OHE August 7, 1998

Date: Fri, 7 Aug 1998 15:52:38 -1000
From: Patrick Rorie (prorie@hekili.k12.hi.us>
Subject: DKT and Paka Do Mauna Loa


Mauna Loa (literally "long mountain") located on the Big Island of Hawaii is the largest volcano in the world and its summit is the second highest peak in the Hawaiian Island chain. Dayle Kapalama Turner (DKT) had planned to do the trip solo but was gracious enough to let me tag along. It would be his third sojourn of the mountain and my first.


On Sunday morning, August 2nd, the two of us caught the Aloha Air early bird flight from Honolulu to Hilo (5:20 a.m. to be exact). During the flight I fell asleep having only gotten 4.5 hours the previous evening/earlier that morning. During the final descent, Dayle recognized the summit of Mauna Kea (literally "white mountain"), Mauna Loa's twin and "a dormant volcano and the highest point in the state at 13,796 feet."* Its summit was free of cloud cover and illuminated by the sun.

After picking up our backpacks from baggage claim and taking care of the rental car details, we were off to Hilo Walmart to pick up a few odds and ends. Among the items purchased were duck tape for possible shoe blowout, propane fuel for Dayle's stove, and a small thermometer to keep track of the temperature. Prior to departing for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Dayle and I had breakfast at the McDonald's adjacent to Walmart.

I drove the Chevy Cavalier rental approximately 28 miles to Volcanoes National Park where Dayle checked in with one of the park rangers at the Kilauea Visitor Center (elev. 3,974 ft). Prior to our arrival, a family of seven made reservations for red hill cabin (only 8 bunks are available and there was a very strict policy about allowing people to sleep on the porch). Fortunately, due to a change in operating procedures, the ranger allowed us to book space at the cabin on our return leg even though the family would be there. He also made it known to us that there was plenty of water in the red hill cabin water tank but none at the summit cabin.

Having obtained the back-country permit, we exited the park and proceeded along Mauna Loa Road, a winding, one lane, ten mile thoroughfare which leads to the trailhead. Periodically, I honked the horn to alert any vehicles coming in the opposite direction of our presence. Parked in the small Mauna Loa lookout lot (elev. 6,662 ft) and upon completion of final preps started hiking along the trail bound for Pu'u Ula'ula (red hill).

I was more than just a little apprehensive about leaving the car at such a remote spot especially since the contract was in my name but other vehicles were nearby and DKT reassured me that there would be enough activity during the day to discourage would-be thieves. "Besides", he added, "its too much of a hassle for a car thief to drive all the way up here."

At 9:35 a.m. the two of us entered a lovely grove of koa trees and eventually began ascending gradually through more native dry-land forest. "The vegetation includes 'ohi'a, 'ohelo', pukiawe, 'a'ali'i, and an occasional mamane."* The trail was marked by piles of lava rock or ahu and initially climbed through an old orange lava flow. Dayle slowly but methodically made his way up the footpath while I was less deliberate in my pace. It reminded me of the tortuous and the hair. I would move out in front, stop to catch my breath (remember that we were already at a pretty high elevation) and Dayle would catch up.

We went through a wooden gate, conversed with an older couple on their way out regarding their experience asking them about the summit cabin water availability and the surrounding lave became a field of mounds. We found ourselves at the 7000 foot wooden sign at 10:06 a.m. and the vegetation started to thin beyond it.

The first few miles were frustrating to me because of "a climbing out of" sensation. Like being on an ocean of lava rock. However, a gentle refreshing breeze was at our backs, it was strangely quiet and whenever I turned around to locate Dayle, I would enjoy the excellent vista of "Kilauea Crater, Halema'uma'u fire pit, and the rest of the Volcano area"* in the distance.

At 11:15 a.m. the two of us reached the wooden 8,000 foot sign and five minutes later paused to eat and hydrate at a lone ohia tree which supplied some shade. Dayle attempted to take a photo of me standing next to the tall woody plant but his camera didn't work. In an attempt to remedy the situation he changed the batteries but to no avail. Toward the end of the break I took a half pill of diomox to prevent altitude sickness and as a result, struggled with drowsiness for the next half mile or so.

