The rains continued the next morning, persisting even after the sun crested the cliff behind us at 10:00--so much for those famous Haleakala sunrises. So, we hunkered down in our cabin, awaiting a break in the weather. With a fire in the stove, the cabin was warm and homey, its one room, a long table in the center and four sets of three-tiered bunk beds lining the walls. We were ten miles by foot form the nearest paved road. There was no cell service. No wi-fi. No electricity. Eleven strangers stuck inside a wilderness cabin the size of my living room at 6,380-foot elevation inside a dormant volcano. And not a one of us bored. We took turns purifying water that flowed strong and cold out of the faucet, either with a hand-pump filter or by boiling it for five minutes. Elizabeth read a biography of adventurer Isabella Bird. Someone read a year-old copy of National Geographic; someone else read an ancient women’s glossy magazine--all material left behind in the cabin. (I wouldn’t be leaving my Kindle behind.) A group played a card game. Outside, two endangered nene grazed; one vermillion i’iwi (Vestiaria coccinea
) sipped nectar from the lehua blooming in the ohia visible through the kitchen window. And 299 bull thistles awaited ripping from the willing ground by our eager, leather-gloved hands.
The day before was all about the ahinahina, silversword, growing at higher elevation in the wide-open, barren Haleakala Crater. Today, at Paliku, snuggled in a rainforest below a cliff, it was all about the bull thistle. Bull thistle was the enemy. The point of our trip. The reason we’d hiked 10 miles the day before carrying our food and clothing for three days on our backs. The reason we would face another nearly 10 miles at twice the grade the next day to return to elevation in the double-digits and civilization.
Bull thistle is an aggressive, invasive weed, we learned, in need of eradication. Bull thistle must be caught before it went to seed and the plentiful and generous winds rushing up Kaupo Gap spread the evil offspring to the four corners of Haleakala. It was a Sisyphean task. Finally, after lunch, no break in the weather apparent, we layered up. Rain jacket over fleece over long-sleeved, water-wicking top. Rain pants over sweat-stained hiking pants from the day before. Waterproof boots over SmartWool socks. Hats. Sunscreen. The aforementioned leather gloves.
Here's something to keep in mind about rainforests: Not all are tropical and warm. This one met with daytime highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s. But the most surprising element was the 40 mph gusting winds that found their way up the pit toilet and almost had me screaming for my husband in the middle of the night. After some initial confusion and clustering, we organized in a long line. Just like hunters flushing birds, my husband said. Just like search-and-rescue technicians looking for clues, I thought. We wielded shovels and pick axes to dig up the enemy, counting each unrooted foe as we went. We’ve never cleared this much field before, Elizabeth said again and again as my raingear kept the rain out and the sweat in, soaking my clothes in perspiration but not rainwater.
This was the same ground where 50 years ago, a group of Boy Scouts traveled the same path I had the day before, headed for the same destination and stood in the same field in which I found myself wet and cold. I carried clean socks and fresh greens in a pack on my back. They carried birds from Great Britain in boxes strapped to their backs.
The Hawaiian goose is known as nene in the Hawaiian language, a word that comes in handy in crossword puzzles. Some 30 individuals made up the native bird’s entire population in the early 1950s in a losing game against human-introduced predators (rats, cats, dogs, mongoose), loss of habitat and Mother Nature (tsunami). A captive bree
ding program got started in Pohakuloa on Hawaii Island and, of all places, England, and in June 1962, thirty-five British-born nene were flown to Hawaii, driven to the summit of Haleakala and, then, carried 10 miles to Paliku by a group of hard-working, badge-earning Boy Scouts, where the birds were released onto ground where the birds’ ancestors had last roamed 70 years prior. Today, an estimated 2,000 nene populate Hawaii on Maui, Hawaii Island and Kauai.
Back in the cabin near sunset, a break in the clouds gave way to a sky of reds, oranges and yellow but revealed no moon. Again. I should have been more disappointed, but, truth be told, I didn’t want to brave the wet weather again to attempt a photo.
Someone fired up the wood stove, using chunks of wood provided by the park service and feeding it with paper scraps from our food packaging, trail maps and, even, the wrappers of fresh rolls of toilet paper. We sipped peppermint tea made from leaves plucked from plants around the cabin. Soon, we’d start chopping vegetables to make veggie burritos. Soon, we’d start purifying water and re-filling water bottles for the next day’s hike. Soon, we’d start peppering Elizabeth, our leader, with questions: What time should we start? Should we wear rain gear? How long will it take? What’s the trail like? Are there portions that will require climbing? Is it shaded?
[Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series of my weekend with ahinahina and day one here. And watch for an upcoming blog post that will recount our hike out of Haleakala National Park through Kaupo Gap, where we’ll sate our desires for something cold with ice cream and popsicles. And beer.]