First Descent into Devil's Throat

When Devil's Throat (see current photos below) was first explored in 1923, the modern paved Chain of Craters Road did not exist. Instead of an easy five-minute walk from the road to the pit crater that exists today, early explorers had to walk 5 km through a "jungle of ferns and trees" along a narrow, winding trail from the summit caldera to the crater. In 1923 the opening of Devil's Throat was only 10 m across, and the floor was hardly visible. The first descent into the crater was undertaken by an exploration party led by C. W. Scribner. On 25 June, 11 people and "a balky mule and a dependable horse" departed Kilauea's summit to explore the crater. Scribner's account of the trip is summarized in a pamphlet written in 1932 by Park Naturalist John Doerr.

"Arriving at the Devil's Throat at noon we began cutting `Ohi`a trees which were used in building a shear legs or A-frame. This frame with a block attached to the top was leaned out over the pit and fastened in position by guy ropes attached to nearby trees and boulders. We made a boatswain's chair to which a single block was attached, passing our long line from the shear legs through the block on the chair. The end of the rope was then fastened to a clump of `Ohi`a trees situated directly opposite the A-frame. A quantity of burlap sacking was used to prevent chafing of the rope where it went over the edge of the pit."

"In order to test the strength of our equipment several bags of sand were lowered into the pit. Hauling up the sand bags was accomplished by taking a turn of the rope around the pommel of the saddle on the horse. Hauling up the bags was a simple matter; however, during this process the horse stumbled. We decided to dispense with his services when pulling up a person for fear that he might stumble again or balk. While making preparations several people expressed opinions concerning probably gases at the bottom of the pit. To test the air a lighted lantern was lowered to the bottom. Leaning over the pit we watched the lantern burn for twenty minutes during which time there was no indication of foul air."

"Everything was ready for Sinclair's descent into the Devil's Throat. He got into the boatswain's chair at the edge of the pit. We let him done the sag in the line across the pit by means of a light rope until he hung in the middle of the opening. We let him down slowly. The spread of the double line was sufficient to prevent any spinning."

"After what seemed to be a much longer time than it actually was, we felt a slack in the rope; those of us on the end of the rope knew he was safely on the bottom. We learned later that Sinclair was standing on the top of a cone-shaped pile of rocks thirty-five to forty feet high. Owing to the large size of the boulders it took Sinclair nearly twenty minutes to get from one side of the pit to the other. We were obliged to direct him from right to left to keep him on a straight line as it was difficult climbing over the large boulders."

"At the end of an hour Sinclair was ready to ascend. Those of us on the pulling end of the rope soon realized that our troubles were just beginning. There were hardly enough of us for the long haul. With everyone pulling we managed to raise Sinclair to a pint near the top when he heard someone say, 'I can't pull much longer'. We finally passed him a line with which he was pulled safely out of the Devil's Throat. By the time we had picked up our gear it was dark and we were ready for a good meal at the hotel."

Sinclair was the first to observe the crater's conical shape, which in these days had a floor six times larger than the opening. He discovered a number of small lava tubes intersecting the crater walls. Both Sinclair and Scribner seem to have enjoyed their adventure—Scribner ends his account with the following offer to Park employees: "If there are any more craters or pits you wish explored just call on Bill Sinclair and myself and we shall be glad to do so at the earliest opportunity."


Aerial view of Devil's Throat, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i

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View of Devil's Throat from crater rim, Kilauea Volcano, Hawai`i

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Aerial (left) and ground (right) views of Devil's Throat pit crater on the upper east rift zone of Kilauea Volcano. The crater is about 40 m in diameter. Chain of Craters Road is visible in lower left corner of the aerial photograph.


C. W. Scribner and J. E. Doerr, Jr., "Exploring the Devil's Throat", Hawai`i National Park Nature Notes, vol. II, no. 3.