Haleakala Sea-to-Summit Climb
Day 2 - Rained-out at Paliku
Saturday, February 25
I had a scenic, relaxing itinerary planned for the second day of our three-day Haleakala Backpack. Instead of moving to a different campsite, we would stay tenting here for another night. I had carefully researched some off-the-beaten paths that would bring us up to a high ridge above the campsite, where we could spend the day soaking in the splendor of Haleakala's high country, then come back to prepare for the climb to the summit the next day.
Well, none of that happened. The thin drizzle that had started after dinner the night before became light rain, then steady rain with blustery winds. Sunrise was heralded by nothing more than a dull brightening. We had done a good job setting up the tent, for we were still pretty dry. The prospects for an easy day-hike in the sun above the clouds didn't seem so good, though.
We had already been lying prone in our sleeping bags for over ten hours by the time it got light. As long as the winds buffeted our tent and the rain continued to patter on the fly, there really was no hurry to get up. However, there is only so much dozing one can force oneself to do before one tires of the dozing itself. So, after lying awake for perhaps an hour, looking at the drops roll down on the outside of the tent fly, I decided it was time to get up - even though there was no real objective and it meant getting wet.
A gray day
I put on all of my raingear and went for a walk around the grounds of Paliku. Brian and Jenn elected to stay tent-bound for a while longer.
It was a green and gray world. The vegetation around Paliku is fairly lush, and the rain had made it look richer and lusher. Up here at 6,400 feet, we were clearly in the cloud layer, and there wasn't much visibility in any direction, save for an occasional misty view of the big cliff behind the cabin. To pass the time, I wandered around the tentsite, the cabin, the water catchment system, the loo, the many nene geese waddling to and fro (for such an endangered species, there sure are a lot of them here - this must represent a sizeable fraction of the world's population!).
Rain and mist
I noticed that the water catchment system (which accumulates its water from the cabin's roof into a big cistern) was piped directly to the water faucet out front near the cabin. That explained the weird plastic-and-tar tasting water I drank the night before. A note to all - the water from the faucet without a 'not potable' sign outside the cabin needs to be filtered!
Jenn and Brian appeared shortly thereafter, and we decided to 'cook' our breakfast under an awning at the back of the cabin. The Sterno stove managed to supply us with faintly lukewarm water for our porridge.
The weather showed no sign of change, other than the fact that wind had lessened somewhat. Gray and rainy it remained. Jenn and Brian returned to the tents, and I stayed outside.
One of the other campers at Paliku had come wandering by. I introduced myself and we commiserated about the cold and unpleasant conditions. We both agreed that it sure would be nice to spend a few hours in the cabin. He mentioned there was a ranger cabin a short distance away, and maybe we should see if there was anyone on duty. Perhaps they might have pity on us and let us use the cabin for a while (The interior of the cabin is accessible only to those who have reservations, and once all of the previous night's tenants had left (which they already had done), the doors to the cabin are locked).
Following a soggy path behind the cabin, we soon came to another open field. Nearby was another cabin, along with a stable that contained three horses. Someone was home, it seemed. After a bit of hesitation, I gently knocked on the door of the cabin, and presently the door opened, and with it, a breath of warm air and the smell of frying bacon. I gently inquired if - given that all of the Paliku cabin's occupants had left and the fact that it was somewhat unpleasant out - if we could perhaps be permitted to spend a few hours in the cabin. He expressed his apologies, and said that he could not do that. But, we could stand under the awning at the back of the cabin, if we wished.
So, that was that. No nice dry place to wait out this day, which was not looking like it was in any hurry to dry up or clear out. I didn't feel like going back into the cramped confines of the tent, and elected to return to the awning at the back of the cabin.
Time passes pretty slowly when you are doing nothing. I watched a stream of water pour out of the awning's eavestrough and into a little grassy pool on the ground. It would vary in intensity with the rain; a few seconds after the rain picked up, the little stream perked up and the splashing grew more intense. Once in a while the rain would almost stop, and the flow would become an intermittent trickle of drops. I spent a good two hours just standing there, watching the water, and gaining a very faint headache in the process.
