OHE July 6, 1999 (Haleakala backpack)



Date: Tue, 6 Jul 1999 14:40:46 -1000
From: Dayle K. Turner (turner@hawaii.edu>
Subject: Haleakala backpack trip

In a conversation this past weekend, hiking colleague Ralph Valentino told me that after he passes on, he wouldn't mind having his ashes spread out on the gently undulating landscape we scanned. At the time, we were seated on the lawn fronting the Holua cabin in Haleakala, facing the crater's interior, with the considerable bulk of a ridge topped by Hanakauhi a couple of miles to the east, Koolau Gap to the northeast, and Leleiwi Pali behind us. The fact that Ralph, raised in the eastern U.S., would want Haleakala as his final resting place says much about the allure of the House of the Sun. For reasons not always easy to articulate, Haleakala is magical and memorable, and a place Ralph, a bunch of friends and I were fortunate to visit for a few days.

Along with us were Bill Melemai, his niece Elise (Lisi), Carole K. Moon, June Miyasato, Naomi Nasu, Thomas Yoza, Tammy Nasu, Hiram Wong, Peter Reimers, and Cheryl Batangan. Seven of the group of twelve are members of the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club. Hopefully, the experience will encourage the others to seek membership in the club or, at the very least, to continue to hike and backpack.

== Day 1 -- Friday, July 2 ==

We all jump on the 5:30 a.m. Hawaiian Air flight to Kahului. Bill's wife, Donna, works for HAL, and provides helpful assistance with flight arrangements and pre- and post-hike ground transport on Maui. Much mahalo to her. Much thanks also to Naomi for taking steps to secure two cabins in the crater for our stay. Getting cabin reservations isn't easy, and to get them for the July 4th weekend is a stroke of good fortune.

After arriving at Kahului airport, we load our packs into a rented 15-passenger van and head off, making stops at McDonald's in Kahului for breakfast and Pukalani Foodland for on-the-trail lunch and last-minute supplies. Our next stop is the Haleakala National Park headquarters where we confirm our cabin reservations and ascertain that water and propane stoves are available. Prior to the trip, we'd heard that water might be out at the cabins and we're relieved we won't have to lug in large quantities for our stay.

Next, we are summit bound. We snap the obligatory pre-hike group shot at the summit trailhead sign and bid farewell and thanks to Donna, who'll return the van and fly home to Oahu. She'll be back on Monday afternoon to pick us up. Donna and Bill's son, Willy, a strapping 6'4" 14-year-old, is also along, and we say aloha to him as well.

[Check out a map of the crater]

Clear skies, cool temperatures, and a downhill grade make the tramp to Paliku enjoyable. Crunching along on the cindery Sliding Sands Trail, we pass blooming silverswords and occasional small clusters of pukiawe and ferns. As we wind our way down the switchbacks of Sliding Sands, we see huge cones dotting the floor of the crater and the size of these upwellings are difficult to fathom given the landscape that we're not used to seeing.

For the first time, I'm using a Leki hiking pole as are Bill and Thomas. We all can report favorably about the benefits of a pole (or poles) for climbing, ascending, and negotiating uneven terrain. I plan to use it often for most hikes I do.

Even with a pole of his own, Peter struggles with an overly heavy pack and over the next couple days we kid him about the bulk he lugs. To his credit, he takes our ribbing with good humor and he accepts his fate without complaint. Bill's niece Lisi, 14, a first-time backpacker, impresses us by setting the pace for the first 3.8-mile leg to the mamane tree/hitching post junction.

Two miles further is Kapalaoa Cabin, where we stop for a half-hour lunch break. A few folks are hampered by blisters and moleskin-equipped first-aid kits appear and foot-care work commences. June talks about a steep trail behind the cabin that climbs to a heiau on the crater rim. While interested, we have no takers for an ascent of this trail today.

The 3.4 mile section from Kapalaoa to Paliku is a bit more rugged, but we all complete it without big problems. Lisi is hampered by blisters and Ralph assists by carrying her pack part of the way. I arrive at Paliku cabin a bit before the rest and open it up to air out. I also boil a couple gallons of water for meals and drinking on the cabin's double-propane stove. Over the next half hour, one by one members of the group roll in.

