Saturday, February 14, 2015

February 10th at the Summit


Five minutes after shooting this video, the electrician arrived.  Then, it immediately started sleeting and raining horizontally with a temperature of 33.  For the next 45 minutes, we worked outside restoring power to the Summit area.

When I finally walked through the door at home about two hours later, I looked at Star and said, "Would you check my face for me?  I think I could have frostbite."  She replied, "No, but it certainly is red."

Since my face was the only part of me left unexposed while working, it was pelted by the sleet.  I guess I was fortunate the cold numbed it within the first several minutes, so the pellets didn't hurt as much.  Anyway, I'm investing in a balaclava .  You can teach an old dog new tricks.

I'm editing this post to add one additional piece of information:

Note the tour bus in the video.  It consisted of the driver and a few hardy souls from a cruise ship willing to give the Summit a try in the miserable weather.  I never saw any of them actually leave the bus, which I can't blame them.

The driver, obviously Hawaiian, stopped me at one point walking back to the truck to find more clothes to layer and yelled out at me from the doorway, "Can I get you something to drink and a snack?  We have plenty.  I yelled back, "Thanks, but I'm ok.  I bring my own with me up here.  What he yelled out next warmed my heart, if not the rest of me.  "Sir, thank you so much for your service to our sacred mountain."  Certainly, it's the first time in my professional career somebody has thanked me for my service.  And for me, it's a good enough reason to justify what I am currently doing with my career.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Kipahulu Car Camping

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, 40 miles and 1 hour 45 minutes will get you to the backside of the volcano to an extremely remote and special coastal area called Kipahulu.  There is little water, no power nor stores, so take what you need.

At night the stars pop out of the sky by the thousands.  The temperatures in winter are in the mid 60's at night, but quickly jump into the low 80's during daylight hours.

The beaches here are unlike anything else on the island, and home to the famous cove beaches called Red Sand Beach, Black Sand Beach, and the hidden little white beach, Hamoa.

We met new, fascinating people on this trip who are travelling the world and somehow ended up on Maui.  Most don't seem to have the means to be embarking on such grand adventures, but nevertheless seem content wandering the globe.

On Saturday, we picked up similarly aged campsite neighbors (a couple) hitchhiking to the village of Hana some 9 miles down the road.  They never could tell us exactly where they were from, but were looking for a rental cottage in the area.  We dropped them off and went to the beach.  Afterwards, we found some outdoor showers in Hana, cleaned up, and had lunch at the Hana Ranch. 

By the time we returned to our campsite at around 4 pm, things had changed considerably.  Crowds of locals were pouring in, and the place started to resemble festival camping for some outdoor music event.  Star and I quickly recognized we were now the oldest people at the campground.  Sticks of truth, fire poi, and other lighted contraptions filled the night sky, and the music blared.  Meanwhile, we sat at the back of the campground in our tucked away spot, drinking vodka and cranberry and watching the show.

Suddenly at 10 pm, the noise stopped, the lights went dark, and you could hear a pin drop.  So, I've coined a new saying from the experience, "They partied hard, and stopped on a dime." 

Best of luck to Mo from Chicago via Botswana(?), the waterless travelling mechanical engineer waiting on his Fulbright to start in Brazil in two months.  We left him with a gallon of the precious liquid and some snacks and oatmeal. 

It was a relatively quiet Friday at the campground.

150 yards from our camp

Next time, we are going to camp in one of these spots
by the ocean.


Hamoa Beach-Isolated with
white sand, incredible views, great waves.
From our spot on the beach

Old man and the sea

Spaghetti for dinner

Saturday night party just getting started

Monday, January 5, 2015

Haleakala Crater Crazies

On most of our backcountry hikes in the South and out West, we have encountered only occasional inconvenient weather.  This trip threw everything at us: cold, incredible winds, sandstorms, torrential rains, a stranded camper, and other surprises at every corner.

At four days, this was our longest single backpacking trip, and though not the most distance or elevation, it was our toughest to date.  After taking so many backcountry excursions, we often talked about our luck eventually running out.  Actually, I still think luck was on our side, because we made the correct decisions at several crucial points. As a result, we made it back home safe and almost sound. 

