingly red. We got to see a really spectacular sunset from the top of the hill before retreating into the cabin to escape the freezing temperatures.

Sunday morning Jenny and I shivered out of bed, ate a cold breakfast, thawed the spigot on the water tank, and then began our 16 miles for the day. The ranger warned us that the water tank at the summit was empty, so Jenny and I chugged a quart at breakfast and then filled everything we possibly could with water. The highlight of the first 8 miles to the caldera was the variety of lava types we saw. We saw Pele's Tears, glassy hunks of lava blasted out of the caldera, oxidized red lava, and "golden frothy pahoehoe" (I'm quoting from our guide here).

We also got to see the start of a forest fire on the slopes of Mauna Kea, which created a huge plume and is still burning.

At about 2 o'clock we arrived at the summit junction, where we ditched our packs and made for the summit at 13,679 feet. The summit was an exhausting 2.5 miles from the junction, on the far side of the caldera. The size of the caldera was staggering- the cliffs in this picture are several hundred feet tall.

After resting on the summit for a bit, we began the 2.5 mile hike back to the junction and then the final arduous 2 miles to the summit cabin, all the way around the caldera at 13,250 feet. After arriving at the cabin, Jenny and I unpacked, ate as much trail food as we could handle (not very much at this point), and settled in for a night at 13,000 feet.

It turns out breathing at 13,250 feet requires breathing through your mouth to get enough air, so Jenny and consequently woke up very thirsty with chapped lips. After a quick breakfast, Jenny and I walked back to the trail junction and then scampered down the 3.5 miles to the Mauna Loa Observatory at 11,150 ft, where Devin and Tad came to our rescue.

What a trip. Everything worked out like we had hoped, and the only major damage was done to my boots...

Only two more weeks of work left in Hilo! I'll write that post about work soon. I promise.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

S#@& that's hot!

I thought I had gotten all my bad luck out of the way earlier in the summer, with a bike wreck, a busted window, and locking ourselves out of the car. It seems like that wasn't quite everything, though I guess it was Friday the 13th this past weekend.

Things started out Friday- we had the day off since we were going out to begin our night work, so I decided to go on a bike ride early in the afternoon. After an hour and a half or so, I was riding back toward town and I blew a tire within a half mile of where Jenny got her flat tire. After 45 minutes on the shoulder Tad came to the rescue, and I dropped my bike off at the bike shop for a $35 repair- woo. My tires don't match anymore; alas.

Friday night was the moment we've all been waiting for: Night-tracking. Notice Jenny sporting our trendy equipment above: headlamp, tracking unit, antenna, compass, and GPS. Quite a load. We tracked each of the seven rats that we tagged earlier in the week (more on this later). Somewhat surprisingly we finished around midnight, so Jenny and I didn't have to rely on the emergency caffeine we brought just in case: Starbucks doubleshots. Mmm. Below is Tad, the head researcher, and Devin (demonstrating a classic deer-in-the-headlights look) before we headed out.

Saturday we slept in and then headed out to Onomea Bay, just off of the 4-mile scenic drive north of Hilo for a short hike with Tad. The hike was less than a half mile and not particularly scenic, but it was pretty. I guess (I'm getting spoiled). At least I got a nifty shot of the canopy.

Sunday was a baking kind of day. We started off the day by making some pancakes that weren't actually too unsightly. Afterwards we rode up to Wai'ale Falls for an afternoon of swimming and some general frolicking (see below).

When we got back, Jenny started on a delicious green curry, while I began making some chocolate chip cookies (a shout-out to mom for the recipe). Did I mention creaming butter is exceedingly difficult with a fork? It turns out that measuring out cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons is also quite difficult without any measuring cups except for the 1.5 tablespoon scoop that came with our powdered gatorade (does anyone taste Lemon Lime?)...

The curry turned out great!

The cookies not so much...

We're doing more work with rats this week, including some more night-tracking Wednesday night. I know, I know, I'll explain what we're doing next post (hopefully). This week is also are rest week for our impending adventure: a 3-day, 40+ mile trek up to the summit of the tallest mountain in Hawaii (and an active volcano!): Mauna Loa. Dum dum dum.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Honolulu Strikes Back

Honolulu knew that I liked Hilo better. The city lulled Jenny and I into a false sense of security with an awesome concert, a great day of diving, and a beautiful snorkel spot, and then BAM!! Honolulu got the last laugh: Jenny and I got sunburned over about 85% and 70% of our bodies respectively (I guess it could be worse for me at least). I'll spare you the graphic photos, and instead dwell on the fun parts of the weekend...

