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Into the crater and Tom Wolfe

Me and my shadow hiking out of the crater.

(Click on images to enlarge)

If you are reading this, I’ve made it out of the crater alive! It was quite an adventure, hiking into and out of the Haleakala volcano going from 7,990 feet in elevation to 6,940 feet to Holua and back again. I stayed at the Holua “Hilton” as the ranger cabin is called. Also at the site is a visitor cabin with 12 bunks that can be reserved and a campground for tents, both with spectacular views of the valley in the crater. As artist-in-residence I was able to reserve nights in the ranger cabin, same as I did in Kipahulu last week.

My back pack might have weighed 35 pounds; carrying all my stuff (clothes, food, supplies) plus the camera equipment really added up. I didn’t need a tent or cooking utensils so that was a savings. From the Halemau’u trailhead to the cabin is 3.7 miles, which is about all I could think I could do. From the trailhead it is very steep, narrow and almost all rocky. Tuesday morning was part sun, part cloud that made the rocks wet and the mist seemed like rain.

Inside the crater is like a big valley, much greener than the summit area, but similar to the high deserts of the southwest. The environment is fascinating, part covered with lava flows from the past, hardened into dark rocks that can be quite sharp. Plant life grows between the cracks forming an interesting contrast.

The cabin is rustic, with 4 bunks, a counter/sink area for cooking and some storage bins. That’s about it. The water collected is non-potable but there is a large water filter that works by gravity on the counter. A two-burner propane stove heats water quickly. There are lots of pots, pans and utensils. I ate meals there, taking things like instant oats and camp meals that you only have to add boiling water to make.

The Holua Hilton, at the base of the crater rim.

The quiet is amazing, though the sounds of the ‘ua’u birds break that silence especially in the evening (“oooo ah oo” is the sound). Thousands of them must be calling, you hear them faintly in the distance. The inside of the crater is described as one of the quietest places on Earth.

After scouting out locations and subjects during the day, I spent two night photographing the ‘ahinahina plant, or silversword. It is silver in color to ward off the strong rays of the sun and looks quite alien day or night. It is one of the many plants endemic to Hawaii, Haleakala in particular. It is distantly related to the sunflower, which must have come here millennia ago.

The Milky Way was a sight at 3:00am, lying horizontal to the horizon and was worth waking up early. The third night I concentrated on the lava flows and plants, a first quarter moon was high lighting up the landscape.

Fortunately, Friday morning was clear and warm for the hike out. My pack was only a bit lighter, I ate almost all of the food but had to pack out the trash. It seemed like I was ascending straight up the side of the crater, though since I adjusted the straps on the pack, I was able to walk better and my pace was good. I ran into Tom Wolfe who was headed down the trail. Actually, a former New Yorker about 50 years old with a name he said is “hard to forget”. I was pretty exhausted when I reached the parking lot but glad I made it out.

A ‘ahinahina plant glowing under a nearly first quarter moon and Hanakauhi mountain in the distance.

(Click on images to enlarge)
Lava formation with a tipped Big Dipper above and Polaris, the North Star, to the left.
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