Sun Jul 14 19:13:23 HST 1991
As a kid in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I watched the eclipse of March 7, 1970 from our backyard, and saw totality on TV. I was sure then that I would someday have to go see a total eclipse for myself. Later on I happened across a book that gave formulas for calculating the paths of eclipses. Wow, I thought, July 11 1991 goes across Hawaii! Wouldn't that be a great place to see a total eclipse?
By mid 1990 I knew I was going to be living in Honolulu at the time of the eclipse, so it made the most sense to try to see the eclipse in Hawaii and not Baja. But I didn't know anything about the Big Island! I did know that I didn't want to join one of those pre-packaged tours to Kona costing thousands of dollars. Mauna Kea sure seemed like it would be a fantastic place to watch the eclipse from, but there was NO WAY to get permission to watch from there. Even professional astronomers couldn't get up there without good reason! Hey, but what about Mauna Loa? That's part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, they couldn't close that!
Made sense to enlist people already in Hawaii and see what they thought, so I bugged Gerard. He remarked that "Everybody should climb Mauna Loa once in their life, but you're crazy if you do it twice." Still he was tempted by the idea of watching the eclipse from there, high above the seething hordes watching from the coastal resorts. (Maybe it would be better to watch it from Red Hill, halfway up the Mauna Loa trail and with a more scenic view than the top, he suggested.) Did anyone else want to come? The more the merrier, I told him, so he asked other people in Hawaii I didn't know if they wanted to join. We ended up with six people, including Gerard and myself. Gerard being the local was supposed to make the reservations, but after nothing happened for a month or so I went ahead and looked into making them myself.
Where to stay? I called Volcano National Park; they said they were first-come, first-serve, and did not accept reservations. What about hiking on Mauna Loa on eclipse day? They were still thinking about that. Probably they would have a lottery. Hmmm. Maybe it would be better to make backup camping plans... I called Hawaii County parks; they said they were also first-come, first-serve, and did not accept reservations. Darn. Called again a week later... Now Hawaii County parks says they've changed their minds and they will take reservations for eclipse week... but they're already all taken. Volcano National Park is still deciding.
Well, better get what I can. Plane tickets? Their computer won't take reservations this early, but they promise to write it down and enter it as soon as it will. We decide on July 7-12. Rental car? All the cheap biggies are all full; Budget still has some available because of their "special" prices, $50 per day, no discounts, no weekly rate, period. Ouch! Grumble, I guess I'll still take it. I'm told since we have so many people going I should get a bigger car. That makes it more expensive, of course, but we'll have 6 people splitting the cost.
Gerard's job as the kama`aina (local) is to call Hawaii Volcanoes National Park about once a month, trying to convince them not to have a lottery but to use some system that benefits locals. They're very nice and return his calls; they're still deciding what to do. Finally two months before the eclipse they decide (now I'm in Hawaii and calling myself): First come, first serve, given out at 7:45 AM July 8. 50 permits for Mauna Loa summit, 50 permits for the Red Hill cabin halfway up. Each person can only get one permit for himself. Great, we're all set.
Unfortunately, one month before the eclipse they decide again: now the sign up date is July 5. Ouch! Gerard changes the tickets to arrive July 4, so we can be there to get in line. Soon afterward everyone but me drops out, including Gerard; that's just too much time! (Fortunately I manage to grab control of the abandoned reservations before the various people cancel them, although one does get away. Those July 12 slots are like gold! Maybe I can get somebody else to go...) The rental car company laughs when I ask if I can switch to a compact at this late date. Two weeks before the eclipse I manage to talk Rainer into coming. As a poor grad student, though, he doesn't want to cough up a full share for the expensive rental car; I agree to pay double. Done.
Of course one week before leaving Hawaii Volcanoes National Park moves the permit date back to Monday, July 8 again. Arrrrrg! Everyone in the original group has other plans now, though, and still can't come. I am besieged by several people wanting the July 12 reservations... they don't want to hike, though. In the end I give them all away, and none of them are actually used. I manage to get a July 7 ticket for myself, and a July 8 one for Rainer who wants to go as late as possible.
