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- The Hawaiian Archipelago - 53/63 -

I had resolved that he should never have any bother in consequence of his kindness in taking me with him, and, indeed, everyone had enough to do in taking care of himself and his own beast, but I never found it harder to repress a cry for help. Not that I was in the least danger, but there was every risk of the beautiful mule being much hurt, or breaking her legs. The fear shown by the animals was pathetic; they shrank back, cowered, trembled, breathed hard and heavily, and stumbled and plunged painfully. It was sickening to see their terror and suffering, the struggling and slipping into cracks, the blood and torture. The mules with their small legs and wonderful agility were more frightened than hurt, but the horses were splashed with blood up to their knees, and their poor eyes looked piteous.

We were then, as we knew, close to the edge of the crater, but the faint smoke wreath had disappeared, and there was nothing but the westering sun hanging like a ball over the black horizon of the desolate summit. We rode as far as a deep fissure filled with frozen snow, with a ledge beyond, threw ourselves from our mules, jumped the fissure, and more than 800 feet below yawned the inaccessible blackness and horror of the crater of Mokuaweoweo, six miles in circumference, and 11,000 feet long by 8,000 wide. The mystery was solved, for at one end of the crater, in a deep gorge of its own, above the level of the rest of the area, there was the lonely fire, the reflection of which, for six weeks, has been seen for 100 miles.

Nearly opposite us, a thing of beauty, a perfect fountain of pure yellow fire, unlike the gory gleam of Kilauea, was regularly playing in several united but independent jets, throwing up its glorious incandescence, to a height, as we afterwards ascertained, of from 150 to 300 feet, and attaining at one time 600! You cannot imagine such a beautiful sight. The sunset gold was not purer than the living fire. The distance which we were from it, divested it of the inevitable horrors which surround it. It was all beauty. For the last two miles of the ascent, we had heard a distant vibrating roar: there, at the crater's edge, it was a glorious sound, the roar of an ocean at dispeace, mingled with the hollow murmur of surf echoing in sea caves, booming on, rising and falling, like the thunder music of windward Hawaii.

We sat on the ledge outside the fissure for some time, and Mr. Green actually proposed to pitch the tent there, but I dissuaded him, on the ground that an earthquake might send the whole thing tumbling into the crater; nor was this a whimsical objection, for during the night there were two such falls, and after breakfast, another quite near us.

We had travelled for two days under a strong impression that the fires had died out, so you can imagine the sort of stupor of satisfaction with which we feasted on the glorious certainty. Yes, it was glorious, that far-off fire-fountain, and the lurid cracks in the slow-moving, black-crusted flood, which passed calmly down from the higher level to the grand area of the crater.

This area, over two miles long, and a mile and a half wide, with precipitous sides 800 feet deep, and a broad second shelf about 300 feet below the one we occupied, at that time appeared a dark grey, tolerably level lake, with great black blotches, and yellow and white stains, the whole much fissured. No steam or smoke proceeded from any part of the level surface, and it had the unnaturally dead look which follows the action of fire. A ledge, or false beach, which must mark a once higher level of the lava, skirts the lake, at an elevation of thirty feet probably, and this fringed the area with various signs of present volcanic action, steaming sulphur banks, and heavy jets of smoke. The other side, above the crater, has a ridgy broken look, giving the false impression of a mountainous region beyond. At this time the luminous fountain, and the red cracks in the river of lava which proceeded from it, were the only fires visible in the great area of blackness. In former days people have descended to the floor of the crater, but owing to the breaking away of the accessible part of the precipice, a descent now is not feasible, though I doubt not that a man might even now get down, if he went up with suitable tackle, and sufficient assistance.

The one disappointment was that this extraordinary fire-fountain was not only 800 feet below us, but nearly three-quarters of a mile from us, and that it was impossible to get any nearer to it. Those who have made the ascent before have found themselves obliged either to camp on the very spot we occupied, or a little below it.

The natives pitched the tent as near to the crater as was safe, with one pole in a crack, and the other in the great fissure, which was filled to within three feet of the top with snow and ice. As the opening of the tent was on the crater side, we could not get in or out without going down into this crevasse. The tent walls were held down with stones to make it as snug as possible, but snug is a word of the lower earth, and has no meaning on that frozen mountain top. The natural floor was of rough slabs of lava, laid partly edgewise, so that a newly macadamised road would have been as soft a bed. The natives spread the horse blankets over it, and I arranged the camping blankets, made my own part of the tent as comfortable as possible by putting my inverted saddle down for a pillow, put on my last reserve of warm clothing, took the food out of the saddle bags, and then felt how impossible it was to exert myself in the rarified air, or even to upbraid Mr. Green for having forgotten the tea, of which I had reminded him as often as was consistent with politeness!