Took pleasure in nice level stretches of trail beyond the lone ohia ("well worn and even sunken in spots"*) and passed a large collapsed lava tube (caves) on the right side of the footpath. In due time, red hill came into view almost dead ahead in the distance across the barren lava fields as well as Mauna Loa on the far left. Arrived at the 9,000 foot sign at 1:24 p.m.

Further on, a groove in the lava made the trail much more obvious and I stopped to rest and take photos. The sky was a beautiful clear blue behind Pu'u Ula'ula with cirrus clouds to the right, high above the spatter cone. The sun, almost directly overhead, was totally unobstructed. In back of us, a thick white cloud bank existed to the left of the Kilauea Crater and heat waves emanating from the lava could be seen all around (obviously, the lava wasn't on fire, it was just the heat produced by the sun reflecting off of the rock).

At 2:33 p.m. we came to a benchmark, 6.7 miles from the trailhead and reached red hill thirty three minutes later. Lots of sunshine and an awesome view of Mauna Kea were ours, the pinnicle of the white mountain completely clear of cloud cover. Like tiny golf balls, "Several observatories clustered near the summit"* were easily recognized.

DKT entered the Pu'u Ula'ula Rest House (elev. 10,035 ft) to relax while I ascended a short distance to a position on Red Hill north of the top to take in the incredible, absolutely breathtaking vistas. From left to right, Mauna Kea (its slopes radiating down into the valley between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa), a series of six pu'us four of which were spatter/cinder cones (one black, two red, and the fourth brown) each having a smooth texture, a thick band of white clouds stretching from the base of Mauna Kea to a position above Kilauea Crater, the Kilauea Crater, and acres and acres of lava fields in the foreground. With the exception of the cool breeze, total silence.

Returned to the cabin, unpacked and sat on the porch with DKT enjoying the warmth of the late afternoon sun. I didn't experience any symptoms of altitude sickness save for some dizziness.

Sometime before 5:30 p.m. a family from Switzerland (lets call them the Swiss family Robinson) came on the scene having completed a twenty two mile day hike from Red Hill to the Mauna Loa summit cabin and back. They were friendly enough and settled down inside the rest house.

Between 5:30 and 6 p.m. I climbed to the apex of Pu'u Ula'ula where there was a benchmark and circular landmark indicator. Arrows pointed in various directions toward prominent geographical sites including Haleakala (literally "house of the sun" on the island of Maui), Mauna Kea, Pu'u O'o, Hilo, Pu'u Kulani, Kilauea, Kamakala, and Mauna Loa. To the northwest I could see Haleakala in the distance as well as Mauna Kea to the north with her spatter/cinder cones. Perceived that Mauna Loa was entirely clear from top to bottom at 6:24 p.m. As I studied the landscape to the east I distinguished the transition from the desolate lava fields of Mauna Loa to the forest (acres and acres of trees) of the Volcanoes National Park. Traced the length of the long mountain before descending to the cabin, reaching it at 6:38 p.m.

Preparations for the evening meal commenced almost immediately. I dined on Mountain House chicken stew followed by a caesar salad. Once darkness set in the star action began and the temperature dropped into the forties. Unfortunately, the large moon with its bright light blocked many of the stars from view including the milky way.

I chose to sleep inside the rest house while Dayle removed a mattress from one of the bunks and sacked out on the porch. Perhaps I should've done the same because my sleep was interrupted several times by Mr. Robinson who coughed periodically throughout the night/early morning. Not only did the noise of his cough wake me but my paranoia of breathing in the germs and catching his disease caused me to stay awake. Whenever I covered my face with my blanket I began to suffocate! It got so bad that I openly cussed each time he coughed.

Next: Day 2 - The Wonderful Stroll to the Summit Cabin


* Ball, Jr., Stuart M. THE BACKPACKERS GUIDE TO HAWAI'I. Honolulu: University Of Hawaii Press, 1996.

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