Originally this post was named “The Worst Day in Hawaii!” to go with my “The Best Day in Hawaii!” post. However, in the weeks since we left, Kauai and Oahu have been hit with record flooding and devastating mudslides, and the Big Island has endured earthquakes and CRAZY volcanic eruptions! So many people have been displaced with no homes to go back to 🙁 So in retrospect, our day really wasn’t all that bad. The eruption [which started a few days after we left] explains why the flowing lava seemed to have “dried up” the day we arrived in Hawaii, and why the caldera was so active when we visited it. The lava was all being sucked back down into the magma chamber in preparation for the BOOM!
This post details our failed attempt to visit Volcanoes National Park on our 5th day in Hawaii, which resulted in his and hers tetanus shots. And a re-evaluation of our life choices.
In 2014, during our first visit to the Big Island, we drove to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. On the way we stopped at a lava field:
You can see Ka Lae – the southern most point in the US – in the distance [somewhere down past the wind farm]:
We stopped at the lava field again this year and I got to spend time crawling over the lava and exploring the different types. I got this closeup which I love because you can see the green “gems” on the left side, which are olivine or peridot:
After visiting the lava field, we headed to Ka Lae, just like during our first trip. Here’s some pics I took back in 2014:
Ka Lae sits 40 feet above the crystal clear water. Locals & tourists alike come to enjoy the view, to fish, to look for honu [green sea turtles], or to jump! Pay close attention to that crazy ladder in the first pic…:
4 years ago we didn’t have bathing suits so we didn’t jump, but we promised ourselves the next time we visited Ka Lae, we’d JUMP. So we did… We THOUGHT it was a 27 foot drop. But it turns out that’s how deep the water is. The actual jump is 40 feet. I probably wouldn’t have jumped knowing that! That’s like jumping off a 4-story building! My plan of attack was to just run and leap without looking down. If I’d hesitated, I might not have jumped:
Jim stood at the edge for a few minutes, psyching himself up. Unfortunately, he gently leaped off the ledge instead of jumping, and ended up tilting backwards and landing like he was sitting in a chair… OUCH!!! He was bruised for 3 weeks. Poor hubby:
The only way up [that we knew of at the time] was the rusted, rickety, swaying, slippery, hinged, re-bar ladder. Jim was able to climb up:
I should have known that if hubby had a hard time with the ladder, I would have an impossible time, but I wasn’t thinking. We watched 5 young women jump off the cliff and climb back up the ladder with no problems, so I [wrongly] assumed I’d be able to do it. OMFG!!! I guess I have to come to grips with the fact I’m no longer a college kid. I’m an overweight, middle-aged woman! GAWD.
I was in the water for about 45 minutes. For the first 15 minutes I tried my damnedest to climb the ladder but just couldn’t do it. CAVEAT: IF THE F*CKING LADDER WASN’T HINGED AT THE BOTTOM, AND WAS JUST STRAIGHT UP AND DOWN, I’D HAVE BEEN ABLE TO DO IT!!! HOWEVER, the bottom 5 feet of the ladder are hinged, and as you place your feet on the bottom rung, the ladder swings forward bringing your body parallel to the water. WTF! I kept dropping off like a sack of bowling balls. ALSO, as the swells rolled in, the bottom of the ladder was either submerged 3 feet or completely out of the water. That made it even harder to climb onto it! A few times I managed to get my feet on the bottom rung and suddenly a swell rolled by leaving me about 3 feet above the water, then another would roll in and I’d be under water up to my waist, leaning backwards due to the F*CKING HINGE, and I’d fall off.
After 15 minutes of trying, I was exhausted. I ended up treading water for the next half hour and becoming increasingly panicked at my predicament. I kept thinking “if I can’t climb up, what’s going to happen? Are we going to have to call 911? Will the Coast Guard have to come? Will they come? What if they won’t come???”
To add to my stress, the cliff face, instead of being straight up and down, was concave with a open-air cave at the back [I have no idea who took this picture, so I can’t give proper credit, and for that I’m sorry!]:
Right in front of the ladder the waves crash into the cave and explode upwards with a huge thundering crash. It was quite scary. And the longer I was in the water, the worse the swells became, the stronger the current became, and the louder the thundering crashes. I was fairly terrified by the 30 minute mark 🙁 The current is so strong at Ka Lae that people have gotten sucked out into open water and DIED. I didn’t know that when I jumped, or I never would have!!!
