OHE January 5, 2000 (Mauna Loa--Pt. 2)



Date: Fri, 7 Jan 2000 15:55:24 -1000
From: Patrick Rorie (prorie@k12.hi.us)
Subject: Mauna Loa Y2K Part 2

Part 2 - A Rendezvous with the 21st Century at the Mauna Loa Summit Cabin

== Friday, Dec. 31, 1999 (New Year's Eve)

At 4 a.m. the temperature read 38 degrees fahrenheit inside the Red Hill Cabin. I went outside to use the pit toilet and paused to study the early morning sky. The Big Dipper and crescent moon caught my attention, and I witnessed a few shooting stars prior to reentering the shelter, lying on my bunk and falling back to sleep.

I awoke to the sounds of the Kailua couple stirring about at 6:17 a.m. but did not arise until 7:05 a.m. My thermometer read 35 degrees.

The cabin and surrounding tract became a plethora of activity. Torrey and others boiled water for tea/coffee to warm themselves before eating breakfast and packing up for the 11.6 mile leg to the summit cabin. I, on the other hand, consumed a balance bar and drank a 12 oz. Dr. Pepper to get going.

Randy was the first to shove off at about 8 a.m. followed by Bob, Lisa and Torrey. Half an hour later, I departed the Red Hill shelter bound for the summit cabin leaving Zoltan and Chris behind. Friday was another absolutely gorgeous day, clear blue sky overhead except for a small number of cyrus clouds. Halted briefly to enjoy the crystal clear vista of massive, light brown Mauna Kea (MK) across the saddle in the distance, the observatories dotting its summit like golf balls. MK became my constant visual companion until reaching the edge of North Pit, 9.6 miles ahead.

During the first few miles I noticed only a slight breeze (very quiet!) as I plodded along the open lava fields. I also gained pleasure from clear, sweeping views of Hilo Bay in the distance to the saddle between MK and Mauna Loa (ML) to the Kohala Mountain Range all the way to the summit region of Haleakala! At 10:40 a.m. I passed the couple from Kailua sun bathing not far beyond Pukauahi. They invited me to join them, but I felt it wise to keep moving (I would not see them again until 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon). While approaching Dewey Cone, I stopped and turned around to observe, far in the distance, a white plume where the most recent lava flow and the ocean meet, as well as the Kilauea Caldera. Reached the wooden sign proclaiming the cone straight ahead to be the Dewey Cone at 11:11 a.m. and sat down for a breather.

With Dewey Cone began the procession past prominent cones along the Mauna Loa Trail. Steaming Cone (SC) came next and certainly lived up to its name, plenty of steam rising from vents on its southeastern side and in front on the other side of the trench. I finally caught up to Torrey at 12:05 p.m. when approaching Steaming Cone and together we trudged over one of my favoriate stretches of the footpath - the olive-green pumice (pebbles) partially covering gray pahoehoe lava. It reminded me of the Sliding Sands Trail in Haleakala National Park. Noticed cumulous clouds slowly creeping up the saddle from Hilo, and I could clearly recognize not only the golf ball shaped observatories at the top of MK but also the switchbacks of the saddle road as it stretches to the MK summit.

At 1:10 p.m. we reached the 12,000 foot elevation, and, further upslope, took a break just below Pohaku Hanalei, my favorite geological feature between Red Hill and Mokuaweoweo (the summit crater). Flip to the top photo on page 7 of the first photo section in Ball's "Backpackers Guide". It is so neat (interesting) how the 1984 lava flow poured out of the cone, made a sharp left, then a sharp right, continued down into a trench and is "frozen" in time! The picture also includes vivacious Carole Moon in the foreground!

I pulled ahead of Torrey beyond Pohaku Hanalei as we commenced the somewhat steeper 2 mile stretch to the edge of North Pit. A significant increase in the wind speed occurred blowing directly in our faces, and a high overcast cloud bank blocked the sun causing temperatures to plummet; therefore, I halted briefly to put on my gloves, wicker hat, and green rain coat/wind breaker.

Encountered an older Swiss couple at 3 p.m. moving slowly but methodically toward North Pit. We carried on a conversation, and the woman explained that she and her husband had bivouacked in the lava fields the previous evening. Pressing on, I bid the couple adieu and pushed hard for North Pit.

Began crossing North Pit via the Cabin Trail at 3:22 p.m. and noticed small patches of lingering snow between the cracks in the lava on the opposite side. A steady (not gale force but significant) wind in the face with no sunshine made for tough going during the final two miles to the summit cabin. I struggled with irregular breathing, so I had to pause frequently to catch my breath. At a point on the footpath above the Lua Poholo Crater, I stopped to look inside, recognizing a blanket of snow on the southeastern end of the crater floor. About a mile short of the summit cabin, I caught up to and passed yet another couple (John and ? of Pupukea, Oahu) who had started ascending on foot that day from the top of the observatory road after sleeping there overnight.

Finally, the summit cabin came into view! A sight for sore eyes to be sure and a welcome relief from the frigid conditions. I could not recall very many occasions when I was more pleased to see a shelter! At 4:33 p.m. I entered the cabin (elev. 13,250 ft) and exchanged greetings with a woman lying on one of the bunks reading a book and Ranger Jeff, also stretched out on a bed. The wahine's boyfriend came through the door almost immediately after I did and introduced himself. Slowly and consistently other backpackers emerged from the cold to the friendly confines of the humble summit abode: John and ? of Pupukea, Torrey, Chris, Zoltan and even the Swiss man and wife. A grand total of 11 people. Randy ended up tent camping at the true summit.

By 6 p.m. patches of blue sky had appeared (no longer completely overcast) on the horizon. A handful of us went outside and watched the last sunset of the millennium enjoying the manner in which the rays of the setting sun lit up the clouds, turning them a beautiful pink, and illuminated the entrance to south pit and huge desolate Mokuaweoweo Crater.

When it comes to the Mauna Loa backpacking trip, you just never know who you'll end up sharing the cabins with. A bozo and potsie might show up as Dayle Turner and Bill Melemai can certainly attest. Or you can end up with a pretty good group full of interesting characters. Torrey and I had the good fortune of spending New Year's eve with the latter. Ranger Jeff, a veteran of Mount Raineer and the Grand Canyon and an especially akamai individual, provided a coleman lantern for use in the main room, and, best of all, did not check for permits! Other campers provided no less than 3 bottles of champagne to ring in the new year, and Torrey hauled up a platapus containing red wine.

After darkness set in, I checked my thermometer and it read 45 degrees fahrenheit inside the cabin, a comfortable temperature relatively speaking thanks to the 11 warm bodies occupying the shelter. Later, the heavens completely cleared revealing awesome star action featuring a multitude of stars in layers overhead: some bright, others of medium luster and still more faint, barely visible to the naked eye. Ball writes "The clear air and dark sky make this spot one of the best in the world for star gazing"*.

One of the 11, a half French 26 year old man paid by NASA to attend grad school, shared about NASA's search for life on Mars and Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. Five of the campers tried to sleep in their respective bunks while the rest of us talked story around the table in the main room sipping wine/champagne into the late night. The wind died down, so I ventured outside before turning in for the evening to gain pleasure from the incredible star action until I could no longer tolerate the cold. At 11 p.m. I turned off the fuel feeding the coleman lantern, climbed up onto my second level bunk, and into Gene Robinson's warm REI sleeping bag (no one stayed awake til midnight!).

Next: Part 3 - A day hike to the True Summit and the return leg to Red Hill

REFERENCES

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

== Paka


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