On a nice summer weekend, I presumably lost my wits, thereby consenting to a 20-mile backpacking trip with a group of friends through a dormant volcano on the tropical island of Maui. Haleakalā crater has been dormant since the late 1700’s. For those of you who may not know, a “dormant” volcano is one that is sleeping, but not dead. Yes, that means it can awaken at any moment. Thank God it decided to continue sleeping while I was hiking through it.
Our adventure started with a treacherous descent from an elevation of 10,000 feet through loose cinder and sharp lava rocks, through an area referred to as “Sliding Sands.” It’s not typically what people envision when they think of Maui, as it is more reminiscent of another planet entirely. We weren’t wearing Sharon Stone-like bikinis and sipping mai tais on the beach (sorry to disappoint you Paul Turney at Woggins Writings): we were wearing incredibly un-sexy G.I. Jane-like hiking gear and sucking liters of water down, while focusing on not spraining an ankle. All I had in my emergency kit was baby wipes, a tweezer, and some band-aids, so a rolled ankle would have constituted a major disaster, considering I am no MacGyver.
After Sliding Sands leveled off, we enjoyed the unique terrain and started to see quite a few amazing, native silversword plants. To our surprise, many of them were in bloom, which is a rare sight to see. I know this is one of the favorite places of Liza Pierce at A Maui Blog, so I’m sure she’ll enjoy these photos.
Being about 5 miles into our adventure at that point, it was time to stop for lunch. I unwrapped my sandwich and peeled a banana. As I began devouring my meal, a huge wasp started doing laps around me like a shark circling a wounded seal. I froze and watched in horror as the gigantic bee got closer and closer. At one point, it looked like it was going to land on my arm, and I screamed and started flailing my arms around like a back up dancer for Justin Bieber.
One of my fellow hikers shouted to me “They are attracted to moisture! Drop your banana and stay still!”
Since I’m so good at following instructions while panicking, I chucked my sunglasses, sandwich and the banana into the cinder and started running in the opposite direction as the bee. Hey, at least it worked. The bee began to hover over the banana peel, and I was able to get away. Phew. FYI- the crater was full of wasps, so although I dodged a bullet that time, bee mania was pretty much an ongoing theme. I know Michelle Gillies at Silk Purse Productions would completely empathize.
The journey continued. We made the rest of the trek down to the Palikū cabin, where we were greeted by lush mountain ranges and a nene goose (a friendly, native bird that inhabits the crater).
We were just so excited to finally arrive at the cabin. Our legs and feet were ready to give out, and muscles were hurting in areas we didn’t even know existed and could feel pain. Unfortunately, there were no hot showers or mineral baths awaiting us. The cabin had fresh running water and bunk beds, but that was about it with regard to amenities. The Ritz Carlton it wasn’t, but after hiking for 10 miles, we were just thankful we had a place to sit down and stretch out.
If you look closely at the picture below, you can see our tiny Palikū cabin toward the middle left of the photo. It’s that miniscule white dot at the edge of the open meadow at the base of the mountain range. Yeah, that thing. That was home sweet home for a few days. And the lovely outhouse next to it that smelled like a freshly baked manure cake was ours to call home for a few days too.
The nights in the wilderness at Palikū were definitely an interesting experience, where being the city slicker that I am, the others had a good laugh at my expense. I used at least 30 antibacterial towelettes and baby wipes to scour the outhouse toilet seat, my mattress cover, and parts of my body which inevitably got coated in cinder dust. I also found myself highly skilled in holding my bladder for hours at a time. There was no way I was going to get up at 2 o’clock in the morning in the pitch black for a long haul to that dreadful outhouse.
And truthfully, we wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything. We felt fortunate to get the opportunity to go on this trip. The experience forced us to get out of our comfort zones and abandon modern conveniences like technology and electricity. After spending a few relaxing days gaining appreciation for the natural world, and being able to bond and socialize with others without interruption, we mentally prepared ourselves for what lay ahead: the 10-mile hike out of Haleakalā crater… uphill. We had to go 7 miles steadily uphill, and then finish with another strenuous 3 miles up a steep and narrow trail called the “Switchbacks.”
Surprisingly, we made it, and all in good time. We survived our adventure in a dormant volcano, despite not having pack mules, internet access, or hot tubs. Shoot, my friend didn’t even have soles on her shoes, as they separated and fell off before she even made it to the Switchbacks.
All things considered, we hiked like champs out of that crater, setting our minds on the frosty beers that awaited us in the cooler in the car. Nothing motivates parched and exhausted hikers like ice cold beers. I motored out of that crater like a Clydesdale going after a dangling carrot. As if I was Wyle E. Coyote chasing The Road Runner with my newest ACME gadget. When I got to the car, I slumped into an Eddie Bauer camping chair and popped open a brewski. And that was all, folks! Until next time, Haleakalā!