This discovery was not made till after we had boiled the kettle, and my dismay was softened by remembering that as water boils up there at 187 degrees, our tea would have been worthless. In spite of my objection to stimulants, and in defiance of the law against giving liquor to natives, I made a great tin of brandy toddy, of which all partook, along with tinned salmon and dough-nuts. Then the men piled faggots on the fire and began their everlasting chatter, and Mr. Green and I, huddled up in blankets, sat on the outer ledge in solemn silence, to devote ourselves to the volcano.

The sun was just setting: the tooth-like peaks of Mauna Kea, cold and snow slashed, which were blushing red, the next minute turned ghastly against a chilly sky, and with the disappearance of the sun it became severely cold; yet we were able to remain there till 9.30, the first people to whom such a thing has been possible, so supremely favoured were we by the absence of wind.

When the sun had set, and the brief red glow of the tropics had vanished, a new world came into being, and wonder after wonder flashed forth from the previously lifeless crater. Everywhere through its vast expanse appeared glints of fire--fires bright and steady, burning in rows like blast furnaces; fires lone and isolated, unwinking like planets, or twinkling like stars; rows of little fires marking the margin of the lowest level of the crater; fire molten in deep crevasses; fire in wavy lines; fire, calm, stationary, and restful: an incandescent lake two miles in length beneath a deceptive crust of darkness, and whose depth one dare not fathom even in thought. Broad in the glare, giving light enough to read by at a distance of three-quarters of a mile, making the moon look as blue as an ordinary English sky, its golden gleam changed to a vivid rose colour, lighting up the whole of the vast precipices of that part of the crater with a rosy red, bringing out every detail here, throwing cliffs and heights into huge black masses there, rising, falling, never intermitting, leaping in lofty jets with glorious shapes like wheatsheaves, coruscating, reddening, the most glorious thing beneath the moon was the fire-fountain of Mokuaweoweo.

By day the cooled crust of the lake had looked black and even sooty, with a fountain of molten gold playing upwards from it; by night it was all incandescent, with black blotches of cooled scum upon it, which were perpetually being devoured. The centre of the lake was at a white heat, and waves of white hot lava appeared to be wallowing there as in a whirlpool, and from this centre the fountain rose, solid at its base, which is estimated at 150 feet in diameter, but thinning and frittering as it rose high into the air, and falling from the great altitude to which it attained, in fiery spray, which made a very distinct clatter on the fiery surface below. When one jet was about half high, another rose so as to keep up the action without intermission; and in the lower part of the fountain two subsidiary curved jets of great volume continually crossed each other. So, "alone in its glory," perennial, self-born, springing up in sparkling light, the fire-fountain played on as the hours went by.

From the nearer margin of this incandescent lake there was a mighty but deliberate overflow, a "silent tide" of fire, passing to the lower level, glowing under and amidst its crust, with the brightness of metal passing from a furnace. In the bank of partially cooled and crusted lava which appears to support the lake, there were rifts showing the molten lava within. In one place heavy white vapour blew off in powerful jets from the edge of the lake, and elsewhere there were frequent jets and ebullitions of the same, but there was not a trace of vapour over the burning lake itself. The crusted large area, with its blowing cones, blotches and rifts of fire, was nearly all visible, and from the thickness and quietness of the crust it was obvious that the ocean of lava below was comparatively at rest, but a dark precipice concealed a part of the glowing and highly agitated lake, adding another mystery to its sublimity.

It is probable that the whole interior of this huge dome is fluid, for the eruptions from this summit crater do not proceed from its filling up and running over, but from the mountain sides being unable to bear the enormous pressure; when they give way, high or low, and bursting, allow the fiery contents to escape. So, in 1855, the mountain side split open, and the lava gushed forth for thirteen months in a stream which ran for 60 miles, and flooded Hawaii for 300 square miles. {411}

From the camping ground, immense cracks parallel with the crater, extend for some distance, and the whole of the compact grey stone of the summit is much fissured. These cracks, like the one by which our tent was pitched, contain water resting on ice. It shows the extreme difference of climate on the two sides of Hawaii, that while vegetation straggles up to a height of 10,000 feet on the windward side in a few miserable blasted forms, it absolutely ceases at a height of 7,000 feet on the leeward.

It was too cold to sit up all night; so by the "fire light" I wrote the enclosed note to you with fingers nearly freezing on the pen, and climbed into the tent.

It is possible that tent life in the East, or in the Rocky Mountains, with beds, tables, travelling knick-knacks of all descriptions, and servants who study their master's whims, may be very charming; but my experience of it having been of the make-shift and non-luxurious kind, is not delectable. A wooden saddle, without stuffing, made a very fair pillow; but the ridges of the lava were severe. I could not spare enough blankets to soften them, and one particularly intractable point persisted in making itself felt. I crowded on everything attainable, two pairs of gloves, with Mr. Gilman's socks over them, and a thick plaid muffled up my face. Mr.

The Hawaiian Archipelago - 53/63

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