Monday, May 30, 2016

Galapagos Adventure: Vulcan Negra (Isabela Island Part 2)

Vulcan Negra (Sierra Negra Volcano)

This is our long, hard adventure of the trip. The hike is advertised as a “very strenuous” 10-12 miles with beautiful views of the second largest caldera in the world. My partner and I had done some prep hiking back in the states. The first description that we read said it was a five mile one way hike with a 1200 Meter Altitude gain. That is one tough hike. So we practiced on a place called “Dog Mountain” which is a 1000 meter altitude gain over around 4 miles. So comparable. It kicked our butts. Well, my butt. So I read more about the Vulcan Negra hike and found out that the mountain max height is 1200 meters, but you start at the local park headquarters at 800 meters. So you only have to hike up for 400 meters. over five miles. Hell, that is nothing!

I was a bit worried about water, however. We have been hoarding disposable 500ml plastic water bottles and now had 2 or 3 apiece. So we figured we could carry 2.5 liters of water each. We hoped that would be enough for us. But now I am worried about the rest of the people in the group. Or, to put it more precisely, I am worried that they are not worried. I talked to our guide, Fernando. Is he sure that people will have enough water? He says that he is going to carry water for people and they can fill up off of his supply. Now how is he going to carry enough water for 16 people on a hot day for 10 miles? I should have remembered that he has done this before.

When we woke up in the morning it was not quite cold in our luxuriously air conditioned room. The power had gone off around midnight and stayed off until right at 6:00 am. Not sure if this is a daily thing or what. Breakfast was in the hotel. I am really liking the morning granola and yogurt.

Our Chiva Bus met us out front right at 7:00, and we all crammed in and we were off.

The little town were are in is only a couple of dirt roads and white brick buildings and it is all built on a large flat lava flow. As you leave the town you can see where people are plowing and filling the flow to make build able areas out on the outskirts of town so that new houses can be built. There is a new airport out there too. Certainly plenty of flat land for an airport.  Just Cactus and limited vegetation there now.

Morning Glory Monster 
When you start up into the highlands you meet your first island invader. Morning Glory vines have overgrown everything. It is a huge undulating mass of morning glory. Like the red weed from Orson Wells' "The War of the Worlds". As you continue to climb up the volcano you get to places of more and more water and you get more jungle like conditions. Lots of farms up here. Cows, horses, banana. Trumpet Flower. That must be invasive also. I think that everything with a flower is invasive. What pollinates the flower of an invasive plant anyway?

Trumpet Flower
It is pretty hot but as we continue to ascend we run into the cloud bank and things cool off. At the end of the road is a parking lot, a little picnic shelter to get out of the sun, and a building with the nicest bathrooms I have seen in 3 days. That was a surprise. This is where the hike starts. In fact, the hike is really a continuation of the road the has been blocked off to local travel. We climb off the Chiva, use the facilities, and start on our way.

Those trees.... the evil Guava
Pablo explains continental drift using local sustainable visual aids. Hey, is that my trekking pole?

We haven’t gone very far when Pablo stops us and gives us a long lecture on the geography of the islands. This area is where two tectonic plates meet and the resultant subduction pushes the molten layer close to the surface, where it then breaks through and forms volcanoes. The “hot spot” where the volcano forms stays approximately stationary, but the surround planes, and indeed the volcanoes themselves, are drifting slowly and steadily southeast. So, the further south you go in the archipelago, the older the islands are. Remember Floreana? It is a very old island. Its volcanoes have been weathered away and collapsed down to that central core. Isabella is a new and still active island. In fact, Isabella is really five volcanic islands that have grown together into one long wall of volcanic activity (and each Volcano has its own species of Giant Tortoise). The last eruption on Isabella was in the October 2005. Part of Vulcan Negra overflowed down the side to the sea in an area that we are going to hike today called Vulcan Chica (which means "little Volcanoes" or "children volcanoes").

As we continue our hike up to the rim of the caldera, we are shown our second invader. It is everywhere and I thought it was the Scalesia that is native to the area, but no, it is Guava. The guava is just everywhere. Every tree-like plant is a guava. Some are in the farmers farm. But everywhere else, they are growing wild.

The local birds (the Galapagos Finch) just love the guava. They eat the ripe fruit and then pass the seeds far and wide. The plant is threatening the local environment as it squeezes out the local plants and sucks up all of the water. I guess the government is trying to control it, would like to eradicate it, but how to do that?

I was pretty worried about heat and water and this hike. But we had low clouds and moist cool air blowing on us and shielding us from the heat. That was good, except that the mist was also blocking our first view of the caldera, when we finally got to the rim. But oh my, what a view even with the clouds. The inside of the volcano is filled with a sea of black rock. Does that explain the name Sierra Negra?

A vast sea. I include pictures.