I had heard that there existed a wonderful Mauna Loa trail guide written by Lisa Peterson, a researcher in our department at UH. The national park might not have them in stock any more, though, so if I need a copy I'd better be safe and get one from the source. Alas, Lisa is taking the long July 4 holiday off. Fortunately I am still able to get her on the phone; she tells me where one last copy is. I break into her office so I can xerox it. (I made 10 so I could give some away, too.)
Other last minute errands... I decide to buy a burns-anything backpacking stove. A quick run to Ala Moana mall to buy good film. I want 1000 ASA Ektar, 36 exposure. Expensive but worth it. After I get to my car I discover they gave me 25 ASA, 36 exposure! Back to the store again. Very sorry, sir! Another box in a little bag. Back out... 25 ASA again! Back in, another box in another bag. Back out... 1000 ASA. Great. I pack it away.
What about a place to stay? I ask Hawaii Volcanoes if there is any hope of getting a walk-in camping spot. They say don't worry, they have huge areas open to public camping. Great, I'm finally all set. But... 2 days before leaving, they say they are closing everything, there will only be 18 camp sites in the entire park, and I shouldn't even think of coming. Stay away. Don't come. I go on Saturday anyway. It is pouring rain.
The free walk-in campground near park headquarters, Namekani Paio, isn't even 1/3 full. The people there fall into two categories: people like myself showing up early to get Mauna Loa hiking permits, and those tempted to the island by super cheap air tickets who are planning to fly out right _before_ the eclipse. Some of the former are planning to go start waiting in line that night (Saturday), although the park people claim no line will be allowed to form more than 24 hours before the permits will be distributed. I do a quick census of the park and decide there is no chance all 50 Mauna Loa slots will be taken that night, and get a good night's sleep in my tent. (Still raining, but no construction noise like I have to live with in Waahila.)
I show up at park headquarters the following morning to find an unofficial self-organization is occurring. The park service has now decided that each person can get FOUR permits (including one for themselves). They rope out a line along the edge of the visitor center for people to wait in. Instead of waiting blindly in line, somebody has put up a list showing what order people have arrived in. Groups of four are formed for convenience, and one person in each group must stand guard close by until tagged out by a partner. Amazing example of sane cooperation. Instead of waiting in a line half in the rain, people can use the restroom, talk on the phone, walk about, converse, etc; just so long as they stay nearby. I find a pair to group with; I'll do double duty until Rainer arrives. I'm struck by how atypical the people in line are: 100% haoles. About a quarter are islanders, about half are from the mainland, and about a quarter are from Europe (most of those are Germans). About 80% are male.
My Mauna Loa Trail Guides are a big hit, and very quickly all the ones I brought are given away. I save two and give them to the Park Service so they can copy them. The people handling the Mauna Loa reservations have never heard of them! Turns out they ran out in 1988 and decided to revise it before carrying it again, since Lisa Peterson missed out on a macron and glottal stop or two. But they just never got around to it... they really did mean to have them ready by eclipse day. Maybe in a few more months. I point out that with so many people in the park on eclipse day they don't really want to have to drop everything to go chasing after someone lost on Mauna Loa, and the trail guide could be really helpful in preventing that. They say to use the xerox machine to copy the ones I brought they have to get a particular supervisor's permission, and he won't be back until Wednesday. They'll do it then. I point out that WEDNESDAY will be TOO LATE, since everybody will be on the trail by then. They politely usher me out. I make them give back one of the two copies I gave them so I can give it to someone more deserving.
While awaiting my turn in line I go eat Brunch at the Volcano Lodge. They charge $8.50, but it's all you can eat. Looking at the menu I find it's really only $7.50; the extra dollar is if you want _coffee_. (BARF!) The waiter explains that OF COURSE everyone WANTS coffee so they don't even bother to ask, they just charge $8.50. Doesn't that make sense? I get even by stealing a hatful of instant oatmeal.
My turn to "stand" in line for 6 hours. The last Mauna Loa Cabin slot goes at around 1PM on Sunday. Around 3PM some people arrive, see the yellow ropes, the crowd milling around, and jump in between the ropes. We explain our system, offer sympathy that there are no Mauna Loa permits left, and advise grabbing a Red Hill permit and hoping for someone to get altitude sickness and trading permits with them later. They demand a ranger and get an official ruling that since we weren't standing _exactly between the yellow ropes_ but 10 feet away out of the rain, yes, we have officially forfeited our places in line. The interlopers laugh at our stupidity.