The cabin has four triple-decker bunks and I find myself on the middle tier of one of these with Naomi above and Cheryl below. Later that night, we find out who the snorers are (names won't be mentioned to protect the guilty). Interestingly enough, when we move on to Holua cabin for the next two nights, the sleeping arrangements are shuffled, with the loudest offenders situated together to give the rest a fighting chance for sleep.

A wide array of food is prepared for dinner, including freeze-dried stuff from Mountain House, canned goods, Lipton meals, and ramen. Bill, Carole, and I dine on canned pink salmon, Maui onions, and poi, an uncommon backpack meal for most but not an unusual first-night choice for us.

Some of us do some stargazing when darkness falls. A handful of us learn how to play progressive rummy thanks to Ralph. Most are off to sleep by nine. As I'll do for the next two nights, I stay up an hour or so after everyone else beds down to make notes and read.

The weather stays clear and beautiful during the night and the temperature drops into the lower 50s/upper 40s. The coolness isn't surprising since Paliku is at the 6,400-foot level.

== Day 2 -- Saturday, July 3 ==

Everyone is stirring by 5:30 the next morning and by six, breakfast prep and consumption has begun (ramen for me). We know we have to be out of the cabin by noon and backpack 6.3 miles over to Holua. Since we'll also be spending Sunday and part of Monday at Holua, we are in no hurry to depart Paliku. Given that, we decide that a dayhike is in order.

On a previous visit, June hiked up the "gap trail" to a saddle below a plateau/pu'u named Puiki. Departing the cabin at 7 a.m., nine of us make Puiki our goal. In the meantime, Carole opts to explore the Lau'ulu Trail while Cheryl volunteers to hang out at the cabin with Lisi, whose feet are still tender from blisters.

To ascend the gap trail, we head south, pass a ranger's cabin on the left, proceed through a gate into a fenced meadow, and walk through the meadow for a hundred meters or so. There is a lone horse in the meadow but it pays us no mind.

Though a bit overgrown with Hawaiian raspberry (akala), the initial segment of the gap trail is short and not hard to spot nor get through. Thereafter, we climb a distinct trail through a pristine forest of native flora. Ohia is plentiful. The climb from meadow to ridge crest, with a vertical ascent of 600 feet, takes less than half an hour.

We regroup at the fence-lined crest and take in the views of the crater interior to the west and Kipahulu Valley to the east. Several folks snap pictures from our vantage point and we talk about how unique these will be since most shots of Haleakala are taken from the upper reaches of Sliding Sands or Halemau'u.

Thomas and I assume leadership roles and suggest to the group that instead of making the short, steep climb south to Puiki we head north along the crater rim toward Pohaku Palaha (8,105). Everyone puts trust in our judgment and off we head along the rim, hopping over the fence a couple times to take advantage of the most favorable terrain.

The dry, rocky, sparsely-vegetated ridgetop reminds me of hiking along the crest of the Waianaes between Kanehoa and Hapapa or Keaau. However, this ridge is relatively broad and never knife-edged so that the less experienced among us hike along without feeling endangered. We do some semi-steep scrambling along the ridge but the views and the cool temperatures (60s), and uniqueness of the hike keep us energized. At one juncture, we're directly above the cabin, and we shout down to Cheryl and Lisi.

The grand scheme Thomas and I concoct is to climb to Pohaku Palaha (about a mile and a quarter from where we topped out on the gap trail), turn west to head a half mile along the north rim of Haleakala to Lau'ulu. And from Lau'ulu (8,240), we'll descend a switchback trail to the tent camping area adjacent to the cabin.

Time is against us today, however, since we know we'll have to be back at the cabin by 11 to pack up and be out by the noon checkout deadline. When 10 a.m. nears, Thomas and I discuss options and decide to bail the crater rim at a distinct rocky saddle prior to the final climb to Palaha. We make our way easily down through shin-high vegetation, scramble down a spur to a dry streambed, and then climb up to a grassy knoll where we meet Carole, who's gone up the Lau'ulu trail about three-quarters of the way. In less than half an hour, we arrive back at the cabin where Cheryl and Lisi are playing cards on the picnic table on the front lawn.

After resting, we eat lunch, pack up, and tidy up the cabin. By noon, we've moved out and are ready for the 6.4-mile trek across the crater to Holua. By 1 p.m., the last of us departs green, beautiful Paliku. Not long after we set off, Lisi has problems with blisters, and Ralph grabs her pack, sets off on a rapid pace for Holua, and says he'll head back after reaching there to help Lisi or anyone else who might need assistance. On the leg to Holua, he moves so quickly that I never catch him even though I'm carrying just a single pack and moving at a rapid clip.

