Friday, April 06, 2012

Halape in Volcano National Park: Stay Like a Local on the Big Island of Hawai'i

Camping is a past time I am reluctant about. My grandparents in Minnesota are enthusiastic campers who plan extended trips into the pristine Boundary Waters as precisely as any military invasion with detailed menu plans, and sleeping bags rolled down to the size of canned cinnamon buns. They have often waxed rhapsodic about it's joys: The Fresh Air! The Crystal Clear Waters! The Wildlife! The Birds Singing! All of these charms are undeniable. Nothing puts you in a position to appreciate nature like pitching a tent.

Our friends Dan and Lisa are campers of a more relaxed variety and have invited us to join them on more than one occasion for what Lisa calls "Car Camping" which means you simply drive up to the campsite and start drinking and toasting s'mores. While I appreciate the simplicity of this approach, I usually prefer to just get back in my car and sleep in my nice soft bed. We said no many times.

For Spring Break, Lisa proposed a trip down to Halape in Volcano National Park. Here was my chance to try camping for real, in a place without cold, snakes, bears or mosquitoes. I liked the idea of hiking in with provisions on your back to see a place untrammeled by man- like an oasis in the desert. Here was a place I couldn't go or see without camping- it was simply too far and too remote. That appealed to me. We said yes at last.

I borrowed gear from Kristin, bought what she didn't have at a sporting goods store (camping equipment is expensive!) and filled two packs with things I would never normally purchase: bug spray, tuna fish in a pouch, trail mix, water purification tablets and instant coffee.

It seems to me that great food and camping don't mix. You have to rely on things that are dehydrated or canned and can be warmed over an open flame. I confess, there is part of me that enjoys the fantasy of cooking like a cowboy. I just don't enjoy being plunged into the reality of eating like one.

On the appointed day, Eric had come down with the flu. He didn't want to cancel after all the preparations and excitement, so we dosed him with Dayquil and left the house at 4:30a.m to pick up our friends. The idea was to arrive at the permit office first thing. We drove the dark, winding roads with the two round eyes of the Jeep lighting the way, sipping coffee and fantasizing about transforming ourselves into wilderness warriors in a single weekend.

It's a 7.5 mile hike, down from mountain to sea level. In my mind 7.5 miles was totally doable, but I was picturing 7.5 miles of paved trail. Instead, it was 7.5 miles of untamed lava rock in the baking midday sun, the way marked by pyramids of black rocks called kearns. I don't know how Eric managed it in his feverish state. Dan's hiking boots started to peel apart in the heat and we resorted to keeping them together with the elastic from Lisa's sleeping roll. It was exhausting.

After a hard day of hiking with a massive pack of provisions on your back, and blisters on each and every toe, what you most need and want is a long hot bath and a nice soft bed. Neither one are options when camping. Instead, you unfurl a little mat across the rocky ground and collapse beneath a stifling sleeping bag for a night of fitful, dreamless sleep. (Has anyone else noticed that tents are either way too hot or way too cold?)

In the morning though, I was struck by the sublime beauty of the place we found ourselves. It was shockingly quiet- the only sound the wind whipping through the scrubby plants and palm leaves. The whole place felt full of that holy silence that our convenient, modern lives leave no room for. I felt as if we were on a deserted island as we all lay reading quietly. I wondered how that kind of sustained quiet could transform your life.

The next day, we hiked out again. Of course, going up the mountain is more difficult than coming down it and we were all pushed to our limit once again. We stopped for lunch at Hana Hou on the way home and I've never been so happy to see a loco moco in my life. I guess that is another plus for camping- the way it makes you appreciate how easy you have it the rest of the time.

Camping will probably never be something I suggest on my own. However, when people we love offer to take us on an excursion into the wilderness, I'll find it hard to say no to the adventure of the thing.

P.S) This sarong was unquestionably the best item I brought along on the trip. It served as a beach cover up, towel, sun-shield, shawl, scarf and turban. Next time I'd bring less clothes thanks to this little piece of fabric. Are you a camper? What are your must haves on the trail?

1 comment:

Gwen Edwards said...

Oh poor Eric! That would not be a fun hike while sick. So proud of you for making the trek. Halape is such a special place, looks like we even camped in the same spot:

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