The call goes out and we all immediately jump into order (somewhat disrupted by the presence of the defiant queue jumpers). We point out to them that since they insist on the letter of the law, we will hold them to it. Do they think they will need to use the restroom sometime before tomorrow morning? Too bad, if they leave even for only a minute they forfeit their place in line! After a while they decide it's not a good idea to climb 20 miles up a mountain with 98 other people that hate you all around, and leave. We get our partners to bring us our rain gear and stand in our appointed spots. The rangers laugh. Did we really expect to be able to get away with such a sane arrangement?
Meanwhile a steady stream of partners badger the visitor center about copies of the Trail Guide. Eventually the visitor center people relent: we can use their machine if we pay 10 cents a page and do all the copying ourselves. Everyone gets a copy.
One of the people in my group doesn't trust anyone else to wait the night, and insists on sleeping in line. I don't argue! I bring him a sandwich and drink around sunset as my contribution.
Rainer arrives that evening; a friend of his, Carol, picks him up in Hilo and brings him by. He decides the tent in Namekani Paio looks cold and spends the night at her place. Doesn't he want to go with me to see where hot lava is actively pouring glowing into the ocean? No. Why don't I wait until another time, he wants to know? Because there may not BE another time! The flow could stop tomorrow! He's seen it before, he'd rather sleep. Harumph. I go back by the line and see if anybody wants to play hooky to see the flow. I get three volunteers, two guys and a rather cute girl. (The girl wasn't actually waiting in line, it turns out, she was just amusing herself talking to people.)
Driving to the lava we saw some geese; Canada Geese in Hawaii? I asked if they wanted to hear the story of Nene Geese, got approval, and gave my two-minute spiel on the subject. During the drive they also asked to hear my selections on hot spots, Southern stars, and lava tubes. It was hard to tell the stories, though, because the guy in the back seat kept interrupting with really bad puns, and I kept not getting them. The girl (also in the back seat) laughed at some of them, though. I didn't get annoyed at the jokes until the guy tried to deflect the steering wheel as a prop for a particularly stupid one.
The highway winds down from 4000' to sea level; along the way you pass occasional swaths of devastation and signs tell you the birthday of the lava you are driving over. 1880 - 1957 - 1984 - 1944 - 1977 ... The road ends abruptly at the edge of a 1990 lava flow. There you stop at a newly built parking lot and walk across cold lava to the active lava delta still forming, about two miles. The way is hazardous, with cracks, sharp rocks, and crumbly surfaces. You are led on a reasonably safe path by a series of reflective signs sticking out of the coiled rock. If you should lose your flashlight, the best bet would be to stand perfectly in place until morning.
As you go you can't help but look up the mountain, which in the daytime seems to be a great inclined plain stretching endlessly up until hidden in the clouds: glowing orange on the mountainside are bits of rivers of molten lava. (Only bits because in most places the flow has by now created a tube for itself underground.) Still further away a dim orange glow is visible, looking like the lights of a city except the lights vary slightly in intensity on a random and abrupt time scale. That is the source of the lava, a vent called Pu`u o`o that has been active since 1983. You also can't help but notice orange glowing steam clouds flickering along the seashore ahead. That is where lava tubes are currently emptying themselves into the sea.
About halfway on the walk you pass the remains of a visitor center, now reduced to a few warped, twisted, and rusting I-beams sticking out of the solid black rock. The visitor center was built next to the ruins of a Hawaiian temple to the God of the Volcano, Pele. The ruins are still there! The lava flow appears to have respectfully split and flowed around the ancient site, leaving the monument to itself untouched! (Some would say this was because the ruins were on slightly raised ground, but many Hawaiians say they know better. The girl in the back seat says she came to see when the town of Kalapana was being destroyed nearby. A Hawaiian woman scolded her: the spectacle was not meant to be observed by Haoles like her, who had no cultural appreciation for the religious aspects of the phenomenon.)
Shortly you come to a large sign: "Warning! Extreme danger past this point! Beware unstable cliffs! Lava is at 2000F and may cause death!" The way beyond is marked with orange cones and ribbon. Finally we come to the active flow, marked by piles of traditional offerings left to the god Pele: Ohelo berries, flowers, incense sticks, and bottles of Gin. To get there you have to walk OVER the active lava tube, which I find rather disconcerting. The ground becomes hot and steam issues from cracks underfoot. (I had been warned that some haole males are tempted to try urinating in a hot crack as an experiment, and not to do it because the smell is truly horrible. I wasn't tempted.)
