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Day 5--June 11, 1997, Wednesday:
Our final day on Mauna Loa begins at 3:00am in the pitch black at Red Hill cabin. Bill and I have spent the night on the porch while our antagonists, Potsy and Bozo, snooze inside.
Earlier, before we hit the sack, when asked why we have chosen to sleep outside, I mumble something about cabin fever, an answer seemingly accepted by our interrogators. Thereafter, the inevitable question, "What time are you leaving in the morning?" is tendered, to which I haw and hem about not being sure.
But that is an untruth, for Bill and I are sure. The plan: to slip off into the darkness, leaving Bozo and Potsy behind, never to torment our ears, eyes, and minds again.
When 3:00am hits, Bill is already raring to depart, having prepped his pack before turning in for the night. He even has forgone using his sleeping bag, choosing instead to endure the chilly night by wearing every article of clothing he has brought on the trip and bundling up in a couple of wool Army blankets from the cabin.
I squelch Bill's eagerness to hit the trail so early by reminding him that trying to negotiate the rugged lava fields in the dark, even with flashlights, is a sure invitation to injury. Antsier than I've ever seen him, Bill deliberates on what I've said, and although hesitant, agrees to stay put.
"Sheesh, brah, you really like get away from those guys, hah?" I whisper.
"Big time," he murmurs quietly yet with conviction.
By 4am, I too am antsy. Realizing I can hold Bill back no longer, I indicate I'm ready to leave. On a piece of paper, I scribble a note to the personae non grata that reads as follows:
"Left early because of an emergency. Could you please put away our mattresses? We would have done so ourselves but we didn't want to wake you by entering the cabin. Aloha, Dayle and Bill"With that, we slither our bodies to the edge of the porch, shoulder our packs, and tiptoe off into the cold night, the faint crunch of bootstep on pebbly lava cinder the only audible sound.
By the light of Bill's flashlight, we follow the trail downslope for a half mile and decide to stop until the way is more lighted. At that point, the trail becomes rougher and we'll risk falling, injuring ourselves, and perhaps losing our way if we attempt to push on in the dark, even with flashlights.
The 40 minutes we spend gazing at the night sky is certainly one of the highlights of the trip, in large part because we're free from our adversaries. The tableau is magnificent--the Milky Way glowing like a cloud; thousands of visible stars shimmering like city lights on the surface of a deep, black lake; a faint hint of brightness on the eastern cloudtops; a mellow breeze streaming softly over Pele's now-invisible ocean.
While taking this all in, a broad smile stretches across my face. And although darkness conceals his grin, I'm certain Bill is beaming in kind.
A few minutes before five, we agree to try moving slowly down the trail. Flashlights in hand, we shuffle along slowly, every few minutes our pace picking up because of more light and improved visibility. By 5:15, we can hike without aid of our flashlights and our hiking pace quickens.
By 5:50, we have reached the 9,000 foot sign, putting us 2.3 miles from Red Hill. We're surprised by how much ground we've put behind us and reckon that Bozo and Potsy are probably just rising now. By our estimation, even if they want to leave ASAP to attempt and catch us, packing up will take them 30-40 minutes, putting them a good 90 minutes in all behind us. Bill and I let loose with our trademark bird-like yodeling whoops.
Free at last....free at last....
While a light mist hovers over the Long Mountain's slopes, we hike on, reminding ourselves that every step we take puts us further and further away from the BP boys. After being inundated with lava in the preceding days, we're also heartened by the increasing presence of green shrubs and grass, repeating "I don't remember seeing this on the way up," a bunch of times.
At just before 7am, we reach the "last ohia tree," a distinct, charismatic old-timer that anyone who has hiked Mauna Loa is familiar with. We snap six or seven pictures here, and I dig out my cell phone from my pack and call my friend Tim to alert him that we'll be reaching the trailhead in the next hour or so. Tim, who lives about an hour's drive from the trailhead, says he'll be there to retrieve us. More whooping follows from Bill and I.
We cover the final three miles in 90 minutes, our shouts across the slopes increasing in volume when we reach the 8,000 foot sign, the 7,000 foot sign, and the half-mile-from-trailhead gate.
At 8:30, we arrive at the trailhead at the end of Mauna Loa Strip Road, having covered the 7.5 miles from Red Hill in 3.5 hours, a pretty decent pace for a couple of middle-aged, pidgin-speaking blalahs who've chalked up close to 31 miles in the preceding four days.
After completing the final meters, we grip hands firmly and simultaneously exchange nods, a gesture to acknowledge the completion of our long and difficult journey. Thoughts and talk of Potsy and Bozo melt away when Tim and his station wagon roll into the parking area, and we load up our gear and are off down the mountain.
Will we hike Mauna Loa again?
I can't speak for Bill, but I most certainly will--hopefully without troublesome TV character look-alikes in tow.