OHE November 16, 1999 (Puna Coast--Day 1)

Date: Tue, 16 Nov 1999 12:48:48 -1000
From: Greg Kingsley (gkingsle@hawaii.edu>
Subject: Puna Coast Adventure, Day 1 

Day 1: Hilina Pali Overlook to Halape Iki Campsite Hilina Pali Trail & Halape Trail Thursday, November 11, 1999

A trip of many firsts for me, the journey to Halape and Keauhou was more of an aquatic adventure than a hiking trek. It all started out with a gorgeous sunrise departure from the airport under skies of deep blue and horizons of fiery pink. I took pleasure observing the peaks and ridges above Honolulu bathed in a rosy hue while the valleys lay dormant in slumber's shadow.

With the glow of the morning sun through the windows forcing squinted eyes, our party (all of whom rose between 4 and 5 AM to make this 06:25 flight) was happily bound for Hilo. Our group included Patrick Rorie, Carole Moon, and Reuben Matteo. (Luckily, Carole made it onto the flight despite her stand-by status!) To our cadre would be added Judy Roy (who arrived the night prior) and Mark Short (who arrived on another airline).

The airborne transit offered excellent views of the islands. I especially enjoyed the duration directly over the craters atop Maui's Haleakala (the subject of "ohe-l" write-ups I had read this past year). Upon approach to Hilo's airport, a thick overcast allowed a few, invisible strands of light to pierce the Pacific depths off Hawaii's eastern coast. The result was in the form of brilliant yellow "crop-circles" on the water's surface like spotlights from heaven.

After collecting gear and assembling, we all headed south in two vehicles: one rented by Pat and the other provided by Judy's parents. A stop at KTA proceeded our drive through (as Pat would say) "Kurtistown with a 'K'!" until we found the home of Debbie Uchida - a primary photographer in Stuart Ball's books. The day before, she was kind enough to secure the required back- country permit for our trip. She also provided coffee, water, and opened her home to us before joining our band. Judy, through the assistance of her parents (who drove the 40 - 50 miles from Kamuela to help shuttle us on Day 1 and 4), supplied us with our various camping fuel needs.

Making our way south along Route 11, a single-lane highway lined with forests of exquisitely tall ohia trees, we entered Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and drove the 12 (or so) miles to the Hilina Pali Overlook (elev. 2,280 feet). We took several moments to take pictures, absorb the coastal views, and relax one last time in the shelter's shade.

With the exception of Mark Short (who decided to take the Kau Desert Trail to Pepeiau Shelter and Kaaha), we filtered single-file down the dry Hilina Pali Trail, instantly putting ankles and boots to the test. The sound of the crunching marble to fist-sized balls of lava rock was almost comical, the same sound stacked poker chips or clinked glass chips make With the sun beating overhead, we switchbacked to and fro down the steep "pali". The constant breeze inbound from the coast coupled with panoramas of the same were welcomed throughout the descent. The occasional tall lama tree perched on the crumbling slope provided shade for a respite or two.

We emerged from the pali's switchbacks onto a relatively level plateau (elev. 930 feet) at the base of the cliffs: the middle "step" of our descent to Halape. I saw my first "ahu" - cairns, or small pyramids of stacked lava rocks, used to mark the path of this non-descript trail. Presumably, the slightly zig- zagging path these ahu's laid was the easiest route through the wavy, lumpy mounds of lava. The terrain was wide open, void of landmarks or plant-life higher than one's ankle, and could be easily navigated if not with ahu's, with compass and map.

I enjoyed the company of Debbie, who took the lead through the sea of lava and shrubs. We discussed our experiences with photography, calendar problems, and hiking on Oahu.

Not a cloud in the sky, our hiking party was beginning to wilt under the scorching sun. We started on a slight ascending grade to the Puu Kaone rise, closing in on the only clumps of quasi-trees we would see on the entire trail. We took temporary refuge in a sparse grove of lantana and vines. The leaves filtered out some of the intense sunlight as we lunched and reclined in the diluted shade. I found that my drinking (and a leak in my hydration system) left me seriously low on water.

After quite some time lounging around, and with the sun still in full attendance, we set off toward Puu Kapukapu (elev. 1,050 feet) - a peak standing on the cliff between the trail section we were on and the Halape stretch. The trail veered us left along the mauka side of its base. With the short Kapukapu ridge on our right and the grand cliffs of greater Kilauea on our left, we began the descent to the coast. Clomping through the lava mounds of Puueo Pali required a careful eye with each step. But I took advantage of each heads-up opportunity to gaze at the brown mountains and deep blue ocean. Debbie and I took a breather in the shadow of a tall ahu to escape the sun for about 15 minutes. All the while, we were kicking back before the spectacular coastal vista. Yeah, life's rough, I commented.

We reached the intersection with the Halape Trail (elev. 600 feet) after the 6.4-mile trip from our starting point at the Hilina Pali Overlook. We took the 1.6-mile trail to the coast as it wrapped around the makai side of Puu Kapukapu. The line of coconut trees, so common in pictures of the white sand beaches of Halape lagoon, were signs of our final approach to our intended destination. We stopped at the three-walled shelter to quench our water supplies - most of us had slurped up all or the majority of our drinking fluids. The 4-foot-high drum of rain water (caught from the corrugated sheet-metal roof) was a welcomed sight!

After enjoying the sights of the regular Halape camp setting, we continued west along the coast toward Halape Iki - a small, hidden campsite at the shore footing of Puu Kapukapu. Arriving fifteen minutes later, we set up camp and lounged along a miniature beach fronting the palms of our new home. I took the time to sit on the rocks by the crashing waves, watching small "pipeline" surf plow into the black shore.

After sundown and dinner, we clumped together on a large rock and watched the moon set, leaving behind only stars in the heavens to light the island's coastline. Debbie pointed out several constellations as everyone enjoyed each other's company into the cool night.

Next: Rough Days at Halape and Keauhou!

Happy hiking! Greg

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