Where the lava goes into the ocean is a spectacular site, tempting one closer and closer to the unstable cliff edge to get a better view. I hung back... maybe I'd get to see the other three people plunge screaming into the superheated water, after all, think what a view that might be. The offerings to Pele are much farther back yet. Maybe the Hawaiians know something? The first site we visited erupts the lava underwater. A veritable fountain of water and steam geyser from the point, with some bits of glowing rock arcing high into the air, while others scuttle along the surface of the ocean for dozens of feet. The second site erupts just at water level, sometimes below and sometimes above as the waves play. When the sea withdraws it drips like filthy molasses down the rocks and onto the water below, hissing; when the sea roars back a huge cloud of steam blows up around it, obscuring all.
Walking back to the car was a bit trickier, since the directing signs proved to be reflective on only one side. I got back to the car a bit after the others, and drove back up the hill in near silence while the guy in the back seat tried to impress the girl with more stupid jokes. I dropped them back off, and went to sleep in my tent in Namekani Paio.
Up early the next morning to pick up Rainer and get in line. The rangers call out for pairs of people; they process one pair in 8 minutes or so, not quite as slow as an East Berlin border checkpoint but still a snail's pace. One distinguished elder French hiker, looking very much like Jacques Custeau, waves his permit in the air and announces "the hardest part of the hike is now complete!".
We drove to Hilo that afternoon; I took a cold shower at a beach park while Rainer waited. Then we dropped off the rental car. Carol had decided she could ferry us around for the little bits we would need after that. It saved us $200, so we took her out for a very fancy dinner in return. Rainer again stayed with Carol, and I slept in the tent. They came around to the campsite a few minutes early the next morning, before I had the tent completely down and packed, and helped speed me up.
We started the hike on Tuesday. The National Park ran a shuttle up the 11 miles of the Mauna Loa Strip road, so we could start at the Mauna Loa trailhead. The road was closed to everyone else. On the ride up we saw tremendous Koa and Ohia trees go by; I remarked that I had never seen such huge specimens. The ranger countered that the native trees were extremely slow growing, and the specimens I was looking at were "only" a few centuries old. They didn't get _really_ big on the Big Island, because almost any spot was sure to get mowed down by a new lava flow every few centuries or so... there should be much bigger ones on the older islands, but they had mostly been chopped down. (Evidently Ohia trees made excellent railroad tie material, and were much in demand for that purpose. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park claims the tie the golden spike was nailed into was ohia. But the Stanford Museum says it was California Laurel! I wonder which is right. The tie itself burned in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.)
At last the hike had begun! At the beginning of the hike (6600') we were going through ohia forest, but as we got higher and higher the ohia trees slowly contracted first into bushes and then into scraggly tiny things almost like thick grass. Unfortunately I proved to be a rather slow hiker; eventually Rainer left me with another slow couple (the guy disconcertingly knowing me from the net, although I didn't know him because he only lurks), and got to Red Hill 3 hours ahead of us. As we neared 10000' I found I just couldn't go very fast, or I would become short of breath and get a headache. Altitude sickness, darn it. At least it didn't rain, although I got rather sunburned between my hat and my camera strap.
There were amusements on the way to keep my mind off the pain... a fantastic proliferation of kinds of lava. There was lava with green olivine crystals, and plain lava without. There was bright red lava, brown lava, and black lava. There was sharp spiky lava (aa), ropy lava (pahoehoe), and smooth lava. There was lava that crunched underfoot, scary lava with holes showing voids that could swallow my walking stick, solid-looking lava rocks that rotated when you stepped on them, and much solid lava that yielded not a bit. How does one follow a trail on solid rock? Believe it or not, the scores of feet have noticeably worn and reddened the rock in most places. But mostly you look for "Ahu"'s, the Hawaiian word for a rock cairn, spaced every 50 feet or so along the path. Should you lose the trail you would be in serious trouble indeed, lost in a near infinite wonderland of dangerous bone-dry rock! It would be a maze getting out, too: many places the trail stakes out the only reasonable path through great fields of broken tortuous a`a lava, rough passage indeed. Other places it finds the passable thread between an older steep-sided crumbling cone and the newer aa flow that laps against it. Scariest of all were the about-to-collapse lava tubes and deep narrow cracks to be found in the more inviting pahoehoe. Seemingly easier passage, but actually mine fields awaiting your mis-step.
