Even though hot lava was roasting Lisa Ventre's toes through her hiking boots, the university photographer never realized the soles of her boots were melting." I didn't think about it because I was so entranced with the beauty of the lava," she remembers.
Well, "entranced" is one word for it … but "fear" is another. The hike across Hawaii's Kilauea volcano was "kind of terrifying," she admits. "At one point, the thought did cross my mind that I could turn around and leave."
That thought came around 4 a.m., while standing in the pitch dark on top of "cooled" lava -- cooled to 1,200 degrees, that is -- a mere six times hotter than boiling water. "You could feel the intensity of the heat," she says. "I knew it was dangerous to stumble. If you fell, you'd get burned."
But her real concern glowed through cracks in the ground around her -- evidence of the lava's fiery molten state. "It was like standing at the gates of hell," she says seriously. "And I knew there was always a danger of 'punching through' -- your foot going through to the 2,000 degrees on the other side."
To ensure that didn't happen, she followed in the cautious footsteps of the scientist in charge at the Hawaii Volcano Observatory, who guided her and her colleague Colleen Kelley in getting exclusive photos before sunrise. For the rest of the trip, the pair accompanied 12 students and faculty, led by UC geology professors Attila Kilinc and Warren Huff to study active volcanoes for a week in September.
Her favorite moment? "Seeing lava spewing out and knowing you're the first person to see new land being formed.
"I got to gently touch one spot with my foot to feel the consistency. I was pretty shaky, but I was in awe. Total Awe.
It was a hike of a lifetime."