When Mother Earth and Father Time joined forces, the Universe was created
When the Universe was born, Mother Earth and Father Time came into existence
For one did not exist without the other
Mother Earth was in the timeless cosmos
And Father Time ran through the veins of the Earth
Through the soil and every leaf and every tree
I can smell him in the bark
As I touch and taste and smell
Trees and rain and stars
I take in the timeless power and presence of nature
And I am reminded of you
This weekend I got to go to Halape for the 6th time, my 2nd time alone. I’ve hiked Waimanu, Kalalau, Patagonia, day hikes up Mount Washington, Mount Sinai, the Italian Dolomites, and the Bulgarian Pirin Mountains. Halape is still my favorite place.
Most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park had been closed for about 5 months after the May 2018 eruption and Halema’uma’u crater implosions. Closed portions of the park started to reopen on September 22 and continues to reopen in stages. The coastal backcountry reopened on Friday, October 19. I had to work that day but I went in to get a permit before heading to the office. Saturday morning, I headed out to my happy place.
I took the trail I always take: Park my car at Mau Loa o Mauna Ulu and hike 8.5 miles down the pali (cliff) switchbacks, across the dry-land to the ocean. It’s a hot trail with no shade anywhere. The trail was overgrown. Most of it was detectable by feel even if not visible to the eye. Parts of it were completely overgrown and lost. Many of the cairns had presumably fallen during the months of daily earthquakes. Some were not visible because grasses had grown up around them. I took the trail slowly – almost exactly 5 hours to get there – stomping down grass and re-stacking cairns as I went along. The weird motions of stomping grass and bending over with a full backpack on made the trek a bit more tiring. The last 3 miles of the trail were the worst! The trail went in and out so much.
With about 2 miles to go, I sprained my ankle. I have weak ankles from growing up playing soccer and roll them frequently. Usually, I get up after a minute and keep going and it’s fine. This time was probably the 2nd worse sprain I’ve ever had. It was painful enough to make me collapse, feel light-headed and dizzy. My vision even got blurry for a minute and I moaned in pain, almost cried. I lied there on the ground for a few minutes before getting up and slowly hobbling the rest of the way to Halape.
Because of the ankle, I stopped stomping grass and re-stacking cairns. I stopped trying to reestablish the trail on the portion that needed it the most. But it was fine going down because I could see Halape and get there with or without trail.
Getting from the water tank and outhouse down to the beach was also an issue. There was so much haole koa (lead tree) that I didn’t think I was even on the trail anymore. It was so dense that I walked through it with my arms up in front of me to protect my face as I pushed through the thick lattice of branches and leaves. After dropping my stuff and setting up my tent, I headed back up to fill a gallon of water from the catchment tank and broke enough of the haole koa aside to clear a tiny, barely visible path.
I camped, I swam, I enjoyed the sunset, the nearly full moon, and the infinite stars. I met a super cool guy who came down a few hours after me. It turned out I had met his wife a couple of times years before and she had just recently decorated/staged my childhood home. We only talked a little and couldn’t see each other’s campsites from our own. He was planning to stay 2 nights, then move onto another campsite for a night before leaving. I never asked which trail he was taking out.
Before leaving I purified enough water to fill my two water bottles and only filled my gallon jug halfway with un-purified water. I left my toilet paper at the outhouse since there wasn’t any there (and later regretted it). The hike back out on Sunday morning was another story. I left around 8:30 and lost the trail within the first mile. Because I kept re-finding that portion of the trail on the way in, I thought I’d re-find it on the way out. I didn’t. It had been a year and a half since I had last hiked that trail and couldn’t remember which direction the trail went without actually seeing it. I wandered in the general direction of where my car was parked.
Hiking backcountry off trail is significantly more difficult than hiking backcountry on trail. Some areas had grass knee-high, or even waist-high. Some of the grass covered holes or uneven ground that was especially treacherous for my already injured ankle. I could walk on it just fine, I just really couldn’t injure it anymore! I walked on pahoehoe (smooth lava rock) where I could to avoid the grass, but that still required a lot more going up and down than a trail would require. I wandered for hours. I knew I was far from the trail I was familiar with. At one point I saw a brown glass bottle. I thought there might be trail nearby. Maybe there was. But I looked and looked. I dropped my pack and scoured a large radius. Nothing. I kept wandering.
If there had been anyone out there, I might have seen them or heard them and been able to find the trail that way. Not a soul in sight.
After hiking for several hours in the scorching sun, I saw a large tree off in the distance. It was the only shade for miles in any direction. I headed for it. I climbed up a hill through tall, thick grass that sunk down as I stepped. Once I got there, I lied on the grass and rocks, under the shade, perched on a hillside. I texted my sister who was my emergency contact and watching my kid for the weekend. I had texted her at 10:30 to say I was lost and if she didn’t hear from me in 5 hours to call the park emergency line. Reception went in and out across the backcountry. After a little deliberation, I called the emergency line myself at 2:30. They answered. My call dropped. I called again. They answered again. My call dropped again. They called me back, I told them I was lost, they made sure I was okay, uninjured (I didn’t tell them about the sprain since I could walk just fine), they asked me how much battery my phone had (about 25% and it died during the night), they got my GPS location and told me not move from there, they’d send rangers. They called back again later. They asked if I had food, water, a sleeping bag, a tent… They said by the time Search and Rescue could get to me, it might be dark and everyone would have to spend the night out there. They told me to stay the night and they’d send people out in the morning. After hanging up the phone, I laughed at my situation – I had taken “roughing it” to a new level and now I was a damsel in distress.