Eventually we got to the cabin after 7.5 hours of hiking. This was not a good sign, since the hike was supposed to take about 5 hours. The hike to the summit the next day was supposed to take 8! On the good side the view from Red Hill itself (right behind the cabin) was amazing. A grandstand view of Mauna Kea, with the observatories looking like white round sprinkles on the top. Haleakala off in the distance just to the left of that. The 1984 eruptive vents in a line in the nearby foreground. Off to the right in the far distance the big hole in the ground of Kilauea crater... and to the west behind us the smooth hulking presence of Mauna Loa, so large and flat that it merged imperceptibly into the horizon curve of the Earth. Then even better... A glorious red and blue sunset colored by Pinatubo ash (we first started getting them on Oahu July 3). After it was dark, the sodium yellow glow of Hilo competed with the red-orange glow of the Pu'u O'o volcanic activity. I had volunteered to give a star lesson to the assembled group after dark, and got to spend about 45 minutes using my 3 D-cell maglight quite effectively as a celestial pointer. All the bright planets were visible during that time: Mercury and Jupiter close together in the twilight, Venus and Mars higher up in the West, and later Saturn just rising in the East. The mainlanders were particularly excited to have the Southern Cross (just setting in the twilight) and Alpha Centauri pointed out.
The next day I made an experimental jog about... and felt bad. So I decided to trade my Mauna Loa permit with a German fellow named Franz. He is a physicist currently working in New York, and had flown over on the spur of the moment and grabbed one of the last Red Hill permits left on Tuesday morning. Since he came alone, he hadn't received the intelligence that Red Hill still had plenty of water from recent rains, and had walked up as slowly as I because he was carrying _four gallons_ of liquid just to be safe. (One gallon weighs 8 pounds!) I got a half-gallon of lemonade in the trade, something I had been lusting for, along with some Strawberry-Guava Juice I gave away. I trotted along packless while he and Rainer went up to the summit fully loaded. I turned around somewhat before halfway, just past Dewey cone at 11400', when I started to feel sick. I had to reverse the whole route, too, and needed to leave time for that.
The scenery on this part of the hike was even more interesting. Dewey cone was named in 1899 because it appeared during the battle of Manila, which Dewey won. Much of the geological scenery was even newer than that: all around vents from the 1984 eruption were still steaming. The 1984 lava flows cut right across the old trail; a new set of ahus shows the way around. (Unfortunately all the various 1984 diversions have lengthened the already too-long trail by more than a mile.) Easily visible higher up ahead is the famous "Steaming Cone" which constantly puffs out a showy display of vapor. Coming back down the trail I had time to take a closer look at the many collapsed lava tubes, some of them quite deep. (I didn't get too close, don't worry.) The colors of some of the prehistoric weathered ones were amazing: bright red, yellow, brown, orange. The fresh surfaces of the 1984 lava, on the other hand, were usually flat black but sometimes glowed brightly in the sun (painfully to my eyes): iridescent gold, silver, brown, blue-green, red-orange. In some places there were fresh steely black or older brown-red marble or gravel beds of Pele's tears (solidified globules of obsidian). At one place on the side of the trail there was an interesting beehive-shaped spatter cone about 5 feet tall, with a perfectly circular 6-inch diameter hole in the top. Climb up and look down into the hole, and you can see the beehive is mostly hollow, with volcano plumbing going down well into the bowels of the Earth lit by the almost overhead noontime sun. Scary.
As I plodded on down, though, my head continued to hurt and I just wanted to get back in the nice dark cabin for a rest. The abundant USGS bench marks provided accurate points to tell me exactly where I was. Another 2.3 miles yet?! Ouch ouch ouch! On the way down I ran into the couple from the back seat of my car. She had settled into line with her new friend after that, it turned out, and had gotten a Red Hill permit. At the cabin she had traded it with one of the many altitude-sick people for a Mauna Loa permit. Now she was walking on up the trail to the summit cabin without pack, water, or anything. He looked rather silly carrying her pack piggyback on top of his. I was impressed. I wonder who got the better deal? Finally I made it back to my bunk in the cabin and collapsed for a while.