Some of these tales may seem too tall to be true, but they are, and this is our story:

When we departed The Summit of Haleakala the morning of New Year’s Eve at 10 AM, one of my co-workers informed us the wind chill was 25 degrees with sustained winds of 35 mph.  The first mile or so was hell, and left us wondering whether we should turn back immediately.
Starting our trip at the Summit Visitor's Center

We knew, however, the weather would probably improve as we dropped rapidly from the trail head at 10,000 ft.  Within an hour, Star and I had descended about 1,000 ft. and the temperatures were already rising and the winds subsiding. 
Our destination is 10 miles away at the base of the farthest


Star at Split Rock


Silversword Photo Bomb

By 2:00 PM, we had covered nearly 7 miles, under clear skies and a beautiful afternoon, and stopped to have lunch at the Kapalaoa Cabin.  At this point, we had also dropped almost 2,600 ft. to a 7,400 elevation along a wonderfully graded colorful sandy trail.  Leaving our lunch spot, we were feeling good about our progress. 

That feeling changed quickly as we started to encounter a completely different trail, one made of lava rock and descending out of the main crater towards our destination, Paliku. For those who have never experienced hiking on lava rock, it’s uneven, unforgiving, slippery under foot, and a 6” boot sole couldn’t keep you from feeling every sharp edge.  Star had joked upon leaving our lunch spot that even at one mile per hour; we would be to Paliku shortly after 5 PM.  Well, that’s exactly how long it took us to cover the last 3 miles.

We arrived with tired legs and feet at the Paliku Cabin, but were bolstered by the incredible, isolated location.  Situated at the base of sheer cliffs reminiscent of Yosemite, the cabin sits at 6,400 ft. with a large green pasture in front.  Unlike Yosemite, there are no crowds, no cars, and no noise other than the wind and birds.  Directly past the level pasture, the Kaupo Gap drops straight down to the Pacific Ocean in just 8 miles.  Yes, there is a trail that goes all the way down, and no, we will never be taking that one.

Kaupo Gap


Pacific Ocean below Kaupo Gap

The cabins are austere, but have the necessities.  Shortly after arriving, we built a fire in the ancient wood stove and heated water for our meal, freeze dried Chili Mac.  Our favorite past time during our two night stay was watching the Nene who decided to make the cabin their day home.  Every morning, these endangered geese would fly in from some unknown location, performing 3 or 4 flyovers before landing in our front yard.  At one point mid-day, we counted well over 30.  They fed on the grass and socialized the entire day, and then suddenly two would start honking at each other until reaching a crescendo and then take flight into the setting sun.  The pattern was repeated until only 3 or 4 Nene remained by dark.

I can’t say enough about Paliku.  Star and I were talking during a Scrabble game, on our second night, about the isolation of this special spot.  Suddenly, you realize to return to any civilization would involve a 10 mile hike back to the Summit, and a 20+ mile drive back to Kula where we live. It’s difficult to believe that a small island like Maui can have so much protected wilderness.

Paliku Cabin

The Cliffs

Sunset over Paliku
On Day 3, we left Paliku confident in our ability to make the 6.3 mile hike back into the main crater to the Holua Cabin.  Having already conquered 13 miles, we felt this would be a much easier day.  And sometimes, that’s what you get for thinking.
Leaving Paliku the morning of January 2nd
Leaving Paliku, we knew the Friday forecast back on Wednesday morning had called for increased winds and chances for rain, so we took off at 9 AM.  That's not an unusual forecast here.  We were back to the crater rim in three miles and a 1,000 ft. rise, keeping an eye on the dark skies building off to the southwest.  Suddenly, we ran into a co-worker headed the opposite direction to Paliku.  When we asked her for a weather update, she produced a day-old weather forecast calling for deteriorating conditions with wind gusts up to 80 mph and heavy rains starting in the late afternoon and overnight.
Last shot of Paliku some 2.5 miles in the distance

Storm approaching

The following video is two seconds, and the last of our camera battery...