Has it stopped?
I was slightly startled out of my rain gutter-watching reverie by the appearance of Brian and Jenn at the awning. It was approaching noon, and they had finally decided to make another appearance. So began the ritual of lunch, which consisted of popping some M&Ms into our mouths and looking up at the sky now and then.
Jenn and Brian once again headed back to the tents. I once again elected to enjoy some more quality rainspout-watching time.
After another interminable hour or two, I was once again startled out of reverie. This time the startler was a figure in a cowboy-ish duster-style coat. I recognized him as the man from the ranger cabin.
He introduced himself as Ted. As we talked, he revealed that he was a volunteer ranger, having retired from the National Park service some years ago, and had offered to do a volunteer stint for the weekend at Haleakala. During the in-between time between cabin guests, he was checking up on the cabin's facilities. I stepped aside as he opened a nearby shed and unlocked the cabin's back door, then disappeared inside.
After finishing up with his cabin maintenance chores, Ted struck up a chat. His full name: Ted Rodrigues. I introduced myself, told him of our adventures on the Hawaiian islands thus far, and of the fact that we had come up from the ocean through Kaupo Gap - a fact that he perked up at. He seemed to be quite interested in our experience along the Kaupo Trail, and seemed happy at my description of the wonderful transformation of the vegetation that occurred when we crossed through the fence from the ranchlands and into the national park.
Continuing on with that theme, we soon got into a conversation a bit like the one we'd had with outlaw conservationist Bill Winters back on the Kalalau Trail on Kaua'i; one of restoring habitat and controlling feral goat and pig populations. Apparently Ted had been a key figure - perhaps THE key figure, I was to find out later - in restoring Kaupo Gap's habitat to its natural glory. Ted had been a park ranger for 33 years, many of them at Haleakala National Park, and he was in charge of feral animal control in the park. He recounted many years of effort tracking and culling the goats and pigs that were decimating Haleakala's native plants, and then of putting in place extensive fencing along the park boundaries to keep animals from outside of the park... well, outside of the park. Like, for example, the fencing we crossed to get into the park along the Kaupo trail. So, that beautiful stretch of natural Hawaiian forest above the park boundary? That was, in large part, due to this man's work.
We talked a bit more about travel, conservation, and little pet peeves - like not cutting switchbacks on trails (in fact, Ted was wearing a t-shirt that had 'STAY ON THE TRAIL' in large block letters). And then, he invited all of us for dinner at the ranger cabin. He said that they had been planning to have dinner with some friends, but they were unable to make it, and they had too much food for themselves. I didn't hesitate at all before responding with a grateful yes - in addition to the good company, the thought of real homemade food in a warm cabin for supper - especially with the dank and dready day we were having - was mighty appealing.
We agreed on a 6:30pm dinner time, and said goodbye until then. I hurried back over to the tents to give Brian and Jenn the good news, noticing at the same time that the rain seemed to have let up.
Look ma, no rain
Less than an hour later - just before 4pm - it definitely felt lighter out, and the rain seemed to have stopped for good. Soon we could see the disc of the sun attempting to burn through the mist, and an occasional glimpse of blue. The cloud base started to rise off of the deck, and soon we could clearly see the lower parts of the walls behind camp. It was clearing up!
The Paliku Cabin
We basked in the glorious warmth of the direct sun, and set about shaking off the tents and laying out various items to dry out. we spent some time photographing the nearby scenery that had been hidden for most of the day, including getting some good pictures of the nene of Paliku.
Shortly after the sun came out, a group of young hikers came bounding down the trail and arrived at Paliku - this night's residents for the cabin. They soon set about relaxing in the sun on the cabin's picnic table, playing frisbee, playing guitar, and singing tunes. Little did they know the dreary wasteland this had been an hour before their arrival!
Looking up-crater from Paliku
As I said earlier, the advent of sunny weather meant that I could take some good pictures of the local nene. So, it's probably a good time for me to write a bit about them and their story.