After recovery in the cold dark evening I realized I should stake out a spot to watch the eclipse from. Well, I had seen the scenery from Red Hill on up past Dewey Cone on my excursion, and there wasn't anyplace with half as good a view as Red Hill had, so I should watch from there. A quick run up Red Hill again... and I found that others had staked out the best spots before me, building small rock piles with notes to mark their spots. Well, two can play that game. I decided to build a REAL ahu for my spot, tall enough that I could set my tiny camera tripod on it without having to bend over, and (even better) tall enough to look over all those other tiny ahus built by the others in better locations. Start with a nice base made of 70 pound boulders, and you can't go wrong! The good thing about the Mauna Loa volcanic rocks is they are nice and porous and sharp: 70 pounds made for a BIG rock, and they stuck together as if covered with velcro.
Around dark it started to cloud over... and then it started to rain. It kept up raining all night. Well, at least the Red Hill Cabin water supply was being replenished (it was collected from the roof).
Eclipse morning dawned still raining with completely overcast skies. Uh oh. The eclipse was to start in only another 30 minutes! At this point about half the people tore off up the trail, hoping to run to above the clouds. I remembered just how long it took me to get anywhere, and resignedly set up my equipment on my ahu in the rain. I took off my coat and layed it over the rock so I could keep my camera equipment dry. Partial eclipse starts... no view. 10% eclipse ... 20% ... 30% ... is the rain slacking off? 40% ... are the clouds starting to thin? 50% ... not bright enough to see with a "Sun Peep" yet (solar mylar filter) but finally too bright to see with the naked eye! 60% ... do you notice it starting to get colder? 70% ... wow, look at those clouds going right over Mauna Kea! I bet the astronomers are getting nervous! It is definitely getting colder, and WE CAN SEE THE SUN CLEARLY! The eclipse is causing cooling, and that is bringing the clouds down the mountain just like at night! It must be getting down to 45 degrees F now... Most people are uncomfortably cold, but after baking in Honolulu for the last few months I kind of like it.
80% ... wow, is this really going to happen? 85% ... the light is really getting strange and eerie. The air seems reddish; shadows are sharp and deformed. Hold out your hand with your fingers slightly spread, and your shadow fingers look bent. 90% .... it is definitely getting darker now. The clouds seem to have settled down JUST below us; the valley with tents in it 200 feet below us to our right is full of mist; Red Hill is a headland overlooking the shores of an ocean of cloud. Clouds continue to taunt the Mauna Kea observers, but we have a clear shot of the morning sun between a high layer of cirrus and a low horizon- spanning fog. What rotten weather! The people at sea level are being screwed! Off in the distance Haleakala is completely buried in cloud. The people on Maui are even more screwed than the people on Hawaii, it looks.
95% ... 97% ... there is a quite distinct swath of darkness across the top of the sky now, running West to East, somewhat broader to the West, tapering to nothing before reaching the Sun 20 degrees up in the East. It is the Moon's shadow dropping down on us from above! 99% ... the crescent is getting shorter and shorter quite rapidly now. My watch goes off! I announce: 10 seconds until totality! The darkness fattens and approaches the Sun... A group of children who hiked up with their parents the previous day start counting down out loud: TEN! NINE! EIGHT! The crescent in my sun peep is contracting to a point! SEVEN! SIX! FIVE! Do I dare look? FOUR! Oh my god, you can see light all the way around the moon now! THREE! TWO! A last brilliant bit of sunlight on the bottom of the Sun, the so-called diamond ring! ONE! The encroaching shadow finally reaches its goal... TOTALITY! The corona enfolds about the moon, a marvelous pale white. Someone yells "Oh wow, super gonzo!".
Although I looked, I saw no shadow bands, and no Bailey's beads. Neither did anybody else at Red Hill. Huh!
