Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, August 3, 1999

By Stephanie Kendrick, special to the Star-Bulletin
Although the Haleakala Silversword population is on the
rebound within park boundaries, the federal government
still considers the plant a threatened species.


The lively communities on the slopes
of Haleakala vanish in the awesome
silence of the crater

Related story

Photos and Story by Stephanie Kendrick
Assistant Features Editor


TO all outward appearances, our hiking party numbered three when we set off down the Sliding Sands trail into Haleakala crater last month. But I had a special guest along.

My father had done the hike twice, more than 20 years ago. His stories were the reason I had always wanted to hike Haleakala.

Out There When I planned the trip, in the year of my 30th birthday and his 60th, I did so with the hope he would be able to come along. But he hasn't exactly been easy on himself in the intervening years and his back vetoed the idea.

So while I retraced my father's footsteps I packed him along in my mind.

I'm embarrassed to tell you how the trip started, having veered so far from my father's frugal plan.

By Stephanie Kendrick, special to the Star-Bulletin
If you'd rather have a sore rear than sore feet, Pony Express offers an
alternative to hiking the crater. Owner Doug Smith leads a 7.5 mile tour
of the crater from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The $130 fee includes lunch. A 12 mile tour also is available on demand,
it leaves at 9:30 a.m. and returns at 5:30 p.m. for a fee of $160.
Kamaaina rates are available. For reservations, call (808) 667-2200.

Twenty years ago, Dad had jumped a flight from Honolulu with his backpack and the idea that he would hitch a ride to the trailhead. This time around, we flew over the day before, rented a car, had a luxurious lunch (last decent meal for three days after all), spent the night at a wonderful bed and breakfast (see related story, B-1), and drove ourselves up the mountain the next morning.

After a stop at the summit for the obligatory photo-op, we parked near the Sliding Sands trailhead and were on our way.

The portion of the crater that can be seen from the summit looks like an enormous raku bowl, with spots of oxidized copper deposited at the whim of the clouds.

Although there is no shade on the trail, the high altitude furnishes cool temperatures, even in July. But a hat and sunscreen are necessities.

As we approached the crater floor we passed two large patches of silversword. Many were in bloom with the largest spray standing nearly 5 feet tall. Most of the plants had deep burgundy flowers, but the blossoms on one were pure white. A few were close enough to the trail to smell, they have a scent similar to chrysanthemums.

I thought of my father as I realized how lucky I was to be among the tiny number of humans who had smelled a silversword blossom.

By Stephanie Kendrick, special to the Star-Bulletin
Surrounded by rainforest, Paliku is a welcome contrast to the arid lava
plain at Kapalaoa. A 10-mile hike from the trailhead, it's a tough
place to leave after just one night.

The trail from Sliding Sands to Kapalaoa consists mainly of coarse lava sand. We removed our shoes at each rest stop to shake out cinders. It was a relief to reach Kapalaoa and be able to remove them for the night.

Night falls early and completely in the crater. By 8 p.m. we were outside under a sky that simply didn't look real. We got sore necks from staring up at the stars and started to see spots from chasing the satellites across the sky.

A chorus of nene that sounded like laughter had us giggling right along with them.

The next morning we faced an easy four mile hike to Palik".

Shortly after leaving Kapalaoa, we passed into the crater's back half. Even in a drought year the change is dramatic. Cinder cones are covered with brush; native ferns, grasses and shrubs poke up through black lava fields.

With the exception of a small yellow flower called evening primrose that is common along the trail (park rangers speculate it was brought into the park in roadfill), the flora in Haleakala is indigenous or endemic. In effect, we were touring pre-contact Hawaii. It's a chicken-skin thought.

We arrived at paradise about 2 p.m. My father had told me before we left that I would wish we had booked two nights at Palik". He was right.

Set against lush pali and surrounded by a forest of ohia and other native trees, the cabin with its peeling paint seemed much more snug than shabby.

In between turns pumping water through our filter, we spent most of the afternoon watching the clouds roll over the lip of KaupØ Gap and across the plain in front of the cabin.

The what-shape-do-you-see? game was made more menacing by the fact that the clouds were not rolling harmlessly overhead, but coming straight for us. An octopus and a crab made appearances, as did several dragons.

Mist climbing down from the tops of the pali behind us created scenes from a Chinese silkscreen.

Our time spent outside during daylight at Kapalaoa had been limited by a pesky swarm of wasps. No wasps here, so we ate lunch and dinner at the picnic table in front of the cabin. An episode of "Wild Kingdom" unfolded around us as the pair we had come to think of as "our nene" got into a territorial spat with four other geese.

