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Thread: Haleakala or bust

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    Central Oahu

    Default Haleakala or bust

    Anyone here hiked Haleakala crater?

    A friend has invited spouse & me to join his 12-person hiking group at a Haleakala cabin. He's been leading this for several decades but two of their group are dropping out due to injuries. My impression of the Haleakala lottery is that it's darn hard to win, and of course going with such an experienced group is probably the chance of a lifetime.

    He's going to talk through everything before we go, but I'm trying to not look like a complete idiot be ready to ask good questions. We're especially looking for a list of "lightweight things we wish we'd brought to Haleakala" for three nights of cabin camping. At the same time I'm hoping to avoid spending hundreds of dollars on gizmos.

    The plan is to start with an overnight at a hotel in Kahului or Kula to meet the group and finish any last-minute shopping. Next morning we'll muster at the visitor center for the NPS' mandatory 8 AM indoctrination video... and then start marching. Nine miles to the east (and 3000 feet down) we'll arrive at the Paliku cabin, where we'll spend two nights. We're on our own for lunches & snacks but two of us will rotate cooking duties on the other meals for the whole group, so in addition to our own food we need to plan (and pack) a menu for one meal for 12. On crater day three we'll hike back six miles to the Holua cabin and next morning we'll hike four miles up the switchbacks to the park HQ. After hauling out of the crater, we dirty dozen will descend upon a group member's house for showers and a change of clothes before going to a local restaurant to celebrate. We'll fly home that night.

    Our friend's probably been planning this trip for months (perhaps since he finished last year's hike) and he sounded tremendously relieved that we could go on short notice. He's much too polite to get into the details but I bet he made a lot of calls before he got to our names on the "D list". (I don't know if they have to fill a 12-person lottery group but losing a sixth of the hikers drives up everyone else's share of the costs.) He's in his 60s and I think everyone else is in their 50s/60s. Spouse and I have talked casually about taking up hiking again when we're empty nesters but we sure didn't expect to get back into it like this. We're both camping & day-hiking veterans but for the last couple decades it's just been Diamond Head, Makapu'u Point, and Brownies. We've hiked at altitude and know what to expect for thin air & sunshine. I backpacked for a couple weeks in the 1970s but I suspect that technology has changed a bit since then. We're both skinny and in good shape (taekwondo & walking), and above all else we are extraordinarily [-]stubborn[/-] persistent. I'm hoping that what's left of my knee cartilage doesn't mind carrying an extra 25-30 pounds but we're also gonna carry plenty of ibuprofen & sports creme. We've endured plenty of environmental misery during our Navy years. We're pretty confident that we can do this, but we're hoping to avoid blissful ignorance.

    I've read the NPS & Haleakala websites. The cabins appear to have 12 bunks, outhouses, rainwater, propane kitchens, and utensils. (Water has to be boiled or dosed.) We have to provide pretty much everything else, including sleeping bags & food and probably toilet paper. I'm not sure that there's heat, and this time of year it gets down to the 40s at night. The weather includes mist & rain. No bathing facilities-- baby wipes or a solar-shower bag. We're going to rent backpacks/frames and bring most of our camping gear but we want to travel light. For example I wouldn't mind having a set of binoculars but I don't think I'm gonna be humping around my Navy 7x50s. I'll carry a digital camera but I'm hoping not to have to carry a bunch of spare batteries. At least we don't have to carry four days of drinking water or firewood.

    Any other websites, checklists, or suggestions that'll help us avoid newbie mistakes? If you've been there before, is there anything you wish you'd done differently?
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  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2005

    Default Re: Haleakala or bust

    My wife and I hiked down there with another couple a while back. In the 80's, I think. Nice hike, nice scenery, and windy where we camped, in tents. Very windy. We managed to get a fire going, and my wife fixed a bowl of split pea soup which, after a day of hiking, she was really, really looking forward to. Before she got any into her mouth at all, a gust of wind scooped the soup right out of her bowl. It was so sad, and funny.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Haleakala or bust

    Quote Originally Posted by Nords View Post
    If you've been there before, is there anything you wish you'd done differently?
    Even if you are youthful and active, that switchback trail going downhill can be murder on your joints (especially knees). If I had to do it again, I would be sure to bring along some anti-inflammatory medications and pain pills. Once you are part way through the hike, even if pain sets in, you still have to hike out.
    Now run along and play, but donít get into trouble.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2004
    Oahu now part of the traffic problem in lower Puna

    Default Re: Haleakala or bust

    pack lots of water. High altitude hiking demands major hydration. Having hiked Haleakala and Mauna Kea, water is essential.
    Life is what you make of please read the instructions carefully.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Haleakala or bust

    Don't forget the advice of the Donner Party survivor, 12 year old Virginia Reed:
    "Never take no cutoffs and hurry along as fast as you can".