A likely Overlook

The next few miles of the hike is around the rim. This part of the hike is very easy, in fact the entire hike up to the Vulcan Chico side trail is on a jeep track. We even ran into a ranger truck out on the rim.

Lots of picturesque side places and we picked one for lunch.  (Editor's note: Some folks decided this was a great day hike and turned back at this point.  Not us.  Later we would look back on this trip and wonder why there wasn't any down time.  I mean, it wasn't at all like a vacation, in that we came home exhausted from all our adventures.  In retrospect, we discovered that we said "yes" to every little side adventure, and thus eliminated any rest and rejuvenation time.  A interesting discovery on our personalities.  I wonder if we'll get better at balancing adventure and rest?)

Then comes the more challenging side trek. You hike down the outside of the volcano for a few hundred meters until you come to the place where the most recent eruption (in 2005) broke through the caldera wall and came running down onto the plane.

We hike across sharp lava and frozen rock flows. You can see where the brown lava meets the black lava. There is a lot of iron in the lava, so as it ages out in the air, it rusts and turns reddish brown. The new lava flow is still black.

Feel the Heat?

This is just one weapon-like cinder. The group is covered with them
First you find the frozen cinders that were blown out on top of the old brown lava. These little cinders (millions of them, mind) are like miniature spear heads. You aren't allowed to bring anything home with you (not even a little tiny stone...) but I did take a picture.  After the cinders you find the frozen river of black that flows through the center of this little offshoot hike. Many lava tubes. Most of them just a few feet across, but a few big holes and possible tunnels that are tens of feet wide. Our guide, William, showed us a hole in the rock where you could feel the heat coming out. He said when it rains that steam comes out of that hole. From another hole we could smell sulfur.

Little Lava Tube
That is a lava tunnel. I think

My Partner looks down into a fissure.

This is the new flow out on top of the old flow. My colors are not so great here. I remember the new flow as being black

We had hiked over to the south side of the volcano. This meant we were now on the dry hot sunny side. So even if we were not out walking on highly reflective volcanic rock, we still would have been in the hot sun on a now cloudless day.

Our tour coordinator, Fernando, was along with us. In each hand he was carrying a 5 liter bottle of water, for people to refill their personal bottles. My Partner and I had each brought along 2.5 liters in various containers. We were very surprized that people were not carrying their own water and felt pretty sorry for Fernando lugging that water around by hand. I admit that I filled my personal bottle a few times from his supply instead of getting the water out of my pack just to try and make his load lighter.
A vent with life growing. I am betting that steam or
very moist hot air comes out of the vent after a rain

That is a flow, not a highway

That is a lava tube. on this part the top collapsed,
but in some parts you could crawl inside.
Fernando is carrying our water

Not much life out on the lava. But still a few things are trying. Inside some of the deep looking vents, around the edgs and mostly out of the sun, there were  ferns growing. I figure the hot air coming out of the vents must have a lot of moisture, perhaps a lot of it is steam from rain runoff into the lava.

A plant island in a sea of old Lava

The hike back out was a bit harder than the hike in. I actually think that going up hill is usually easier than going down hill, Well, steep uphill can be less slippery than steep downhill, anyway. But today, we were doing this last 400 meter ascent after already hiking 5 or 6 miles. So we were very happy to get back up to the rim of the caldera.

Things to do: look up difference between caldera and crater.
William and I had a little disagreement as to the difference of a Crater or a Caldera. I maintained that a crater was formed from an impact or explosion; like a meteor strike.  And that a Caldera was the inside of a volcano. William disagreed and said a Caldera was a kind of crater formed by a collapse of a Volcano.

The internet says: A crater is formed by sinking of the top of the volcano as lava weakens the rocks. On the other hand, a caldera is formed when the overlying rocks collapse to fill an emptied huge chamber of magma.

When I read this definition I think that the definition says a caldera and a crater are the same thing. But, it is on the internet so it must be true.

And all of this time, Fernando is still carrying water for everyone. He started out with two 5 liter bottles, one swinging from each arm. Now, I consider myself to be something of a scientist. I use metric quite often in my daily work-life. So please bear with me now as I ask "How much does 5 liters of water weigh?" See, this is little funny, because metric is defined around water. So a liter of water is a kilogram. So 5 liters if 5 kilograms. Now, if I just knew how much a kilogram weighed.....

The other thing that happened when we got back up to the rim was the mists had blown away and we had an unobstructed view of the entire caldera. or perhaps, the Crater.  Oh my. What an expanse of black lava. What an absolutely cool place to build a secret space ship launching station. Or perhaps just a cable car ride down the steep sided cliffs to the lava below. I am sure if you built it they would come.
This thing is SO HUGE


The last few miles are quite the slug. Hot, humid. Drink your water and keep walking.

We got home just in time to buy a bag of Hielo ($1.50 for a very small bag) and ice our very sore knees before dinner.

I think that is the store with Ice, on the left

Our Hotel

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