We have since learned that some people swim into the cave and climb the wall, or swim to the right [when facing the cliff] and there’s a place to climb out. HOWEVER, after looking at photos of said options, I really don’t think I would have fared any better [left photo is 2 guys climbing the wall [credit SLC Images – remember, that’s a 40 foot cliff!] Right photo is people jumping and climbing up the inside of the open-air cave [photo credit Blaine Franger]. You can see the ladder in the background of the 2nd pic:
Here’s me sitting on the edge of the blow hole / thunder hole / cave in 2014:
OMG. So… I was terrified and exhausted. Hubby climbed down the ladder and joined me in the water. At one point he tried to guide me back to the ladder [the current kept pulling me in towards the cave and blow hole] and put my hands on it and I remember yelling and screaming at him “don’t touch me! don’t touch me! get away from me!” because I was so scared and overwhelmed, and the swells were so strong by then. He tried unsuccessfully to help me onto the ladder. He ended up climbing back up to see what he could do from the top. I remember looking up and seeing about 20 heads staring down at me. It was humiliating. Hubby said at one point a Japanese man was standing next to him, looking down at me and yelling “UP! UP!” Thanks, Japanese dude. I was trying! At one point a super nice woman threw her water shoes down to me. They were a perfect fit. She was hoping they’d help me grip the ladder, which they eventually did.
Finally 2 amazing and very athletic women jumped off the cliff and came to my rescue. I want to cry just thinking about that. One was American and one was Swiss. Hubby climbed back down to the bottom of the ladder and locked his legs around the hinged part so it wouldn’t swing when I climbed. He got really bad bruises on his shins from that, and I love him forever. The 2 women were able to talk me through climbing the ladder. “Put your left foot on the ladder and your right KNEE on the ladder to start!” That actually worked! I was able to get into that position, which gave me hope. Then they both put their hands on my butt and SHOVED while I pulled with all my might, and hubby kept the ladder from swinging. I was actually able to stand upright for the first time! My arms were SO TIRED. But I knew it was my only chance of doing it. I yelled to hubby “CLIMB, HUBBY, CLIMB!!!” and he did, and then I did! The 2 women stayed in the water and they pulled the ladder outwards as far as they could so it was leaning at more of an angle, rather than being straight up and down [it was hinged at the top, and the f*cking middle, as well as the bottom – who thinks of these things???].
I had to stop and rest twice. Hubby was back at the top by then and kept yelling down to me “take your time, Wifey! Slow and steady!” I kept thinking how nice it would be to just drop back off the ladder into the water, because my arm muscles hurt SO bad, and I was so tired, and so scared, and so emotionally and physically exhausted. Just DONE. But I didn’t. I kept going, foot by foot, until I reached the top. As I climbed, I locked my left arm around the ladder and used my right arm and legs to pull & push myself up. Hubby and another man grabbed my arms as I reached the top rung and helped me up and onto the platform. Everyone in the crowd clapped and cheered. I cried. Then the 2 women climbed up and I hugged each of them and thanked them, and cried some more. I also returned the water shoes to the nice woman who had thrown them down, and thanked her as well. What a day. By that point my arms and legs were a bloody mess from the rusty ladder. Hubby’s too. And the 2 women’s knees. That ladder is so dangerous. The Swiss woman thankfully had a bottle of disinfectant in her car and she poured it over my cuts and hers and hubby’s and the other woman’s. I don’t even know their names. While I was in the water I kept thinking about the near-fatal shark attack that had happened the day prior, up the coast from where I was. I was in the water for almost an hour, and actively bleeding *SHUDDER*.
Once back in the car, hubby drove us the hour and a half back to the hotel. We had no interest in continuing on to the volcano. We went back to the hotel and straight to bed. Here’s some shots of my poor cut & bruised left leg and arm when we got back:
Hubby cut his palm really bad rescuing me:
The next morning we called our doctors and found out we were both overdue for tetanus shots. Because the ladder was nasty and rusty, we wanted to be safe vs. sorry. We asked the concierge at our hotel and learned about an Urgent Care Clinic up the road. We headed over and got his and hers tetanus shots:
For the next 2 days this was our life:
Here’s my leg 2 days after the incident:
And my leg & arm 3 days after:
It took almost a month for our bruises to fully heal. And definitely put a damper on our vacation. But at least we were able to finally see the volcano and the lava a few days later, thanks to the tour company we hired! And we will not be jumping off the cliffs at Ka Lae again. Probably. Because DESPITE the awfulness of not being able to get out of the water, the actual jump itself was FUN!!! If there had been a gentle slope where I could have climbed out and back up, I’d have jumped at least 2 more times *nods*.
OMG, I am so glad you survived this trauma! It would not have happened to me because I am 1) afraid of heights, and 2) can’t swim! You are so brave to leap into unknown water from that height! Thank goodness you were able to get out.
There’s a very fine line between brave & STUPID! 🙂
Now that you are retired, you should take swimming lessons. It’s SO MUCH FUN! Although I realize west coast water is frigidly cold…
Petrifying – I don’t even like to think about what could have happened!