Hiking Haleakala - Day 2
Bill, Willie, and I awoke to our first morning in Haleakala to one of the famous sunrises that generations of folks trek up the mountain to experience. Instead of seeing earth's star peeping over the cloud tops from the crater rim, we viewed the early-morning millieu as we arose from a restful night in the bosom of the mountain. By 5:30 a.m., the eastern sky was already bathed in light. We marvelled at the scene-- clouds below us instead of above; the sun's light a soft, sherbet orange; penetrating, soothing silence; crisp, tingling mid-40 degree air.
We snapped photos of what we saw, realizing that the resulting prints could only partially recapture the magnificence we were experiencing.
By 6:30, we had fired up our portable white gas stoves for our breakfast of ramen, bagels, and hot chocolate. While we ate, Bill and I discussed our plans for the day, ultimately deciding to spend another night at Holua before breaking camp and trekking six miles east across Haleakala to the Paliku cabin site. That day, we'd use to re-locate our tent site and to day hike to a nearby lava tube and the more distant Kapalaoa Cabin.
By 9 a.m. we had moved our tents and gear 20-yards upslope to a more cushiony, level spot next to the horse corral fenceline. A flock of seven nene geese, seemingly oblivious to our presence, foraged yards away in the adjacent meadow. By then, the other tent campers were up and about.
Our new campsite set, we set off for a day of hiking in the crater. Our first stop was a 150-foot lava tube located not far from the Holua Cabin. To find it, we headed about 100 yards east of the cabin and then turned right on a rough trail that ascended an a'a lava flow. The path zigzagged over the flow for about 70 yards until it reached a sign-marked pit. The sign warned of darkness and steep drops within.
After checking our flashlights (I had forgotten mine at camp), we descended into the tube. Almost immediately, darkness embraced us. Bill led the way; Willie, his lanky 11-year-old, was behind him, and I stumbled and groped my way behind them. After ducking under an outcropping, we descended to the floor of the tube via a metal ladder, damp and cold from the chilliness of the lava tube. We shuffled slowly along, Bill announcing low overhangs, dropoffs, and uneven spots as we went.
Inching through the darkness, I mentioned how I had learned about the discovery of ancient human remains in the tube, and this spooked Willie a bit. According to a book I had read, within the tube was a spatter vent named Na Piko Haua ("the hiding place of the navel cords"), where Hawaiians of old placed the umbilical cords of their newborn. Bad luck was supposed to follow the child if his or her piko was ever found.
After being underground for about 15 minutes, we shut off our lights and stood motionless and silent. A tiny wisp of cool air brushed our faces in the black. Bill clicked his light on and remarked about the mess we'd be in if our batteries went dead. Nervous laughter followed. With Bill's remark in mind, we proceeded ahead, our pace a bit quicker now.
The tube was confining and low-roofed at some points and cavernous in others. Yards before it ended, a puka let sunlight filter down on a shrine-like boulder covered with ahu (rockpiles). Willie gathered a few stones and added his own stack as a gift to the mountain. That done, we clicked some photos and limbed out of the tube, thankful and unscathed. Our journey had taken about 30 minutes.
From the tube, we picked our way downslope to the Halemau'u trail and continued east. Our plan was to hike the 4-plus miles to Kapalaoa ("the sperm whale") Cabin, rest and eat lunch there, and return by a slightly different route.
About a mile east of Holua we ventured on the Silversword Loop, a side trail that circles off the main path for a quarter mile through small cinder mounds peppered with ahinahina, a species of Silversword found nowhere else in the world. Apparently, ahinahina is experiencing a rebirth of sorts after being nearly decimated by goats (now under control by fences and systematic hunting) and souvenir-seeking hikers (now educated and warned). The specimens we saw that day on the loop were small but plentiful. Several were flowering.
After the loop, we continued our eastward march on a trail that was mostly grayish, sand-like cinder. Plantlife was almost non- existent here. To our right, a massive red-faced cone called Pu'u O Maui ("hill of Maui"--elevation 8,133 ft.) jutted prominently from the crater floor. Rockfalls had left noticeable streak marks on its north-facing flank. Dead ahead, lay another large cone named Ka Moa o Pele ("the chicken of Pele"), dozens of shining silverswords dotting its lower region. Overhead, a cloud-free baby blue sky stretched to infinity.
By 11:15, we had reached a trail junction on the flank of a cone called Halali'i. While we rested there, a west-bound party of eight local Oriental folks (six males, two females) lumbered by us. We exchanged greetings and found out that they had left east-end campsite of Paliku that morning around nine and were bound for the crater rim via the Halemau'u switchback route we had descended the day before.
Instead of continuing east along Halemau'u, we veered south then southwest on an unnamed but well-travelled connecting trail that led to the Sliding Sands Trail. By 12:30, we had reached Sliding Sands. Up-trail about a quarter mile, nine horseback riders were slowly descending the winding grade down to the crater floor where we rested.
In minutes, the riders (all haole tourist types) and their animals had reached our position at a hitching post fronting a lone mamane tree. We talked story with the trail boss, Nate Holmes, an '82 graduate of Kalaheo High School in windward Oahu. Nate mentioned that he thought Bill and I were "a couple of Oahu cops on vacation" (Bill and I both are over 6-foot-3, 240-pounds and have, I suppose, a cop-like look to us) when he first caught sight of us. Thereafter, Nate's comment became a running joke between Bill and I.
After 10 minutes or so, we left the riders behind (they would make the return trip up Sliding Sands) and started the final two- mile leg east to Kapalaoa Cabin. By that time, the temperature in the crater had risen to the low 70s.
We reached the then-unoccupied Kapalaoa Cabin by 1:30, just a minute or so after another group of four mid-20ish, Paliku-bound, local hikers. I refilled our water bottles from the tank at the rear of the cabin, treated each with purification tablets, and found a shady spot next to Willie and Bill on the east side of the cabin to plop down and devour lunch (MREs and power bars). The cabin is located at the foot of the crater's southern wall. Vegetation is relatively plentiful upslope in contrast to the stark, dry milieu of the surrounding crater-scape. A pair of nene eyed us fearlessly, one even making a short dash at me when I walked over to inspect the nearby pit toilet.
We spent more than an hour eating and resting at Kapalaoa. In that time, the group of four had ventured on to Paliku and three other hikers, friends of the foursome, arrived for a break.
We began our return leg to Holua at 2:40 p.m., this time taking another mile-long connecting trail to Halemau'u. On our way back to camp, we skirted around the north side of Pu'u Nau'e ("earthquake hill"), checked out the fence-surrounded Bottomless Pit (it's actually 65-foot deep but bottomless-appearing nonetheless). Fifteen minutes from Bottomless Pit, we had reached the junction where we had earlier met the party of eight hikers. Thereafter, we were treading on familiar ground back to our day's starting point.
By 4:45 we lumbered the final yards to our campsite at Holua. We had left several water bottles laying in the sun and used the H20 in them to take quick splash showers next to our tents. Although there were ten or so other campers in the vicinity, the area is broad enough and enough shrubbery and rocks exist to offer some privacy. These splash baths, although far from the real thing, felt amazingly wonderful.
Dinner (a surprising delicious dehydrated teriyaki chicken and rice dish) was consumed by 6 p.m. We watched the day fade into night and heavy white clouds roll toward us up the Koolau Gap. At around 7:30, night having just fallen, the winds picked up and a brief rain shower rolled by. Taking this as our cue, we ducked into our tents and stuffed ourselves into our sleeping bags. Content and warm as one can be hunkered down near the apex of the Valley Island, we spent another restful night in Haleakala.
Next: Day 3--the beauty of Paliku.