My night spent sleeping on the porch of the Kaupo General Store was reminiscent of my sleepless nights on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Fortunately it has not rained, and the morning sky looks promisingly blue. I pack my things and get moving. I follow a road for an uncomfortable amount of time without finding the trailhead. My paranoia causes me to keep thinking that I have somehow missed the trail, but, as usual, I eventually get there.
As I officially begin up the Kaupo Gap Trail, I pass a sign informing me that aggressive feral dogs have been spotted in the area – hooray! I follow another, more promising sign in the (supposed) direction of the trail.
So the trail goes straight into this densely overgrown hill of chest-high vegetation?
Great (the dogs will have the advantage here). I make my way into the grass, and immediately become soaked from the dew-covered plants. Which way the “trail” leads, I have no idea, and after wandering blindly through the brush for ten minutes, I conclude that I am lost. It looks like it’s going to be a long hike.
I successfully backtrack to the first sign and begin again. Slowly. This time I spot another trail marker off in the distance, almost completely hidden by brush. In the absence of a trail, I cut straight towards it, and after repeating this process several times with the next four (well hidden) markers, I finally make it out of the land of tall grass and aggressive feral dogs.
The first hour of hiking takes me less than mile up the volcano. In addition to being near impossible to follow, the trail is also far steeper than I had anticipated. Coupled with the fact that it climbs an exposed, eastward facing (read: sun facing) slope, I am well on my way to becoming exhausted and dehydrated.
I follow faint tire tracks in the grass until I come to a junction in (what I believe to be) the trail.
No sign, no marker, and no indication of which way to go, I use my keen hiker instincts to sniff out the correct path. However, I soon encounter another junction, and another, and another – finally I choose incorrectly.
I follow what I believe to be the trail for thirty minutes before I decide that I am not gaining enough elevation for this to be the correct route. I am off trail. My solution? Cut horizontally across the mountain in the direction of the previous junction until I come across the true trail.
Since the trail is often an imaginary line in the grass I expect finding it to be difficult, but as luck would have it, I eventually come across a broken sign, informing me that I have once again stumbled upon the correct path.
I am officially exhausted; to the point of wanting to throw up. Conclusion? Lay down and remember that I am out here to enjoy myself.
How long it has been since I started and how far I have come, are both mysteries. I sit battling dehydration with my limited water supply, and suddenly something unexpected happens. I hear voices. Two hikers are heading down the trail towards me. Friends!
They are two guys from Germany backpacking around Hawaii for a couple of weeks, and they had also heard (from a bunch of liars), that this trail was amazing (it is easily the most poorly maintained trail that I have ever been on).
I ask how the trail ahead of me compares, and am crushed to learn that the current trail is the best they have seen all day. They continue down, and I continue lounging, desperate to recover strength. Soon the time comes where I must choose between falling asleep and hiking. Time to hike.
The trail brings me to a gate, and on the other side I find a sign: 3.9 miles until Paliku Cabin (the first of three). Devastating news.
Yesterday a ranger informed me that the total distance from the trailhead to the first cabin was 3.9 miles. Turns out that the border of the National Park (where I am now) to the cabin is 3.9 miles. Talk about misinformation. I am not going to make it as far as I had hoped to today.
Pressing on as clouds roll in and the coast fades into the distance, the overgrowth becomes thicker and wetter. There are times that I cannot see the trail, my feet, or anything in front of me except for overgrown bushes. My shoes, socks, and shorts are soaking wet and I am (again) becoming incredibly tired.
I thought I was going to be in much better shape getting up this mountain, but it turns out that going up 7,000 feet over eight and a half miles is not as simple a task as I thought.
I stop two more times to rest before finally making it to the crater plateau. The clouds have yet to breach the ridge, and I am incredibly grateful to finally have a defined trail beneath my feet. I catch a glimpse of my destination and fight the temptation to bushwhack. I am close.
Twenty minutes later I make it to the cabin and find it vacant – and locked. The Haleakala cabins come furnished with working stoves, cots, and dining sets, but I only care about escaping the impending rainstorm. No dice.
I refill my water with the outdoor spicket, and decide to pitch camp for the night. As I eat my third meal of assorted energy bars, I hear what at first sounds suspiciously like a cow. There are cows in the Haleakala crater? No, there are Nene.
Nene (or Hawaiian Geese), are birds found exclusively on Maui, Kauaʻi and Hawaiʻi. Two adults and three babies emerge from the bushes gathering up a dinner of grass. I try getting close for a picture of the babies, and an adult flares its wings and chases after me hissing. It is terrifying.
Left with plenty of daylight to enjoy I explore the campground and ensure that I have not erred in assuming the cabin to be locked. Nope, it’s locked alright. I retire to my tent where I watch Nene eat grass and doze off.
Before the sun sets I am awoken by voices (four at least) heading towards the cabin. I cannot say whether or not they saw my tent hidden in the brush, but by the time I get myself up and outside, they are already inside putting the stove to work. I watch smoke billow from the chimney and decide to leave them alone. The Nene are all the friends I need.
Contrary to last night spent on the porch of the Kaupo General Store, tonight my slumber goes undisturbed, and I fall asleep to the sounds of silence.
Tomorrow I will make it to the summit.
THE FUTURE: Haleakala Day 3: Sliding Sands, Summits, & Swiss