Hiking Haleakala - Day 4 (Turner)

Haleakala - Day 4

by Dayle Turner

== Wednesday, July 31, 1996 ==

On our final morning in the House of the Sun, we woke up at 5:30 in the clouds at Paliku (elevation 6,300 feet). The temperature probably hovered in the upper 40s as dawn emerged, and a steady, chilling breeze whooshed down the northern slope of the valley into the funnel-like opening to the south called Kaupo Gap. To the west, high above Pu'u Haleakala (elev. 8,201 feet), a resplendent full moon added a shimmer to a bank of clouds hovering near the crater floor.

Bill, Willie, and I had roused ourselves early, so we could eat, pack up, and depart Paliku for the 8.4-mile, 6000-foot-plus descent to the village of Kaupo on Maui's southeastern coast. We had some information about what to expect on our final leg: superb views; the possibility of seeing waterfalls, huge koa and ohia trees, maile, pigs, and goats; steep slopes and resulting sore muscles, feet, and joints from the braking mechanics brought on by downhill hiking. An early start would give us a chance to descend at a pedestrian pace, so we could reach the Kaupo Store at 3 p.m. to meet Bill's wife, who'd pick us up there.

We had planned our trip menu well and had consumed all the food we had packed in save for some power bars and an MRE entree for on-the-trail consumption that day. No extra food meant no extra weight in our packs (decreasing the weight of our packs became a regular conversation topic during the hike). We also had adequate water, thanks to the ample supply at the cabin and to the iodine pills I had brought to treat it. So we were set, and at 7:50 we took our last look at the green beauty of Paliku and strided off down the mist-soaked trail.

To get to the gap trail, we first had to backtrack west for a quarter mile. That done, the path swung south and the descent- phase commenced. Actually, the first half of hike was quite pleasant and not nearly as gnarly as we were led to believe (Mika, a woman we had met while day-hiking two days before, told us about a knee-jarring, Kaupo descent that left her with aching, blistered feet and black toes).

From Paliku, the trail basically hugged the left (east) side of the gap, a 900-1000 foot ridge hovering above the path. The right (west) wall of the gap, roughly equal in height to the east, was about a mile and a quarter distant. Sheer waterfall chutes, waterless that day, graced the nearby mountainside. Ohia trees, some small and some larger than any I had seen before (40+ feet), jutted up in frequent quantities in the gap. In a half hour, we had marched to where we could see beyond the rolling hills ahead of us to the Kaupo coastline below. Over the ocean, a swath of clouds extended across the horizon, the Big Island peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa jutting out from it. The clouds framed a blue, blue Alenuihaha Channel.

Our boots and socks and just about everything we wore were soaked. Most of the moisture we had picked up not from the rain (there was just a smattering of that) but from the damp knee high grass, shrubs, and other vegetation that crowded the trail. We traversed meadows populated with yellowish, wheat-like grasses, thickets of ohelo bushes choked with red berries (Willie gulped down handfuls of these), short switchback sections lined with rocks covered in snow-white lichens, and huddles of koa trees. We spent a few minutes exploring these pockets, and just like Sam Gon and others had told us, we found fragrant maile vines there (we looked, smelled but did not pick).

Just as we had planned, we ambled our way down the mountain at a non-breakneck pace, hiking 25 minutes and resting five. By 9:30, a trio of hikers (probably from Australia based on their accents) caught up with us. We exchanged cameras and took turns snapping group photos of one another. Meanwhile, a couple of tour helicopters zipped makai down the gap (choppers are banned from flying in and over the crater), over the ridge to the left, probably to view majestic waterfalls cascading into Manawainui Valley.

In the next 90 minutes, six other hikers would make their way by us--a father and his 10-ish son, and four 20-ish UH undergrad types (3 females and a male). We wished them well and watched them stride down the now sun-drenched trail ahead. During one of our rest stops, we were able to strip off our sweatshirts and sweatpants as the temperature climbed into the 70s. I also switched from my hiking boots to a pair of hiking sandals, a move that saved my feet from a considerable amount of painful toe- slamming during the descent.

At 11:30, we broke for lunch on a gentle shady slope under a 15- foot high koa tree. From there, we had a pleasant makai view of the coast fronting the village of Kaupo. By my reckoning, we had covered about four miles so far, descending 2,500 feet in that span. Ahead lay another four and a half miles and 3,800 feet of downward trekking.

Our mid-day meal of power bars and MRE's now just digestive material, Willie, Bill, and I plodded on, our joints and muscles creaky after 50 minutes of inactivity. At about 12:45, we reached the fenceline where Haleakala National Park ended and the Kaupo Ranch property began. We proceeded through a gate (a sign there warned us to stay on the trail), closed it behind us and continued down what was now a steep, lava-rock- covered four-wheel drive road.

Stands of koa populated many pockets along the mountainside and gave way increasingly to open expanses of hip-high grass. We began to descend more rapidly when it looked as if we'd be hard- pressed to meet our goal of reaching Kaupo Store by three. By 2 p.m., we had reached a water tank at the 2,300-foot level. We still had three more miles to go and an hour to cover it.

We pushed on, Bill and I deciding to forgo any more breaks in one final blister-inducing push to meet Bill's wife at the appointed hour and place. Because of our lower elevation, the temperature had risen into the 80s, quite a change from the upper 40s we had experienced that morning at Paliku. The "trail" continued mostly along the 4wd road, leaving it on occasion to negotiate weedy meadows and ravines. The further down the mountain we progressed the more the trail left the road.

As three o'clock neared, signs of human presence increased. Minutes before our designated rendezvous time, we passed a hillside littered with garbage. Apparently, this was the dump site for the residents of the ranch. Five minutes after three, we rounded a bend in the trail, turned left on a gravel road, and there, standing 50 yards away, was Donna, Bill's wife.

We had made it to the store on time!! Or so we thought.

What we discovered was that Donna had arrived at Kaupo Store at around 2:30 and hung out there, waiting for three tired hikers to limp in. While there, she struck up a conversation with the haole woman who runs the store and found out that the Kaupo Trailhead (elevation aprox. 900 feet) was a 1.2-mile drive up a ranch road from Pi'ilani Highway, the main drag around Maui's southern side.

In the most well-conceived move of the day, Donna drove up the ranch road, parked, and waited at the point we saw her. In doing so, she had save us another 30- to 40-minutes of hiking. None of us were disappointed in the least about not hiking the entire distance from Paliku to Kaupo Store. Instead, we thanked Donna for her thoughtfulness while we gulped down the ice cold canned juice she had brought along.

After loading up our packs, we motored the mile-plus distance to the Kaupo Store, bought some ice cream sandwiches there, and drove a hundred yards down the road to Aunty Jane's lunchwagon (Willie had been raving about the massive burger and potato salad served there. The wagon was closed for the day, unfortunately.)

Bill piloted our rental car on the 90-minute drive to Kahului, passing through the quiet communities of Ulupalakua, Keokea, Kula, and Pulehu on the way. We made a stop at Kanaha Beach Park for showers (man, it felt good to be clean) and to Subways for sandwiches (ono!).

We caught a return flight to Honolulu that night, forever thankful for the time we had spent with each other and in the powerfully beautiful House of the Sun.

Dayle Kalama Turner             |=|=|=|  Leeward Community College 
Language Arts Division          |=|=|=|  96-045 Ala Ike
turner@hawaii.edu               |=|=|=|  Pearl City, Hawaii 96782        
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~turner/ |=|=|=|  Phone: (808) 455-0258

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