By Sam Sweitzer, special to the Star-Bulletin
Stephanie Kendrick's father, Sam Sweitzer,
braved the Kaupo jeep trail in 1976.

Though we never offered them food, the nene seemed comfortable near us as long as no one moved around too quickly. (Slow movements being rather natural after two days of hiking, the arrangement worked out well for everyone.)

A symphony of honeycreepers provided the soundtrack the next morning as we watched the mist burn off. It was not easy to leave.

The last leg of our journey lay before us; seven miles down KaupØ Gap. Most hikers trek back through the crater and up Halemau'u trail. But dad hiked out KaupØ, so down we went.

My husband's sister was due to pick us up in KaupØ based on an estimate that had us taking this leg at the same speed as the first two. Makes sense, it's all down hill after all. But what a hill. The trail drops almost 1,000 feet in elevation every mile.

The first two and a half miles consisted of a lovely wooded trail. Then came the rocks. Long stretches of loose lava rock frustrated our balance and spirits for the next mile and a half. The worst part was knowing the trail was to get harder.

At about mile four the trail left Haleakala National Park and crossed onto KaupØ Ranch.

The parks service describes the old jeep road that makes up most of the rest of the trail as "merciless."

We decided torturous was more apt. There are stretches overgrown with grass that are merciful. Every once in a while there is a tree. And sometimes the road even heads uphill for a few yards, which is heavenly. But most of the road is exposed to the elements, points steeply down, and is slippery with either loose rocks or soft dirt.

Confusion over signs at the trail head (a sign seems to point across the ranch road, when in fact you have to go through the ranch gate to get to the county road on the other side) killed any sense of fun we had left.

Once we got that figured out, the women-folk guarded the backpacks while the guy jogged the last couple of miles to fetch our ride.

Assuming his sister would have the only rental car on the coast, my husband dashed down the highway after the first one he saw, blowing our hiking whistle and waving his arms like a mad man.

It wasn't her, and they didn't stop.

It turned out virtually every car in front of the one and only store at KaupØ (the KaupØ Store) was a rental car. Apparently, the Maui Visitor's Bureau has been promoting the route as the "back-road to Hana." It is a different view of Maui, but it lacks much of the charm of the front-road to Hana.

As we drove down the highway after our pit stop at KaupØ Store, I looked to the right and back up into KaupØ Gap. The clouds we'd climbed down through that morning were hugging the mountain far above. We'd come a long way and we'd done it well.

My dad lost both big toe nails on his first descent. The worst we had among us were sore muscles and a couple of mild blisters.

If you are blessed with the good health and strong limbs required for the job, hike Haleakala.

It's a powerful thing to follow your father's footsteps into a slice of ancient Hawaii above the clouds, but Haleakala would be a powerful part of anyone's journey.


Best piece of equipment: Our water bladders. We bought the simple variety, which consist of a plastic bladder with a tube attached. They fit into whatever pack you are using and make it much easier to stay hydrated while in motion. No more guzzling water at rest breaks.

Biggest packing mistake: Only brought six Ibuprofen tablets. Ouch.

Getting the cabins: Cabin reservations must be submitted to park headquarters at the address listed below at least two months in advance. At the first of each month a lottery is held (March 1 for May dates, etc.). The more flexible your request, the better your chances. The cabins sleep 12 and the fee is $40 per night for a group of 1-6 and $80 for a group of 7-12. Accommodations are spartan, but clean and well equipped with cooking pots, dishes, firewood, a wood-burning stove and propane burners. Water, if it is available, is piped into the cabin sink from rain catchments outside. It is not potable and must be treated before drinking.

For more info: Haleakala National Park prints brochures on every aspect of the park, from plants to stars and from general camping rules to hiking out KaupØ Gap. The rangers are helpful and courteous. Contact them by mail at P.O. Box 369 Makawao, HI 96768; by phone at (808) 572-9306; or in person at park headquarters on the road to Haleakala summit.

Day 1

Hiked about 6 miles to Kapalaoa Cabin

Note: Kapalaoa Cabin is surrounded by wasps. They are noisy and annoying, but did not seem to be carnivorous.

Day 2

Hiked about 4 miles to Paliku Cabin

Note: The drought has dried the stream and waterfalls that once graced Palik", as well as the water catchment that serves the campground and cabins. Traveling earlier in the year might afford a better chance of having water.

Day 3

Hiked about 7 miles to Kaupo Ranch

Note: This is not only the longest, but by far the hardest leg of the hike. Allow more time than you think you might need so you can take longer and more frequent breaks than usual. Pack lots of water.

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