To encourage those behind me, I stop a couple times along the way to spell out "HTMC" in the sand. Not everyone sees these etchings. Peter is one who does and he snaps a photo.

I arrive at Holua a few minutes after Ralph. We open the cabin and Ralph drops his pack, unloads most of the gear in Lisi's, and proceeds back the way we have just come. I give some thought to heading back to assist others like Ralph has but my feet and left knee are aching, so I decide to stay put.

By 5 p.m. everyone has arrived at Holua, including Ralph who's hiked an additional four miles to assist Lisi. I can't say enough about Ralph's helpfulness and easy willingness to go above the call of duty, not only on this occasion but on countless others. Ralph has mentioned that he and his family may have to eventually relocate to the mainland if his job situation in the construction industry doesn't pan out for the long term. If Ralph does go, we'll lose a good man and a good friend. We'll surely miss him.

We're all tired from the day hike and the subsequent backpack from Paliku but happy to have arrived at Holua in good stead. We look forward to a full day at Holua to rest, dayhike, and just enjoy the pleasant beauty of Haleakala.

== Day 3 -- Sunday, July 4 ==

Like the morning before, we're up by six on Independence Day 1999. Even though we have no need to rise until much later, everyone is up and about. Thomas, a man who thrives on having things planned out, discusses hike possibilities for the day with me. I mention an ascent of the spur behind the cabin to the Leleiwi Overlook and we do some scouting to determine if this plan is feasible. During our reconnoitering, we turn our attention to an old switchback trail in a steep ravine to the left of the Halemau'u switchbacks. We decide that an ascent of this old trail is doable. Once we crest out, we'll descend the Halemau'u switchbacks and return to the cabin.

Prior to setting off for that outing, all twelve of us hike a couple hundred yards over to Holua's well-documented lava tube. Carrying flashlights, we carefully make our way down into the tube and traverse its length of a couple hundred yards. The air in the tube is cold enough that we can see our breath. For almost the entire duration, it's also solid darkness and without a light, one will be in a bad way. Near the end of the tube is pile of rubble illuminated by light shining through a crack in the tube. The rubble forms an altar of sorts and past visitors have left offerings and erected small ahu on it.

This mini-hike takes less than an hour and when we return to the cabin, Ralph, Thomas, Bill, and I are the only takers for the trek up the old switchback trail. Like she did the day before, Cheryl good-heartedly volunteers to hang out at the cabin with Lisi. Meanwhile, Carole, Naomi, and June will hike down the Halemau'u trail to the base of the switchbacks while Hiram, Tammy, and Peter opt for exploration of the trail across Koolau Gap.

The old switchback trail seems to have been abandoned because its lower quarter was obliterated by a huge rockslide. To reach the lowest intact switchback, we hike about three-quarters of a mile from the cabin along the Halemau'u trail and then veer left across an area of shin-high bunch grass, following a pretty obvious swath. We scramble steeply up a section of hillside between a big, broad slide area to our left and a much smaller slide to our right. Leading the climb, Thomas calls out when he reaches the first remaining switchback. He counts each one as we ascend, and there are over twenty in all. Periodically, we hear Carole whooping out to us in the distance and we stop to whoop back. I remark to Thomas how helpful the hiking pole is on the ascent, and he concurs since he's using a pair himself. Soon, we have gained considerable elevation and we pause to look down on the crater and the Halemau'u trail as it winds across the lava fields to the the cabin.

From the cabin, we need an hour and change to complete the 1,200-foot climb to the fence-lined crater rim on the old switchback route which, though steeper than the current switchback trail, is more direct and shorter. We plop down for 20 minutes to snack and rest at a pleasant cratertop rock outcropping. The Halemau'u trail is 60 meters away and after hopping over the fence, we follow the old trail a bit and then bushbash to reach the Halemau'u.

As we head down the Halemau'u switchbacks, we encounter backpackers and dayhikers we've talked to earlier at the cabin. Some are amazed to see us and wonder how we've gotten ahead of them. I remark to Thomas that these people must think we're lunatics. About a third of the way down the switchbacks, we see Tammy, Hiram, and Peter several hundred feet below hiking along a trail in the Koolau Gap. When we bellow out, Tammy replies, "No need to yell." Apparently, sound carries so well she can hear us carrying on conversations as we hike.