We weighed our options, and quickly determined we had only one, to proceed across the crater and continue on to the Holua Cabin.  Once there, we would assess the situation and decide whether or not to push on to the parking lot, another 4 miles and 1,400 ft. up from Holua, to beat the weather.

At this point, Star and I had risen back to near 7,500 ft., and were beginning the most technical part of our hike along the Halemau’u Trail.  Circumventing around and over the cinder cones, the trail becomes narrow and highly exposed with steep drop offs.  As we advanced, the winds increased to the point where we had to stop frequently and hunker down during gusts.  I’m guessing they were somewhere in the 50-60 mph range.

Normally, the landforms and skies of the crater are a pallet of pastels, but were now a dark, foreboding place full of danger.  Listen, I read all of Tolkien as a child, and I swear I could see Mordor laid out in front of me.  Sounds overdramatic, but that’s what I saw. 
We turned a corner and there was a short (less than 100 yards) stretch of trail across the lip of a cinder cone about 4-5 feet wide with exposure on both sides. We waited for several minutes, covering as much of our bodies as possible, as the sand blasted us.  When there seemed to be a lull in the gusts, we took off to the other side without incident.

Those are sandstorms ahead and the final photo of the day
Enough said
 Finally the trail started descending to Holua, but the weather was just getting started.  We hiked the final two miles to the cabin across the crater floor with rain and the sandstorm pelting us the entire way.  At one point, Star yelled at me from behind and I turned around to see her holding my backpack rain cover, which had been ripped off.  When the trail turned into the wind, it became a task just to move our feet forward.

By the time we reached the cabin, Star and I had already decided we would be forced to hole up for the night.  It had taken us over 5 hours to navigate the 6.3 mile stretch of trail on this day.  There was no way we could cover another 4 miles, and 1,400 ft. up, before nightfall in this weather.

The Holua Cabin is tiny, but warm, with water and a propane stove.  After eating a Mexican Chicken dinner from a bag (not as good as Chili Mac) and getting warm, we started talking of going to bed as soon as it got dark.  At 6 PM, the winds were howling and blowing sheets of rain against the cabin.  There are no windows in the cabin, so the outside conditions were left to our other senses and imagination.  Despite the harrowing day’s hike, we felt fortunate for the timely warm shelter.
Suddenly, we heard a loud knock at our door above the driving storm.  Star and I looked at each other and I told her maybe we shouldn’t open it.  It could be Jack Nicholson from The Shining.  Star was already headed to the door.  When she opened it, the wind ripped the door from her hand.  There stood a young, soaking wet, young German lady in near hysteria holding some broken tent poles in her hand and saying, “Can I stay here?  My tent has collapsed.”

Star was able to get her warm and let her use the propane stove to make tea and some food.  We were in an employee cabin affectionately known as the Holua Hilton, but there is also a visitor cabin about 150 yards away down a steep rocky trail.  We offered her the available visitor cabin, and both Star and I put back on our rain gear and walked down with her in the hurricane-like conditions to the cabin.  I opened it up, showed her the fireplace stove, and left her for the evening in a safe place.  Why didn’t she stay in our cabin?  Well, that’s a whole other story altogether.
Holua Hilton and departing storm early the next morning
The night of January 2 was unlike anything Star and I have ever gone through.  We later found out the winds gusted over 90 mph.  At times, we thought either the entire cabin might lift off the ground and go airborne or the roof would rip from the structure. It felt much like Hurricane Fran, which hit North Carolina in the 90’s, except that night I was in my house, not a little cabin in the wilderness with a flooded outdoor privy more than sixty feet from the door. 
We were out of bed before daylight hoping to find a window of weather to hike out.  As soon as daybreak hit, the weather eased and the sun even came out.  As I was standing outside, I happened to glance up towards the Summit in the distance and witnessed my first snowfall in the crater.  Where we had torrential rain and wind all night, the summit was white halfway to our 6,800 ft. location.  We packed up and headed out on the trail.
Wish I could have used my camera for this shot
instead of my "old school" cell phone
On the way out, I wanted to stop in and see how our “visitor in distress” had fared the night, but she had already departed.  The visitor outhouse had also “departed” during the night, but the toilet inside of the outhouse sat there in the wilderness untouched.  We laughed and commented on how the view from the potty had at least been improved through destruction of the outhouse.  The cabin’s picnic table had also attempted an escape, but had only blown upside down and about 100 ft. from its original location.
A potty with a view!
My cell phone suddenly caught service for the first time in four days, and I had a voice mail message.  It was from my boss and you could hear the concern in his voice.  “Ben, are Star and you out of the crater yet?  You had gusts up to 90 mph last night, and we are concerned.  Please call.”  Before I could return the call, I lost cell service again.

