OHE May 5, 1999 (Ainapo--Pt. 1)

Date: Wed, 5 May 1999 14:00:46 -1000
From: Patrick Rorie (prorie@mailhost.k12.hi.us>
Subject: The Ainapo Challenge - Prologue


Having witnessed footage last year on the Discovery channel of a competition dubbed "The Eco-challenge", an intense combination of activities including nocturnal mountain climbing and paddling through rough seas, I was inspired to participate in something similar here in Hawaii.


On Thursday, March 18, I received an e-mail message with the subject "wanna challenge?" from Gene Robinson inquiring about my availability in late April/early May for a backpack trip up Mauna Loa (lit. "long mountain" and the largest volcano in the world) via the Ainapo (lit. "dark land") Trail. I didn't know much about Ainapo, but as Gene filled in the details my desire to conquer the route only increased.


"During the past two centuries several trails have been used to ascend to Mauna Loa's summit. The oldest, now known as the Ainapo Trail, extended 34 miles from the old village of Kapapala at 2000 feet elevation, up the shortest and steepest flank to the southeast edge of Mokuaweoweo. This trail was used in 1794 by Archibald Menzies of the Vancouver Expedition to make the first successful ascent by a non-Hawaiian.

These earlier routes fell into disuse after 1915, when a segregated company of black soldiers of the United States Army constructed the Mauna Loa Trail, which stretched from the present location of Volcano House up to and along the northeast rift to the summit caldera. Lower portions of the trail were widened and improved for vehicles, and in 1936 the CCC built the last increment of the road from Bird Park to near the site of Camp Bates at 6,650 feet elevation. The road has since been paved, and most hikers start their trip at the upper end of this road."*


Part 1 - "Taking Care of the Logistics"

On Friday, April 30, Gene's girlfriend Julia dropped us off at Honolulu International Airport and we caught the Aloha Air 12:15 p.m. flight to the Big Island of Hawaii. Upon landing in Hilo, Gene's backpack, an external frame pack, didn't arrive (we just barely got on the plane in time) so rather than wait for the next plane to arrive (after 2 p.m.) we picked up the rental car and headed for Walmart to purchase propane and other last minute items. It was a nice day in Hilo with puffy white cumulous clouds filling the blue sky and bright sunshine.

As we approached the entrance to Walmart I noticed a man with only one leg. Gene commented,"Whoa! That's the second one legged man I've seen today! Bad omen?". If Wing Ng had been with us he surely would have promptly returned to Oahu! :)

After returning to the airport and securing Gene's pack, the two of us drove from Hilo to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (HVNP). Along the way we passed through the village of Kurtistown (that's Kurtistown with a 'K'!). When Gene and I stopped at the HVNP fee collection booth I thought about claiming Hawaiian ancestry thus saving the $10 entry fee. If the Ranger gave me a hard time I would simply state that I was a rare albino Hawaiian named Paka. For some reason and probably for the best, the idea never came to fruition!

Arrived at the Kilauea Visitor Center (elev. 3,974 ft) at 3:05 p.m. and commenced the permit process with Ranger Jay Robinson (same last name as Gene, a good omen!). During the thirty minute procedure, Gene mentioned that we would be ascending the Ainapo Trail. Almost immediately, Jay's facial expression changed to one of bewilderment. The Ranger then began eye balling our shoulders and chests as if conducting some sort of crude physical evaluation to ascertain our skill level. Gene also asked if he could use sticky red tape he had purchased from Walmart to mark some of the more confusing sections of the trail. Jay replied, "Absolutely not! Its against the law. What if it blows off? It could lead future hikers astray!". Not one to argue, Gene accepted the rebuke and patiently completed the forms needed to obtain the backcountry permit.

From the visitor center, the two of us traveled to nearby Volcano House and checked into a standard ground floor room in the Ohia Wing ($85.00 a night). We sorted through our stuff to decide what to store in the car then, at 4:30 p.m., drove 14 miles to the Mauna Loa lookout at the top (end) of Mauna Loa Road (elev. 6,662 ft) to leave the vehicle for our get away upon exiting the mountain.

A few minutes after 5 p.m. Gene and I began jogging down Mauna Loa Road. The lovely koa-ohia forest and almost continuous conversation made the miles fly by. Gene, an avid runner (the 1980 Boston Marathon among his accomplishments), glided along with ease like a gazel in the African plains. While exhibiting good form, I struggled to keep pace due mainly to my hiking boots (I had forgotten to bring running shoes). Once we had gone ten miles and reached Rte 11, I started to run out of gas. We shaved off half a mile by cutting through the Kilauea Military Camp (KMC), passed by a few active steam vents, veered onto the wide Halemaumau Trail and stopped for a breather at the Kilauea Caldera overlook.

Pressing on, Gene and I accomplished the final stretch to the Kilauea Visitor Center as darkness set in arriving there at 7 p.m. We hydrated using the water fountain then studied the miniature model of Mauna Loa. At 7:06 p.m. the two of us approached Volcano House, entered the Ohia Wing and took showers. Fulfilled 8 p.m. dinner reservations enjoying delicious meals inside the rustic Volcano House Restaurant. I consumed friend chicken ($9.90) while Gene dined on linguine, and we both ordered a bowl of clam chowder ($4.50 per serving).

After dinner I relaxed briefly in the Ohia Wing lounge complete with two chairs and a couch each covered with dark red satin, a fire burning in the fireplace. Entered our room and found Gene carefully organizing his pack for the next day's journey. I made some adjustments to my gear as well. Before hitting the sack, Gene (a medical doctor) gave each of us half a tablet of diamox to help our bodies cope with high altitude. Lights out came at 11:11 p.m.

Next: Part 2 - "A Leisurely Stroll to the Halewai Cabin"


* Barnard, Walter M. MAUNA LOA - A SOURCE BOOK Historic Eruptions and Exploration Volume One: From 1778 Through 1907. Published by the Editor: Walter M. Barnard, Department of Geosciences, State University of New York College at Fredonia, Fredonia, NY, 1990.

== Paka

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