A Nene Couple
The nene, or Hawaiian Goose, is a distinct species of goose that is endemic (i.e. occurs no where else) to the Hawaiian islands. It is the official bird of the state of Hawai'i. Based on genetic analysis, they are most closely related to the Canada goose, and it is theorized that some Canada geese migrated to the Hawaiian islands some 500,000 years ago and through isolation and adaptation, became a separate species. Among other differences, the nene are somewhat smaller than canada geese, have distinctive striped neck markings, and have reduced webbing to enable them to more easily walk through rough lava terrain.
The nene almost went extinct in the mid 1900s, with the natural population reduced to a mere thirty birds. An in-captivity breeding program in England and a re-introduction program in the 1970s at Haleakala were instrumental in bringing the nene back from the brink. Today it is thought that perhaps 1000+ birds exist in the wild, and there seemed to be a significant population here at Paliku.
One last note about the nene: as they are endangered, the park service tells you to stay at least twenty feet away from them. However, this is practically impossible at the Paliku campsite, since they will often come directly up to within a few feet of you and/or your tent. It isn't really practical to unpeg and move your tent every time a group of honking nene waddle up to your camp. Oh, and in case you are visiting and it isn't already obvious - don't feed them! It only makes them dependant on humans and adversely impacts their health.
Beautiful light at Paliku
As much as we were enjoying hanging out in the now-beautiful weather at Paliku, we were also looking forward to our 6:30pm dinner date with Ted at the ranger cabin. We would not be forced to use that damn Sterno stove tonight. yay!
We took a few shots of the sun setting behind Haleakala's western crater rim, then headed over, headlamps in hand, to the ranger cabin. We were welcomed into a warm and inviting room, lined with bunks and in the center of which was a large table, already set with many of the condiments for our dinner. Ted introduced us to Lois, who was accompanying Ted on his weekend at Paliku. Together they busied themselves in the cabin's kitchen, preparing the remainder of our dinner - fish tacos.
Kaupo Gap at twilight
We gnawed on an appetizer of teriyaki jerky made from local axis deer (another non-native introduced species that the park manages) while we sat around the table before dinner.
Post sunset crater shot
As expected, dinner was delicious. The fish portion of the tacos were ahi (the Hawaiian name for tuna, not sure if the species was specifically Hawaiian or not), and were accompanied by fresh guacamole, chopped tomatoes, onions, and all of the usual stuff you get with tacos. Very delicious and a welcome break from dehydrated camp food.
Fish tacos and hospitality
Our dinner conversation mostly stayed in the realm of travel and outdoors, and we learned that Lois had travelled and hiked fairly extensively throughout the world, while Ted had spent most of his time in the Hawaiian islands. We learned a bit more of Ted's tireless work in the park with regards to habitat restoration. The more I learned about Ted, the more I thought about the similarities between him and Bill Winters back on the Kalalau Trail. Different, yet similar - one conservationist working within the rules, one not - but both putting in huge amounts of commitment and time and working towards the same end goals. In my opinion - both to be greatly admired. What an interesting coincidence it was that we managed two such people on the same trip!
We described our ambitious sea-to-summit-and-bike-down itinerary, and they graciously offered a bit of help at the end of the next day's summit. You see, from the summit of Haleakala to the campground near where our bikes were to be dropped off is a boring and long 9 miles (14km) down the park's paved road. If we happened to walk past their truck and horse trailer around the time they rode out the next day (their vehicle was parked at the visitor center near the summit), then we could hitch a ride down with them to the park boundary. We took them up on their offer, since we weren't particularly looking forward to a forced march after our summit tomorrow.
After a delightful dark chocolate dessert, we bid goodbye to our new friends and returned to our tents via headlight. We were happy to see that the sky was still clear, with Jupiter, Venus and the moon putting in another appearance. Earlier in the day we had been worried about not being able to see the scenic views in Haleakala's upper crater the next day, but so far, things were looking good.