The Hawaiian Archipelago:
Six months amongst the palm groves, coral reefs, and volcanoes of the Sandwich Islands
By Isabella L. Bird, 1875



The ”Unexpected” happens—Hilo Kindness—A Venerable Pair of Stockings—Preparations for the Ascent of Mauna Loa


Hilo, June 2nd


Often since I finished my last letter has Hazael's reply to Elisha occurred to me, ”Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?” For in answer to people who have said, ”I hope nothing will induce you to attempt the ascent of Mauna Loa,” I always said, ”Oh dear, no! I should never dream of it!” or, ”Nothing would persuade me to think of it!”


This morning early, Mr. Green came in, on his way to Kilauea, to which I was to accompany him, and on my casually remarking that I envied him his further journey, he at once asked me to join him, and I joyfully accepted the invitation! For, indeed, my heart has been secretly set on going, and I have had to repeat to myself fifty times a day, ”no, I must not think of it, for it is impossible”


Mr. Green is going up well equipped with a tent, horses, a baggage mule, and a servant, and is confident of being able to get a guide and additional mules fifty miles from Hilo. I had to go to the Union School examination where the Hilo world was gathered, but I could think of nothing but the future; and I can hardly write sense, the prospect of the next week is so exciting, and the time for making preparations is so short. It is an adventurous trip anyhow, and the sufferings which our predecessors have undergone, from Commodore Wilkes downwards, make us anxious not to omit any precaution. The distance which has to be travelled through an uninhabited region, the height and total isolation of the summit, the uncertainty as to the state of the crater, and the duration of its activity, with the possibility of total failure owing to fog or strong wind, combine to make our ascent an experimental trip.


The news of the project soon spread through the village, and as the ascent has only once been performed by a woman, the kindly people are profuse in offers of assistance, and in interest in the journey, and every one is congratulating me on my good fortune in having Mr. Green for my travelling companion. I have hunted all the beach stores through for such essentials as will pack into small compass, and every one said, ”So you are going 'to the mountain; I hope you'll have a good time;” or, ”I hope you'll have the luck to get up.”


Among the friends of my hosts all sorts of useful articles were produced, a camp kettle, a camping blanket, a huge Mexican poncho, a cardigan, capacious saddle-bags, &c. Nor was Kahele forgotten, for the last contribution was a bag of oats! The greatest difficulty was about warm clothing, for in this perfect climate, woollen underclothing is not necessary as in many tropical countries, but it is absolutely essential on yonder mountain, and till late in the afternoon the best intentions and the most energetic rummaging in old trunks failed to produce it. At last Mrs., wife of an old Scotch settler, bestowed upon me the invaluable loan of a stout flannel shirt, and a pair of venerable worsted stockings, much darned, knitted in Fifeshire a quarter of a century ago. When she brought them, the excellent lady exclaimed, ”Oh, what some people will do!” with an obvious personal reference.


She tells us that her husband, who owns the ranch on the mountain at which we are to stay the last night, has been obliged to forbid any of his natives going up as guides, and that she fears we shall not get a guide, as the native who went up with Mr. Whyte suffered so dreadfully from mountain sickness, that they were obliged to help him down, and he declares that he will not go up again. Mr. Whyte tells us that he suffered himself from vomiting and vertigo for fourteen hours, and severely from thirst also, as the water froze in the canteens; but I am almost well now, and as my capacity for ”roughing it” has been severely tested, I hope to ”get on” much better.


A party made the ascent nine months ago, and the members of it also suffered severely, but I see no reason why cautious people, who look well to their gear and clothing and are prudent with regard to taking exercise at the top, should suffer anything worse than the inconveniences which are inseparable from nocturnal cold at a high elevation.


My preparations are completed to-night, the last good wishes have been spoken, and we intend to leave early to-morrow morning.



Letter 29: A Second Visit to Kilauea, Remarkable Changes in Halemaumau, and a Ascent of Mauna Loa


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