Now take a look around at the curiously changed surroundings. Everything is normal, everyone is still standing there, but there are pale sunset colors to the North, South, and especially East under the Sun where they certainly don't belong. Overhead the dark swath remains, although it is still too bright even there to show any stars. It is about as bright as a few minutes after sunset; Venus would be visible, if it were up, but it isn't. And over in the East is this strange... thing... in the sky. The corona is not compact and symmetric, as expected, but clearly shows the orientation of the Sun's poles and equator. There are two triangular streamers reaching out 3 solar diameters from the equator, and almost as long thin needle-like streamers reaching out from the poles. (Everyone else claims they see these streamers shimmering and moving during totality, but I do not. I suspect they are seeing some sort of optical illusion from the closely-spaced lines in the corona. Or maybe my eyes just aren't as good? But how could the streamers move so fast? I think I'm right, and that they're just imagining they are seeing what they wrongly expect to see. I don't expect to see motion, so I don't. Later I found I was quite wrong about the streamers showing the orientation of the Sun's poles and equator. I was thinking of the pictures I had seen showing the classic "sunspot minimum" corona appearance: thin wisps at the poles and longer streamers at the equator. But 1991 is just past solar maximum, and the streamers we saw were caused by very large and active sunspot groups that just happened to lie at the edge of the Sun on eclipse day. The corona that day was one of the widest and brightest ever recorded. Even if I live to see another 10 solar eclipses I will probably never witness such an extravagant display of solar atmospherics again.)
The moment stretches on and on; for a while it almost seems leisurely. I snap some pictures with my wide-angle lens; there is plenty enough light to swap lenses to my 300mm zoom, set up on my ahu, and take some close-ups. That gives an even better view: I tried to look with binoculars, but was just shaking too much from the cold and excitement. There are brilliant crimson prominences at the top, bottom right, and left. As I watch the top one is exposed more and more by the creeping moon. Now I can see them easily with my naked eye, too. There is a wealth of amazing fine detail in the corona, like a spiderweb from a distance. I take a zoom picture of Mauna Kea during totality, showing the extremely close call they are having, with clouds lapping up just below the observatories. I switch back to wide-angle and just enjoy the eclipse for a while.
The shadow is changing; brightness is creeping back in from the West. The clouds over Haleakala grow brighter and brighter. Overhead becomes bright, not dark. The dark area of sky contracts to an ellipse about the Sun, moving down. My watch goes off again... 10 seconds until the end of totality! People yell "Binoculars Down!". I have someone try to take a picture of me with the Sun in the background, but alas he accidentally rotates the focus way off from infinity and the picture is a blur. I don't notice and my next few photos are blurs, too! Serves me right, I guess. Now the dark area is almost entirely below the Sun... Diamond ring again, this time with the diamond on top! The corona seems to contract in close to the Sun, and fades away as the Sun brightens and again becomes uncomfortable to look at. Most impressively off to the East we can literally see the shadow fleeing away on the cirrus clouds, a huge ellipse pointed away from us. (I even got a picture of that! In fact, it shows up better in the picture than we saw for ourselves because the camera doesn't have automatic gain control, like your eye does. Conversely, my photos of the corona don't do justice to what could be seen with your own eye.) From our high vantage point we can see the darkness rushing away for several minutes. (This is in contradiction to the predictions of Sky and Telescope that the eclipse in Hawaii should show the shadow coming in for many minutes, but disappearing quickly. We got the exact reverse. It wasn't our poor view to the West, either, because the people on the Mauna Loa summit noted the same thing!) I only get one good picture of the fleeing shadow, alas; the first ones are out of focus (until I notice and fix it) and then I unexpectedly run out of film! Ala Moana got me in the end anyway: they gave me 1000 ASA, _24_ exposure, and charged me for 36. All the feints with 25 ASA were obviously just tricks to get me to ignore the exposure number!
Very quickly after totality almost everyone packs up and leaves. I stay to watch the shadow flee, and the Sun and Clouds return. I paid for the whole show, and I'm going to stay to watch it! A helicopter appears and buzzes around the summit. Could someone be lost? The rangers say they don't know what it's all about. At about the same point where the rain stopped before the rain starts again. I put my coat over my stuff, and eventually give up and flee to the cabin. Soon it is absolutely POURING rain, and cold. It is hours before Rainer shows up, completely soaking wet and freezing cold. (Well, once again Rainer got to take a morning shower and I didn't, but this time I don't envy him!) Most everyone from the summit decides not to go any farther in this disgusting weather. (Lisa Peterson had remarked that she had never seen it rain between the Red Hill and summit cabins on any of her many hikes on the trail. Lucky we.) For unknown reasons the rangers keep getting calls all day on their radios: "was there a summit eruption of Mauna Loa during the eclipse?" "NO, of course not!" "Are you sure?" "LOOK, we're HERE, we would KNOW wouldn't we!". "Are you sure...?" This has everyone laughing. We can't figure out what's going on, and figure some people must be stretching for excitement after being clouded out of the eclipse.