Hiking out that final four miles, which included nearly 1,400 ft. of switchbacks in two miles, was perhaps the longest four miles of our lives.  You could see the car from about ½ mile down the trail in the distance as we approached.  Star refused to look up at it, while I watched that vehicle get larger every single step I took.  I commented to Star, “That’s strange for a Saturday.  There are no other cars in the trailhead lot.”

When we reached the vehicle, I told Star “Look, there’s something in our windshield.”  It was a note which said, “Due to trees down at the Park Entrance, nobody can leave the park at this time.”

We started driving downhill towards the entrance, and came upon two of our park rangers.  One of them lost part of her roof during the storm, which has ruined the inside of her little house.  Luckily, while I was standing there, the ranger received a radio call that the road out of the park was now clear of trees.  Thankfully, the ranger didn’t take me up on my offer of assistance and told Star and me to go home, clean up, and get something hot to eat. 

I also asked the ranger about the woman who lost her tent during the storm last night.  She told us the young lady had showed up a couple of hours earlier looking for a way to get to the airport for her 4 PM flight.  At least she made it, and has a story of her own to tell about a much different Maui than most people know.

It took longer than usual to get home due to the tree debris, but we finally made it about 2 PM in the afternoon.  We walked into the house and guess what?  The electricity was out. So much for the hot shower and meal.  We cleaned up a little and drove seven miles down to our local bar, The Stopwatch, for beer and cheeseburgers. Finally, four hours after getting home the power was restored. 

I love the way Star and I can laugh ourselves through almost anything, and we did a lot of laughing over the past 36 hours.  I am also continually amazed by Star on our trips.  She keeps her head always, and even in the Holua Cabin last night, she was as calm as could be.  We work extremely well as a team, and even more so under pressure conditions, which may help explain why Lady Luck keeps sticking with us.

Day One
Sliding Sands Trail to Paliku
10.2 miles 3,500 ft. down

Day Two Day Hike
Paliku out to Kaupo Gap Viewpoint
3.0 miles, 300 ft.

Day Three
Paliku to Holua on Halemau’u Trail
6.3 miles 1,100 ft. up 600 ft. down
Day Four
Holua to Halemau’u Trailhead
4.0 miles, 1,400 ft. straight up in the last 2.8 miles


Friday, December 26, 2014

Whale Watching off the South Shore of Maui

Let's get away from the "hiking posts" today and take a trip with the Pacific Whale Foundation out of Maalaea Harbor on Maui's South Shore.  We have been patiently waiting for winter and the return of the Humpback Whales from their 4,000 mile Alaskan migration.  These whales aren't stupid, choosing to spend their winters off the Maui coast in the warm fishing waters. 

I've said it before.  We are not wildlife photographers.  There were so many whale encounters today; I lost count.  That said, I took photos of the sky, the volcano, and the back of peoples heads, all while trying to react to a two second window of opportunity.

For better or worse, here's what we ended up with.  What a wonderful way to finish up our Christmas Staycation on the Kihei Coast. 

We will do this trip again before the whales make their return to Alaska.

Leaving little Maalaea Harbor

Haleakala and our home somewhere in the distance

Before long, we started seeing blowholes spraying water.
Soon, they were all around the boat.

Whale Tail, or is it Whale Tale?

Selfie fail

Finally, I got lucky

Cropped version of the above photo