    On hikes, remember especially the short cut part. Not getting lost, or stuck, or injured from a fall is of course all important. (The hurrying along part is not really applicable to a pleasure hike.)

    Oh, and don't forget to bring a ziplock plastic sack for your camera in case you have low clouds or rain.
    Now run along and play, but donít get into trouble.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    Central Oahu

    Exclamation Re: Haleakala or bust

    Well, we survived. Cross this one off the bucket list. But the scenery and the critters were wonderful, and the people were pretty fun to be around.

    I haven't been so physically challenged since the taekwondo black belt test, and that was only six hours. It took three weeks of Airborne parachute training or Navy diver school to make me feel the way I felt after four days of Haleakala, although I'm a bit older than those days. Spouse felt hammered down into pain levels somewhere between "plebe summer" and "giving birth". Our critical asset was obstinance perseverance, and it's not hard to find it when the alternative is dying of exposure.

    Haleakala's altitude is from 6500-10,000 feet. It's mostly desert with some alpine meadows. The night before we hiked in, a front passed through with gusts to 78 mph. Winds at the top are routinely 20-30 mph and temperatures are 40-70 degrees even without the wind chill. The sun at 10,000 feet is intense and the altitude inhibits conversation, let alone exertion. The trails are unpredictably treacherous at all altitudes & conditions-- deep ankle-slogging lava sand, slippery rocks, sharp lava gravel, narrow deep-cut trails, crumbly switchbacks, or even an occasional muddy spot.

    I think that NPS is losing the conservation battle. Hawaiians have left trails from the 1700s and traffic has been rising steadily since the 1930s. The land is so dry and the vegetation so fragile that it's easily damaged and can take decades to recover. Silverswords put out surface roots that can be killed by walking over them and lots of invasive species (rats, mongoose, goats, pigs) have cut back the bird population while reducing plant seeding & pollination. Some of the trails have had so much foot traffic over a few decades that they're worn 12-18" deep and the park service has to re-route them. Others are worn off the mountain by the (very) occasional rainshower with waterfalls down the trail. The silverswords are much reduced even in the last 50 years-- we saw groups of a dozen or two at a time but none of them were as big as the ones in the old photos. Even 30-50 people staying overnight (plus hundreds of day hikers) can overwhelm the area. OTOH the NPS has closed off nearly 40% of the terrain for research/conservation and fenced most of the ridgeline to keep out the goats & pigs. We had to watch a mandatory 10-minute video before picking up our passes-- it explained "stay on the trail" and "don't litter" but it mostly delayed our start to 9 AM.

    Our group of 12 was three married couples and a motley assortment of friends & co-workers. Ages ranged from 43 to 63 and everyone was in fairly good shape. Most had hiked Haleakala before and three of them (in their 60s) had been visiting the crater for over 50 years.

    We left our cars at the summit. My pack started at nearly 40 pounds, including food and three liters of water. Clothing included one pair of jeans, three pair of shorts, four t-shirts, a windbreaker, and a hooded rain poncho. (We left fresh clothing in the car.) I could have ditched a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. I used all of the contents of my pack over the next four days except for the emergency gear and maybe 1000 calories of food. Three liters of water was plenty for a 10-mile hike and I could have probably done it on two, but the third liter is a nice emergency spare in a high-altitude desert.

    The first day we hiked nearly 10 miles to get to the crater's "best" cabin. The first five miles slogged through Shifting Sands trail, raising clouds of lava dust with every step. We started with 30 mph winds (gusting to 50) and about 50 degrees but the wind soon went to zero and the sun began to bake. This terrain descended steeply over 3000 feet from the summit through switchbacks into blasted/eroded lunar-landscape terrain (with no shade) punctured by occasional 1000-foot-tall cinder cones and sporadic groups of silverswords. We saw no critters above 7000 feet-- they're not stupid. Even the boot-wearing gaiter-wrapped hikers had lava dust through their socks, and the cinders went easily into our well-ventilated sneakers.

    At five miles we passed Kapala'oa cabin, which was considered "OK" but not as good as our destination. We'd been at it for nearly three hours and the sun was at high noon but spouse wanted to press on before her muscles locked up. We'd mostly been snacking on high-protein energy bars (about 600 calories for me) and water. Some of the hikers had been jamming their toes in their shoes (blisters and bruised toenails) but we were fine. We added a fresh coat of sunscreen, shook out a cup of cinders from our shoes, and pressed on.

    The next five miles were even more downhill, and two miles of it were over rock & lava flows. It was brutal. You had to move slowly and pick your footing. Fast steps would turn over a rock or even sprain your ankle. Instead of wandering over sand trails 30-40" wide, the passage was only an ankle-scraping 12-18" wide and cut 12-30 inches deep into the hillside. Reaching out for a handhold was a bad idea when everything was either razor-sharp lava or delicate yet thorny plant fronds. We slipped & fell on our sore muscles for a couple hours before the terrain flattened out a bit and we could cut across grassier meadows to the cabin. At this point spouse began having her "come to Jesus" moment and was seriously negotiating her continued endurance. We made the 9.8 miles to Paliku cabin in about six hours.