I was at least halfway up the pali, perched on a slope, I couldn’t find a very flat place to pitch my one-person tent. But after seeing a huge centipede in the grass, I found a way to make it work. The wind was strong and the sky was clear so I didn’t put up the rain fly. Even with almost all screen, the wind blew my tent around a lot. The moon was nearly full. I had a view of the coast line. I got to watch the sunset, the moonrise, and moonset. It was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in months.
In the morning, I packed up camp and sat under the tree to read while I waited. I heard my name faintly. It sounded like it was coming from the general direction of my car – further up the cliff and off to the side, North or North-East. I called back. But the wind was blowing strong from that direction and carrying my voice away from them instead. So I scrambled up the rest of the hill I was on to get to what I hoped would be a plateau. It was steep climbing, not hiking. I had to take off my backpack, toss it up, and stabilize it while I climbed up and repeated the cycle because there wasn’t enough flat area for my backpack to rest without tumbling down. When I got up there, it was indeed a plateau. The wind was even stronger up there. And there wasn’t a soul in sight. I called and called to no avail. I walked up to high points on the terrain to get better visibility. I walked to the ledge to look down – perhaps I had been confused about where the voice was coming from. Nothing. After a while, of that going back and forth and knowing it wasn’t safe to attempt to go back down what I just climbed up, I spotted 2 tiny moving figures way down at the bottom of the cliff. I waved my arms and they stopped. They saw me! After a couple minutes they started walking back in the direction they just came from. They stopped again before moving out of my line of sight. I waited. I moved again to another highpoint that had been blocking my line of view on the plateau. Finally, I saw an orange shirt off in the distance. I picked up my pack and booked it.
I was greeted by the kind, young, blue-eyed Ranger Pono. He was a local boy and well-spoken. He said he was happy to get out for a hike this morning. “Seriously?” I asked. He assured me it was so. It was nice to hear. I had been feeling bad about making them come out there and using limited park resources. He offered me water and fruit bars that were surprisingly good. I had been rationing my water, was thirsty, and down to my last sip. We hiked back to where the older Ranger Arnold was waiting. He had an aseptic box of water for me. He also offered me a protein bar and hiking poles, which I declined. Ranger Arnold talked about another time there was a park closure for a couple months and they were going out for Search and Rescue almost every day. They must have known that I’d been feeling a little bad about it because they both, in their own ways, said things to ease my mind.
We were pretty close to another trail which I had heard of but never been on. It was maybe 45 minutes of a decent paced hike back uphill to their truck. 4-wheel drive road, a gate, pavement, and they delivered me back to my car.
I have to admit, that entire adventure was so fun that I still feel a little guilty about having so much fun in spite of the inconvenience to the park rangers and resources. I was safe and well but had I kept going a little longer the day before, I could have ended up with a very bad situation (dehydration, heat exhaustion, loss of cell service or battery life, etc.). I was lucky.
I told them I’d like to volunteer to help when they schedule trail maintenance or campsite clearing. They said their supervisor is looking for volunteers for that or search and rescue and gave me her name. I’m planning on calling her tomorrow. Volunteering might be a safer way for me to experience the backcountry when I don’t have any friends to join in on the adventures I’m aching for.
Unfurl your grasp
Leave your guns behind
Leave behind all intent and ability to do harm
Leave behind all fearsome protection of yourself
Deep in the forest
Where you get lost
Unsure of which way home is
Or where you should go from here
Come face to face with the beast
Meet his eyes with yours
Meet his soul with yours
Feel the fear run through your veins
Know there is nothing you can do
The threat of Death
A mere breath away
Watch the beast
Turn and walk away
A mere oddity in his path
Elation and death
Praise the gods
He left you alive
Curse the gods
For crossing his path
deep in the forest
Not sure of what just happened
The scent of the beast
Lingers in your hair
Blood and tears
A Crimson world
Lost deep in the forest
As the sun sets
Deep in the forest
Raw beauty stands fast
when all frivolity is stripped away
each curve of temple, cheek, jaw
an unyielding landscape
Lips with the strength to speak truth,
the softness to laugh and smile,
and the wisdom of waiting for either
The freckled memory of sun-kissed years
now a galaxy of wonder
Eyes go on and on and on
Drawing ever deeper
into a universe unknown
This is Nui
Myna bird squawks
rain starts and stops
little fly tries for my pie
key lime pie
coconut in the crumble crust
hot black coffee
in a volcanic mug
a familiar face
conversation and familiarity leaves
timer beeping in the bakery
scent of cinnamon and bread
scent of soft comfort and everything being right in the world
watching the rain encroach from a block away
water streams alongside the street curb
caffeine and sugar buzz
blue eyes and smiles