The couple from my rear seat share a tent that night. Aha! Maybe the guy knew what he was doing, after all.
A professor of parapsychology opines over dinner that the _reason_ the clouds lowered for us was the collective will of all the people on Red Hill wanting to see the eclipse. He, of course, was one of the people who took off up the hill. He saw it... they even saw Bailey's beads from his location only a couple of miles away. (He had extra ESP power to direct him there?) But some people who went even higher got clouded out again! That's what they get for leaving the group, I guess, and its protective ESP envelope!
Back down to Volcano Headquarters in a van. Now the strip road in all its 11 mile 1-lane glory is open, and we nearly have two accidents going down. The ranger tells us how almost all the rangers in the park managed to see the eclipse. A hole in the clouds opened up at Kilauea crater, and another at Bird Park halfway up strip road. The rangers with their radios yelled for everyone to get there, and almost all of them were able to make it before totality occurred. No tourists at all in either location, they said: they had all fled when the day dawned overcast and rainy. Almost all of those tourists got clouded out, of course.
On the way back to the airport Carol, who works for Hawaii Volcano Observatory, explained about the mysterious helicopter to Rainer, Franz and I smashed in her tiny car. Hawaii Governor Waihee and Hawaii County Mayor Inouye were on Mauna Kea for the eclipse, and noticed (gasp!) _steam_ coming out of Steaming Cone. They called the news media and told them Mauna Loa was erupting! The news media rushed over to the Hawaii Volcano Observatory, and without even talking to the scientists went to look at the seismometers. Sure enough, the seismographs were recording numerous events with strong energy at periods of about 1Hz! Oh my, summit earthquakes! Mauna Loa really was erupting! Inouye and Waihee were in the mysterious helicopter we saw, come to inspect the "eruption"! The scientists at HVO obviously weren't on the ball, to ignore the quakes, and didn't get to go with the important government officials on their tour. Carol didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Where do they put the seismometers? Where they can get to them, of course... mostly along the Mauna Loa trail. What could be causing all those 1Hz vibrations? People like Rainer hiking back down after the eclipse!
Sure enough, at the airport, the local paper had the huge red headline "Mauna Loa Erupts?" over a picture of the total eclipse as seen from Mauna Kea. Except... they showed a round corona, like what was expected, NOT what the corona actually looked like (with prominent streamers). The picture was a fake, from a previous solar max eclipse!
A quick hop flight back to Oahu... another choice example of Hawaii English: "FAA regulations require no smoking within this flight, Mahalo". Most of the people on the plane were grumbling mightily about spending thousands of dollars for fancy hotel rooms and packages, only to get clouded out. It just wasn't fair: the North Kona coast was _supposed_ to have a 97% chance of clear skies. Why did the trade winds die on just that day, and cloud almost the whole island? The day before and the day after were beautiful, like almost every July day! It just wasn't fair! The people who went with the Bishop Museum tour were the most bitter. They paid megabucks and even had their own professional meteorologist directing them to clear skies, and they saw nothing! The woman I talked to swore she would never travel an iota to see another eclipse again. Damnable things!
It is said that it is not enough to succeed; others must fail. Well I don't want to agree with that. It's a shame that most people on the Big Island got clouded out, including even parts of Mauna Kea for bits of totality. But I'm glad _I_ saw it! The only people I know who saw the entire eclipse beginning to end without clouds were the handful who actually made it to the summit of Mauna Loa. But they couldn't see the shadow on the island: Mauna Loa is so broad on top that it's like standing on a small planet; even Mauna Kea is halfway below the "horizon". So maybe my altitude sickness wasn't SO bad; Red Hill was pretty neat. I'll have to go back to see the summit caldera another time, maybe.
Maybe I'll go back the next time there's a total eclipse on Mauna Loa, in 2106. Probably the weather will be better. Maybe they'll have a treatment for altitude sickness. Should be a few new cones to watch from the top of by then, too. I'll only be 145...