    The cabins are 20'x40'. 12 bunks are stacked three high around a large table with benches. The main room flowed into a two-person kitchen next to a small closet that doubles as a changing room. The closet is full of wood for the stove, although we also had a propane burner. Water gravity-flowed from the catchment tank (mostly dew but occasional misty rains) and the pit toilet was about 100 feet behind the cabin. The park provided firewood, toilet paper, kitchen gear, silverware, and bedpads. No open fires, we boiled our drinking water, and we had to burn or pack out our trash (including food waste).

    We rotated dinner/breakfast cooking among two-people teams because the kitchens are that small. Most of the evenings were spent boiling more water for the next day's drinking. Some filled their solar shower bags while others used wet washcloths or baby wipes. (Submarine water conservation & low hygiene standards came in handy here.) Alcohol was surprisingly plentiful considering how heavy it feels after the first mile-- bourbon, gin, vodka, even a plastic bottle of Chivas. Good thing, too, because most of us were nursing blisters, bruises, and cramps. I don't know what the medical community advises, but ibuprofen goes down great with a cup of Irish coffee. I spent most of the four days chugging 800 mg of ibuprofen every six hours.

    Nene hung out around the cabins, probably begging or cleaning up after campers. The Paliku cabin was favored by a mated couple with their three chicks who put in regular photo appearances. We also saw partridges & pheasants and heard lots of smaller birds. Clouds & mist showed up around 4 PM at the lower altitudes but cleared by 9 PM to an absolutely stunning starscape-- first time I've seen the Milky Way in Hawaii. Most of us saw it that night only during a midwatch trip to the pit toilet.

    The second day we hung out around the cabin and rested up. (The veterans felt that it was better to beat ourselves up on that first day to have the privilege of staying two nights without the packing/unpacking hassle. I'm no longer so sure about that concept.) Morning dawned misty and wet from the cloud cover. We tried to hike a nearby ridge but it was just too wet & slippery (including us hikers). We spent a lot of the day holed up talking story, dressing wounded feet, napping, playing card games, and reading. (The latter two activities also had to have their gear packed in. Ouch.) By afternoon the clouds had cleared away for us to hike a different ridge for a couple hours, just enough to work out the kinks. The eastern edge of the crater is eroded away to offer stunning views down to Kipahulu & Hana, lots of coastline/ocean and even the Big Island's peaks of Mauna Kea & Mauna Loa. That little hike was worth the view as well as the chance to work out sore muscles.

    The third day was rated the worst Haleakala hike that even the grizzled veterans had experienced. The rain started at 2 AM and continued until dinner. It eased to a drizzle occasionally but was mostly steady and windy. We hiked 6.3 miles uphill/northwest to the Holua cabin, wearing rain ponchos that merely divided the soaking between rainfall & sweat. The first mile of the trail was ankle-deep in rainwater. Thank goodness the wind was mostly from the northeast, but I still blew out a seam of my (cheap plastic) poncho. The day was an exercise in uphill ankle-twisting slogging and survival skills. Of course the rain eased as soon as the last hiker made the cabin. We spent most of that evening trying to dry out our gear and get warm again, not necessarily in that order.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2004
    Central Oahu

    Default Re: Haleakala or bust

    Holua cabin is slightly smaller and the pit toilet is slightly better ventilated. There's a nearby lava tube that can be hiked through a quarter mile, and a cave in the surrounding hills that was the first Haleakala shelter from the time of the ancient Hawaiians up to 1935. One of our group (who's made this trip dozens of times) had hiked in two weeks before with a case of beer and hidden it in the lava tube where it stayed a cool 45 degrees until he retrieved it. That surprise was much appreciated because the liquor locker was pretty much depleted by the first night.

    The final day we hiked out a 3.9-mile trail cut into the side of the crater. I lost count of the switchbacks and the ridgelines. The first part of the hike was downhill to the ridgeline so we gained something like 1600 feet of altitude during the climb. By this time spouse had two hiking speeds-- "compound low" and "stop"-- and everyone's legs/feet were sore. The trail ended at a parking lot where we'd stashed a car to ferry us the final 2000 feet back up to the summit. We showered at one of the local hiker's homes, lunched in Makawao, and shopped or hung out for a few hours before the group split up. Spouse and I bookended our stay with nights at the rustic Kula Lodge.

