Since Hawaii’s Mauna Loa began erupting last week, photographer CJ Kale has sacrificed hours of sleep, rising before dawn to catch the volcano against the sunrise and working late into the night to capture its magnificent glow.
For years, Kale has been going to extraordinary lengths to photograph volcanic events, including swimming just feet from flowing lava as it cascaded into the ocean. He is among a handful of self-proclaimed “lava junkies” who are willing to put themselves at risk to witness volcanoes up close.
“It’s kind of our fix,” he said. “It’s what gives us our excitement. It’s what gives us our adrenaline for the day.”
As a longtime lava chaser, he knows his threshold for what is possible has grown higher than most. “There’s definitely a range (of lava junkies) and my group of friends is definitely the far outer limits of that range. We push a little far, yeah, but I wouldn’t recommend pushing it far for everybody.”
While no communities are currently at risk, scientists and island officials are keeping a careful eye on the eruption’s movements. For those who try to venture close to the lava flow, however, the situation can be unpredictable.
As the slow-moving flow is advancing, its edges can cool into a rough, spiny surface which may seem secure, but its core still contains molten lava, Cheryl Gansecki, a geologist at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo who is studying the eruption, told CNN.
“It might just look like a big wall of hot rock and it doesn’t look like it’s moving much, but they can surge where all of a sudden the front breaks off and lava comes spewing out.”
Due to the eruption hazards, including dangerous gases and volatile conditions, the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park has closed the volcano’s summit and high elevation areas, as well as some nearby roads. Visitors are still able to see Mauna Loa – and its erupting sister volcano Kilauea – from several park overlooks and a viewing road that was opened along the Daniel K. Inouye Highway.
But for Sherry and Curtis Grumbles, that’s nowhere near close enough.
The couple made a round-trip trek of four hours to see the towering head of Mauna Loa’s lava flow. They stood just yards from the crawling tidal wave, they said, describing the sound of bursting lava as like shattering glass.
“You get a feeling of awesomeness, of how much power is coming,” Curtis Grumbles said. “There’s a two-story wall of lava just inching towards you, and you know there’s no way that anything’s going to stop it.”