Backpacking into Haleakala Crater

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Yesterday Aly drove me up to Haleakala Summit for a solo overnight backpacking trip into the volcanic crater. As we climbed the 10,000 feet I had butterflies rising in my stomach.

Part of this was due to the sense of mystery and unknown, but I was also pushing away this vague idea in the back of my mind I might be biting off more than I could chew.

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I am rarely away from Aly, and even rarer from Phoenix for more than a few hours. Whenever one of us spends a night separated from the rest of the family, it always feels like a big deal.

This trip in particular felt like an even bigger deal, as I knew I wouldn’t have any cell phone reception for the majority of the 22-mile hike.

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I know hiking purists will admonish me for this, but I listen to podcasts and audiobooks from the moment I get on the trail to the moment I arrive in camp. In part due to my ADHD, I just don’t do well with silence. I have a hard time thinking when there is nothing going in my ears. Even as I write this, I have a podcast blaring in my ears.

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I stopped along the trail to take a panorama. The majesty of the volcano is overwhelming.

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I passed the first cabin on the route, a super primitive structure which has sheltered thousands of adventurers over the years.

I stopped at the picnic table out front, and ate my whole bag of vegan jerkey.

I hadn’t been there but a few minutes when a scantily-clad couple came running, yes…running…down the trail toward me. They stopped to chat and were remarkably kind and open-hearted. The guy was a firefighter, and she was in training to become one. I forget their names, but I’ll never forget our wonderful conversation.

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I walked on after an hour or so. My feet started to hurt not too soon after the halfway mark of the first day. The lava rocks were jagged and felt like they were cutting my feet up through my shoes somehow.

I tweaked my ankle coming down a particularly craggy decline, and it would continue to plague me for the rest of the trip.

I was deeply rewarded for my efforts as I descended into the Paliku valley. I had slowly been descending in elevation, and the vegetation started to increase and deepen in richness as I continued down into the valley.

I can’t describe to you how incredible it is to happen upon Paliku campground. You can’t even see it from the trail. It is tucked against this gigantic green cliff face…and…oh man. It is like no other place I’ve ever been. It had been a long 10 miles.

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Setting up my tent was surreal. My feet hurt too much to keep wearing my shoes. I took them off, and was grateful for the soft grass at the camp spot and on the little pathways nearby.

Somehow, there’s a water spout not too far from the campspots. It says it is non-potable, and not for drinking or cooking with. Thankfully, I brought iodine tablets. I got quite the little rhythm going with my 3 SmartWater bottles. I would have one “working” bottle I would drink/cook with, and then would usually have two others purifying with the iodine. They require 30 minutes each for the chemicals to work.

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Honestly, I laid in the tent from 3:30pm onward. I was probably asleep by 7:30pm. I had one of the best nights of sleep I’ve ever had camping, despite the freezing temperatures and super strong winds. My little tent protected me and kept everything (mostly) dry.

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Unfortunately I forgot to put my shoes inside the tent, and in the morning it was raining. I waited a bit, made breakfast, and eventually had to be brave and stuff my swollen feet into my sopping wet shoes.

The truth is, once I got back on the trail, it wouldn’t have mattered anyways. Within minutes, my whole body was soaked in sweat.

Just as I was feeling cold and tired and not at all ready for another 11 miles of trail, this beautiful little rainbow appeared.

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Mercifully, not too long after the sun came out. The fog dissipated a bit, and I found myself surrounded by the most stunning martian landscape.

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To be honest, every step of day 2 sent a big jolt of pain up through my legs and into my hips. My body just isn’t quite used to 10+ mile days.

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I got kind of cocky when I reached the turn-off for Halemau’u trail. I looked at my map, and saw I had already traveled the majority of the distance for day 2, and it wasn’t even noon. I’d gotten an early start, and was due to meet Aly and Phoenix at the Halemau’u trailhead at 2pm.

Based on my current pace, I figured I’d be there in 30-45 minutes from the turnoff.

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Sigh. That is the grin of an idiot.

You see, what I didn’t realize, was though I had completed most of the day’s distance, the final 2-3 miles are straight uphill on steep switchbacks.

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I didn’t realize I was as screwed as I was until this gigantic mountain emerged through the fog. I hadn’t been able to see it at all as I approached, and it just seemed to loom larger with every step I took toward it.

I kind of blacked out for the rest. With no reception on my phone, I had no way of telling Aly how poorly I’d estimated my timing. I booked it up the narrow mountain-side path for what felt like several hours, but must have just been a little more than one.

I could barely see anything, with fog on all sides. I chugged my caffeinated crystal light powder and made a final push.

Somehow I arrived the second Aly was pulling into the parking area.

I have much left to unpack still, but I will always remember my first backpacking trip into Haleakala.