    I'm glad that I tested my limits in this crucible, but the decision was irrevocable. A change of heart didn't mean "quit and go home"-- it meant "don't screw up or else you'll have to try to stay alive for another 12 hours until the rangers can arrange the helicopter, if the weather is clear enough". I won't say "never again" (spouse certainly has), but these memories will have to fade a heck of a lot before I'd try again. Even then I'd stay at Kapala'oa cabin instead of Paliku (above the rain/cloud line) and limit the day's hiking to 5-6 miles.

    Haleakala day hikes are relatively easy, even with a 10-pound pack. Survival gear is essential (warming blanket, first aid kit, water, food, poncho) because if you sprain an ankle then it may literally take a day to get you out. There's no cell-phone service, no cabin phones, and no standby rescue helicopter. If the weather closes in then the rangers have to use pack horses.

    Haleakala camping is challenging because you have to pack in/out everything (including trash) and open fires are forbidden. Campers have to pack a stove & fuel if they want hot food/drink. (You will want hot food/drink.) Water is non-potable and has to be boiled or treated... or packed in.

    Haleakala cabin stays are 90-day advance reservations, which typically fill up about five minutes after midnight. That's the main reason we jumped at the chance for this trip, despite the short notice and our lack of preparation-- it's almost impossible to get the cabins, let alone get tutored by the experts.

    If I ever decided to do this again (and that's a big if) then I'd buy real hiking shoes, gaiters, and a lightweight pack customized to my size. (The right pack frame size is critical for women or smaller men.) I'd also buy a high-tech one-pound sleeping bag instead of the typical 3-4 pounder. For those with less than stellar balance/reflexes I'd strongly recommend a pair of hiking poles. I'd practice hiking several days a week, building up to several 10-mile hikes with a 40-pound pack. Even that wouldn't necessarily prepare for altitude or bad trails, but it'd help avoid injuries.

    I was astonished at how many of our group had serious foot damage despite their experience & stamina-- big bleeding blisters, bruised toenails (which will fall off in a week or two), and abrasions. Moleskin and duct tape were consumed by the square foot. Shoes/boots have to have roomy toe boxes to avoid banging toenails on downhill slopes. Topical pain cremes & antibiotics or even lidocaine sprays helped speed recovery.

    Another personal reason I made the hike was to see how my knees would handle it. Both my ACLs are torn (not repaired) and my left medial meniscus is pretty low on cartilage. They've been that way for nine years. I've been training taekwondo for six years and I've spent the last couple years with a trainer building up my quads & hamstrings to stabilize the joints. My knees handled the conditions surprisingly well although I was chugging ibuprofen at the trail head and kept it up with every meal. My feet had no blisters or toenail damage until the final morning. I had no stability problems. In fact my balance, coordination, and reflexes were the best in the group, although admittedly I was one of the younger hikers. I had plenty of reserve stamina at the end of each hike (if necessary) and I recovered quickly. Knee pain was minimal (my gluteus maximi hurt a lot worse by the third day) and swelling didn't start getting ahead of the ibuprofen until the last morning. (I think it was caused by the 1600-foot climb.) Four days after hiking out of the crater, I'm totally healed and ready to resume workouts. This hike convinced me that I can handle anything I'd normally try to do with my knees, and I'm going to avoid ACL/meniscus surgery as long as possible.

    If you're planning a Haleakala trip then I can pass on plenty more info. PM or e-mail me for the nitty-gritty details.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Honolulu, Hawai'i

    Default Re: Haleakala or bust


    Wow! I truly, truly enjoyed reading your posts.

    Mahalo for sharing.

    Auntie Lynn
    Be AKAMAI ~ KOKUA Hawai`i!
    Philippians 4:13 --- I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    missing the 808 in the 202

    Default Re: Haleakala or bust

    What an amazing write up, and experience!! Congrats, and thanks for sharing!!

    An email from God:
    To: People of Earth
    From: God
    Date: 9/04/2007
    Subject: stop

    knock it off, all of you

    seriously, what the hell


  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2005

    Default Re: Haleakala or bust

    Too Cool !!

    Reminds me of so many parts of my hike up Mauna Loa. Muscle Pain. Blisters. The surreal beauty of the entire trip.

    Couple observations. Don't delay the ACL rebuild. The younger you are, the better chance you have to rehab and heal up right. I did mine 9 years ago, now 43, best decision of my life.

    Toe Pain on the downhill parts is commonly caused by too small boots. This occurs most commonly amongst women due the whole story behind Cinderella. "But I used to be a size High School." Wishful Thinking.

    Baby Wipes are heaven in a Hikers Roman Bath.

    The ONLY extra clothes you need in any long range hike is undies and socks. One pair shorts, One Pants, One TShirt, One long sleeve. Lighten up your load.

    I have forgotten the misery of my solo trek up Mauna Loa. The memories are very sweet. So sweet, in fact, that Everest Base Camp is starting to pop up on the 50 yo birthday radar.
    Energy answers are already here.

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