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Day 1--June 7, 1997, Saturday:
Bill and I catch the Hawaiian Airlines early-bird (5:25am) flight from Honolulu to Hilo. Mahalo to Bill's wife Donna, a Hawaiian Air attendant, for assisting with flight accomodations.
At the same time, our transport person on the Hilo end, Tim Lino, another buddy from Kamehameha and now a vice-principal at Waiakea High, is catching an Aloha flight from Honolulu to Hilo since he had some business to tend to on Oahu the day before.
After arriving in Hilo, Tim retrieves his car from the airport lot and transports us to Walmart (opened 2/97) where we pick up a couple canisters of propane for our portable cookers. Next stop is McDonald's where Bill and I eat our last "real" food for the next five days. Then we're off up Hawaii Belt Road to Tim's house in Mountain View. We spend a few minutes talking story with Tim's wife Milley and their na keiki (5) and then hop in the family station wagon bound for Volcanoes National Park.
When we reach the front gate of the park, we tell the ranger there that we are native Hawaiians entering the park for religious and spiritual reasons (otherwise a $10.00 entrance fee is required). The wahine ranger, who looks to be part-Hawaiian, asks who in the car is Hawaiian. "We all are," we reply in unison. She nods and waves us through.
A minute later we pull into park headquarters and I shuffle in to the rangers' desk and ask for a backcountry permit to reserve bunk space for our hike.
The news isn't good. The ranger, Linda Ryan, tells me that the eight bunks in Red Hill cabin have all been claimed for that night. Hey, no problem--we'll sleep on the floor of the cabin or the porch, I reply.
No go, says Ms. Ranger. She tells us because of recent problems involving extra bodies at the cabins, the Park has adopted a policy of not giving permits to folks if all the space in the cabins have been claimed.
Okay, time for some fast mental calculating. Can we tent camp outside the cabin?
Okay, how about if we try to--gulp--go all the way to the summit cabin today?
Ranger Ryan looks at me with great skepticism and informs me that such an undertaking (19.1 miles, 6,600 foot elevation gain) would be prit near impossible. Realizing this but desperate to get going, I tell her that we're fit and will give it a good go. She pauses, gives me a well-it's-your-funeral stare and begins filling out the paperwork. I mentally pat myself on the back for being such a quick thinker. Heh.
Now officially checked in, we hop into the Lino-mobile and drive off for the 10.5-mile ride up Mauna Loa strip road to the trailhead (elev. 6,662). On the way, I tell Bill that there's no way that we'll make it to the summit today. In fact, we won't even try. Instead, our goal will be the Red Hill cabin (7.5 miles, 3,400 foot elevation gain), where we will put our faith in the goodness of the folks there to allow us to sleep on the floor or the porch or somewhere in the vicinity of the cabin. Bill nods, putting his faith (and life) in my hands. :-)
At 10:30 a.m., under mostly clear skies and with temps in the 60s, Bill and I are off up the trail with enough food and supplies to sustain ourselves for our five-day, four-night sojourn up and down the great mountain. I carry five liters of water and Bill six, enough, we reckon, to get us to Red Hill where catchment water is available.
We move along slowly, giving our bodies time to acclimate to the weight of pack on hips and shoulders, to develop a sense of balance while negotiating the rocky and uneven path, and to get used to the ever-increasing elevation. During one rest stop, I wrap duct tape around my boots to diminish the inevitable wear brought on by traversing miles of sharp lava rock.
In the first hour, we are passed by a group of four (three males and one woman)--three are headed for Red Hill and the fourth will hike upslope for a couple hours and then head back.
At around 1pm, just past the 8,000 foot marker, at the last ohia tree, three miles from the trailhead, a pair of 20-ish Marines zip by also bound for Red Hill. Vegetation at this point has dwindled to occasional pukiawe and a'alii shrubs popping up in cracks and sandy pockets in the vast and seemingly endless lava fields that compose the flanks of Mauna Loa. Overhead, the sun shines earthward unobscured. Meanwhile, I tell Bill to keep an eye on an ominous bank of grayish clouds rolling across the slopes to the east.
Tired and feeling the effects of the altitude, we reach the 9,000 foot marker at 3:30. At that point, we're only 2.3 miles from Red Hill and rain has not reached us despite some ominous gloom downslope. These are positive signs and Bill and I whoop with glee.
For the rest of the way, we decide to keep the hiking pace snail- like to ease our discomfort, reasoning that there is no sense in rushing and risking being floored by altitude sickness. We reach the Red Hill cabin (elev. 10,035) at just past 6pm and are greeted by ten others (eight men and two women). When I ask if anyone minds if Bill and I sleep out on the porch, an 8 x 14 ft. covered area, no one objects. We express our appreciation.
We spend a pleasant night at the cabin, making conversation with most of the folks there, eating dinner, watching cloud-obscuring mist roll in, and finally hunkering down in our warm sleeping bags on the porch for the night. A couple of local haole guys from Oahu, Dave and Mike, even let Bill and I borrow Thermarest self-inflating mattresses to make our night on the porch more comfortable. Mahalo to them. By 9pm, with the clouds robbing us of any chance to view the heavens, a dozen folks are off to sleep at Pu'u Ulaula.
Next: Day 2--the coming of Bozo and Potsy.