Again, Thomas counts switchbacks and the total he comes up with is twenty-nine. When our foursome reaches the gate at the bottom of the pali, we sit down to rest. Bill, a man who can sleep just about anywhere, proceeds to snooze in the middle of the trail. As several trailhead-bound dayhikers shuffle past, including a hard-to-comprehend Aussie gentleman, we inform them Bill is indeed alive. Instead of taking the regular trail back to the cabin, we proceed along a more direct route through a field of bunch grass to the right of a wide lava flow. We examine several large tarps spread in the field and can't figure their purpose. We eventually find an old trail along a dry wash and this takes over a low ridge to the cabin.

When we arrive at the cabin, the others tell us a considerable parade of dayhikers and backpackers have stopped by to rest or refill water, including one drunken guy who tries to enter the cabin but is warned off by Naomi. Around 3 p.m., Stuart Ball and his wife Lynn arrive after dayhiking a 12-mile loop that crosses the Koolau Gap, continues along the ridge at the base of Hanakauhi, and emerges by the Bottomless Pit. From there, they've hiked on the regular trail past the Silversword Loop and onward to Holua. By 4:00, they depart and head up Halemau'u to return to a B&B in Kula where they're spending the weekend.

Our July 4th evening has no fireworks. Instead, as a post-dinner treat, I prepare some blueberry cheesecake (Mountain House brand) which everyone samples and offers complimentary comments. We pass time by talking story, playing cards, and stargazing, and by nine everyone is bunked down for our final night in the crater.

== Day 4 -- Monday, July 5 ==

The plan for the day is to hike up the switchbacks to meet Donna at the Halemau'u trailhead. The distance from Holua to the rendezvous point is 3.8 miles and the meeting time is 1 p.m. After eating breakfast and packing up, some leave the cabin as early as 7:45 to give themselves plenty of time to proceed at a comfortable pace and enjoy the day instead of turning it into an unpleasant death march.

Ralph, Bill, Thomas, and I decide to hang out at Holua until 10 and then hike out. We spend the time relaxing and napping on the front lawn, and during this down time Ralph mentions to me his thought that Haleakala might be a nice locale for a final resting place.

At 9:15, HTMC member Herman Dombrowski hikes in after completing the 6.3-mile leg from Paliku which he'd left at 7:00. Two days before, he'd begun the ascent of the trail up Kaupo Gap bound for Paliku with Pat Rorie, Chris Atkinson, Arnold Fujioka, and several other club members. According to Herman, members of his group, along with another group that includes Charlotte Yamane, will be arriving here later in the day. Pat will surely recount the events of his backpack trip at some point this week.

Before we leave, I spell out "HTMC" with small lava stones on the grass in front of the cabin. I also write a note to our arriving colleagues and weigh it with some rocks.

Just past 10, Ralph, Bill, Thomas, and I say farewell to Holua and head off for the switchbacks. As we near the base of the pali, we hear members of the earlier-departing group whooping down to us from high up the mountain. We move quickly up the trail, greeting several dayhikers heading down into the crater. Among the dayhikers is a teenaged boy wearing slippers and barefooted little sister. Tough kids.

We need about an hour and a half to reach the Halemau'u trailhead, arriving a little past 11:30. Arm in arm, Bill and Ralph do a Hans & Franz routine when they reach the end point, to the delight of the gathered throng. Like magic, even thought she isn't due to arrive until 1:00, Donna pulls up in the big van more than an hour early. Willy is with her and they've brought an array of snack items and cold drinks, which we eagerly consume. Of course, we snap a post-hike group shot before leaving, and Hiram tells us he'll post it and others he's taken on a webpage.

By 1, we load and board the van and head to Kahului airport where Bill, Donna, Willy, Lisi, and I bid aloha to our friends to catch a 2:45 flight back to Honolulu. The others have a 7:50 p.m. flight and spend time in Kahului before heading home to Oahu.

Talking afterward, Bill and I agreed that things went smoothly on the trip. Couldn't have been much better, in fact. The travel arrangements went well, the weather was superb, and the hiking was great. Most of all, the people we spent the past few days with were fantastic. From the most experienced backpackers to the neophytes, from the oldest among us to the youngest, all cooperated and joined together to make the trip one I'll remember with fondness.

Mahalo nui to all who contributed to its success.

Hike on,

--DKT


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