Jenny and I left Hilo at 7 AM on Wednesday morning for the short hop over to Honolulu, and we arrived at the Hawaii Conservation Conference (HCC) at about 11 in the morning. After sitting through a few talks we checked into our hotel, found an awesome used bookstore (yay books), and then met Pasha for dinner. Thursday was another full day of the conference, which to be entirely honest wasn't as interesting as our earlier conference in Hilo and became harder and harder to remain interested in... Here's a pretty picture from a few blocks away from the convention center- not that we skipped out on any part of the conference to get this or anything.

Thursday night Jenny and I went to a Mute Math concert, certainly the luckiest part of the trip. The music scene in Hawaii is understandably lame (unless you like reggae or ukelele), but in a fortunate coincidence, one of my favorite bands happened to play their first (and probably last concert) in Hawaii at a small venue in Honolulu called the Pipeline while I was in Honolulu- an opportunity way too good to miss. If you haven't heard of them, Mute Math is a fairly poppy (what a strange word) alternative rock band who puts on a great high-energy live show. In case you're interested, check out their hit, Typical: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XVWR-5fiG0. It was a great show: the bass was loud and the bassist was good, their balance was on, they played my favorite song which is an obscure track off of their old cd, and the singer jumped into the audience and, I'm just saying, he grabbed my hand. Just saying.

The conference ended Friday (woo), and Jenny and I moved from our hotel to Pasha's floor, the very same floor from my first stay in Honolulu; it was a sweet reunion indeed. A shout-out to our gracious host:

We went to sleep pretty early so that we could get up for our dives Saturday morning. Jenny isn't certified, and I hadn't scuba dived in 9 months so we all went on two 40-ft deep beginner dives off the eastern edge of Oahu. It was great to dive again, and we got to see turtles, moray eels, a dragon scorpionfish, a crown-of-thorns, and a handful of other rare endemic fish. Below is our dive site with Koko Crater in the background.

We finished off Saturday with a stop at Leonard's, THE place for Malasadas on Oahu. Malasadas are perhaps the most valuable creation of the Portuguese, a ball of dough deep-fried and covered in sugar that can be then be filled with cream. I ordered a Malasada stuffed with coconut cream. Happiness ensued:

Sunday we got up early and headed snorkeling at Haunama Bay, the best snorkel spot on the island. The place got packed, but fortunately the 400 or more people on the beach never ventured more than 60 feet from shore, so we had the reef crest all to ourselves. Conveniently, the reef crest was where everything interesting was: octopi, turtles, a zebra eel, triggerfish, and a bunch of other interesting little creatures. The saddest part of the day (and trip) was realizing that although we snorkeled for about 5 hours, our sunscreen apparently only lasted for about 2. Doh. Haunama Bay sure was pretty though:

We got back to Hilo late Sunday night and started getting ready for the week ahead, during which Tad (the head researcher) will be here, and Jenny and I will be undertaking some new work. More to come on that soon, meanwhile, we'll be recovering from Honolulu's wrath.

P.S. The strangest sight of the weekend by far was this enthusiastic stranger I ran into Saturday afternoon:

Monday, August 2, 2010

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

I know the title is terrible. I apologize. I couldn't resist.

Today officially counts as the coolest day of work ever. We began the day with some fieldwork:

Tree Climbing! Devin and Bernice rigged the tree-climbing ropes onto two of the tallest trees in the kipuka and we ascended up about 50 or 60 feet. It was handy being familiar with the gear (from caving).

Eventually we all four made it up in two parallel trees and Jenny even used the split-tail and transferred between the trees. Not me.

Ah, acrophobia. I did dramatize this shot just a little in case you were wondering. After about an hour hanging out (ha) we rappelled down and headed back to the lab for our lab work...

Terrifying, I know. In case that didn't clear things up here's another hint:

Ah yes. We were chopping up coconut to bait the rat traps for over the next couple weeks, a fun excuse to use machetes and eat tons of coconut. We kept trying to crack a coconut open so that we could drink the water out of them. After attempt six or so I managed to crack one correctly(ish). Some of us were more successful than others I might add...

Tomorrow a half day of work and then off to Honolulu!

P.S. For those don't believe we're actually working with rats, here is the one and only rat I've seen this summer (much less gotten a picture of) from a rat Devin and I trapped on Friday. We trapped him (his name is Baldy) to cut off the radio collar Devin had put on him to see what part of the collar malfunctioned- the antenna in case you were wondering.

That is a rat. I promise.