Volcano Adventure On Maui: 1975 by Vic Wood

It was about 5am in the morning, pitch black and agonizingly cold on my rocky perch just below the ten thousand foot summit of Maui’s Haleakala Volcano where I had settled myself in to welcome the day.  Temperatures here can drop below freezing and there can even be a light dusting of snow or ice sometimes.  Sunrises from atop Haleakala have taken on a legendary status and as a result are considered a must do on Maui.  After what seemed an eternity the sky began to lighten along the eastern rim of the crater and I sat there dazzled by a view that could not really be described in words.  The first hint of dawn had turned the volcano into every shade of red, orange, brown, blue and grey imaginable.  Peering down into the massive depression below me I could feel the goose bumps along my arms and across my back as I paused to consider my destination.  It was a tough call, but I thought the matter over at length, took a deep breath, then shouldered my pack and slipped down over the edge onto the Sliding Sands Trail.  Once one descends a few feet below the rim of Haleakala, one enters a new and different world.  The deep clear blue sky above me was certainly a sharp contrast to the red Martian like peaks that rimmed the crater and the slant of the sun highlighted the trail in front of me as I proceeded to zigzag downwards around large multi-coloured volcano cones.

This was one of the strangest locations I had ever walked through, a near lifeless ecosystem, but this stark rugged place was breathtakingly beautiful in its own special way.  There are a limited number of cabins within the volcano and my plan was to hike 15km to the Paliku cabin, spend the night there, then make my way down the 14km Kaupo Trail to the coast.  These cabins have to be reserved months in advance, but just by luck I had met a group of hikers in a Lahaina bar who had a cabin booked and gave me an open invitation to join them for one night if I wanted to.  Midway through my second bottle of beer with them it seemed that my interest in the hike only intensified and so after receiving a rough trail map on a paper napkin I was set to go.  The biggest risk factor without a doubt was the ever changing weather, and hikers who venture into Haleakala must come prepared to deal with windy cold wet conditions or extreme heat. 

The sheer size and magnitude of the volcano made me feel small but I continued to move deeper into the crater, pausing only once for a twenty minute nap.  In a couple of hours the fair weather that had ushered in the day began to deteriorate and I stopped a few minutes to collect my thoughts.  Lifting my sunglasses I checked my eyes to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating as I watched, almost in a trance, the great billowing sand cloud that was creeping silently and swiftly downwards from the summit of the volcano behind me.  I was amazed, but humbled by what I saw and it was impossible to take my eyes away from what I was witnessing.  I probably had the best seat in the house, but probably the most dangerous one too.  As my eyes took in the immensity of the swirling greyness coming towards me I knew that turning back was not an option now.  Within a few minutes the storm was mounting, stinging my face with sand and encrusting my glasses with layers of grime.  The forecast hadn’t predicted any bad weather but it did not strike me as unusual that inside this high volcano currents of air could form localized turbulence.  I stumbled along, fighting against the wind almost like drunk trying to hold a straight line.  Then through the murk of the swirling sand I caught a glimpse of two other hikers coming from the other direction heading towards the rim.  So much grit had formed on their beards that their faces were almost unrecognizable and they were really quite surprised to run into me.  Knowing that there was safety in numbers we  agreed to stay together and a half uncontrolled slide down a steep hill took us to a hollow place next to a rocky escarpment.  I was soon ensconced in a silver cocoon after quickly wrapping myself up with them in their emergency space blanket.  As the sky above roared in snarling clouds of airborne sand I felt like I was sealed in one of those ZipLock brand sandwich bags.

In less than an hour the wind had died down and the day was now limpid and dead calm.  After parting with the other two hikers a brief exploratory stroll put me back on the main trail and within a couple of hours I passed the Kapalaoa Cabin that was located at the foot of the crater’s southern wall.  A very friendly group of people invited me inside around the large table for a delicious lunch of pineapple pancakes and french toast.  After some great conversation and getting my water bottles filled I resumed my journey through the volcano.  The closer I got to Paliku Cabin the more vegetation I saw, although the trail was very rocky in some places.  Three sweaty hours later I arrived at the cabin that sat in a stunning location at the foot of a steep rainforest cliff.  Later that evening when it really cooled down I found a bunk bed in the corner and at the first sign of sunrise I was ready to go again.  From the lushness of Paliku my trail descended over steep rocky terrain down towards the coast.  With magnificent views across the deep blue ocean to the Big Island I rambled down through knee high grass and shrub under very large Koa trees.  At about the halfway point I passed out of the park boundary where I suddenly found my path blocked by a rather ugly wild black boar, her pimpled covered hairy rump pointed in my direction just as she blew out a big load of crap.  As she raised her razor like tusks and let out a loud snort the term “speed walking” is the only way to describe my next ten minutes.  The last couple of miles took me down a lava covered four wheel drive track to the main road which still seemed to be out in the middle of nowhere.  Luckily a passing pickup truck stopped and gave me a ride to within a mile from Hana.  No sooner had I started walking again when I quickly had to take shelter in an old dilapidated chicken coup to escape a torrential rain shower.  As I stepped away from the chicken coup a short time later back onto the road’s edge a mild wave of tension rippled through my body and I whipped down my pants in a sudden panic to find a squadron of ticks attacking my trembling legs.  I swallowed hard and exhaled a nervous breath just as a small tour bus passed by loaded with tourists, mostly older women.  With my shorts around my ankles and no time to react I stood my ground and sheepishly waved.  Most of the women looked shocked, although a few waved back smiling, one even winking.  After successfully removing the ticks and making myself presentable again I continued to hitchhike and had no problem getting rides back to Lahaina. 

Before flying to Kauai a thrilling mule ride down Molokai’s Kalaupapa sea cliffs and a sailboat/snorkelling excursion to Lanai kept me occupied for a couple of days.  Then the Coco Palms Resort on Kauai was the perfect place to relax for a week, although I did set aside one long day to complete the best coastal hike of my life.  Kauai’s famous Kalalau Trail is the only access to the spectacular Na Pali Coast, and because it is an out-and-back trail the total distance is a long 35km.  It has often been called the most beautiful coastal hike in the world, but in several places the trail is very narrow with steep drop-offs to the ocean.  The infamous “crawler’s ledge” occurs at about the seven mile mark.  Backpacker Magazine has listed the Kalalau Trail as “one of the ten most dangerous hikes in the U.S.”  Outside Magazine rated it as “one of the most twenty dangerous hikes in the world.”  These images were definitely swirling around in my mind as I walked across Ke’e Beach just before sunrise to the Kalalau traihead.  But without giving it much more thought, and fuelled by the erratic passion of youth, I decided to get on with it…..but that’s another story.

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