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Haleakala Backpacking Adventure Day 1: Keoneheehee (Sliding Sands) Trail to Kapalaoa Cabin

What started out as a discussion over beers a few months ago has finally come to fruition. The Exploration: Hawaii crew can now proudly say that we have completed Haleakala, visiting all three Haleakala cabins, over a span of 4 days. The entire trip went smoothly, until, that is, one of our 10 member crew ended up on a stretcher, in an ambulance and then the emergency room of Maui Memorial Hospital. But, I’m jumping ahead of myself. There is so much to share about Haleakala, that I will be breaking up our backpacking adventure into a couple of detailed posts. Let’s start with Day 1, which brought us from the summit of Haleakala at 10,000+ feet to Kapalaoa Cabin, via the Sliding Sands Trail.

Leaving on a jet plane. Photo by Janice Duldulao.

Leaving on a jet plane. Photo by Janice Duldulao.

Postcard from the Haleakala Visitor Center. Photo by Janice Duldulao.

Postcard from the Haleakala Visitor Center. Photo by Janice Duldulao.

Getting ready to jump on the trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Getting ready to jump on the trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Pushing off on the Sliding Sands Trail. Note Joel's sun cap. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Pushing off on the Sliding Sands Trail. Note Joel’s sun cap. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The light squigly lines mark the Sliding Sands Trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The light squigly lines mark the Sliding Sands Trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

John, happy to get started. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

John, happy to get started. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Check out that Army issued rucksack. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Check out that Army issued rucksack. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

In terms of logistics, you can check out this post on how we prepared for our trip to Haleakala, packing lists included. We arrived in Kahului, Maui, at the break of dawn. The early start allowed us to pick up our rental cars and fellow crew member, John, who had flown in from Washington State to join us. After picking up both John and his megaladon of a packing container, we all sat down for a hearty breakfast at…IHOP. Yes, not the greatest “local” choice, but hey, ridiculously large omeletes for sorta cheap is hard to argue against. After IHOP, we made a quick pit stop at the nearby Wal-Mart for some last minute supplies, namely, alcohol. From there, it was a straight drive up Haleakala Highway and then Highway 377 to the summit of Haleakala.

Before starting our wilderness adventure, we made sure to stop at the Haleakala Visitor Center to check our group in. This is important, especially if you are staying over at any of the the cabins within the crater, because this is where the park rangers will give you the combination code to enter the cabins. At the visitor center, you will also watch a short video on Haleakala, on things that you should and should not do, while on your wilderness adventure. Once we finished the short orientation session, we then drove up the Keoneheehee (Sliding Sands) trailhead. This is the area known as White Hill and will be the first large parking lot area after leaving the visitor center and passing the Halemauu trailhead. After unloading all of gear at the Sliding Sands trailhead, we then staged one of our cars at the Halemauu Trailhead parking lot. The other car, we would leave at the summit.

After a little rearranging of our gear, we set off on the Sliding Sands trail, enthusiastic and confident. Within a few minutes, I began to think to myself, “fuck, this backpack is heavy.” I struggled with the thought of carrying this pack for the next four days. At the same time, I was looking out at the amazing vista that Haleakala offered. It definitely is a place like no other. The views at the summit were my motivation. I wanted to experience the House of the Rising Sun, and the only way to do so was to suck it up. And so I did.

I think Mike is looking for a place to pee. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

I think Mike is looking for a place to pee. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Let's do this. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Let’s do this. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

What did we get ourselves into? Photo by Coty Gonzales.

What did we get ourselves into? Photo by Coty Gonzales.

What did I get myself into? Photo by Janice Duldulao.

What did I get myself into? Photo by Janice Duldulao.

Only twenty something miles to go, right? Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Only twenty something miles to go, right? Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Janice showing off. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Janice showing off. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Rock piles. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Rock piles. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Resting, already? Photo by Allison Baird.

Resting, already? Photo by Allison Baird.

Ahnate packed light. Photo by Allison Baird.

Ahnate packed light. Photo by Allison Baird.

This the entire way. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

This the entire way. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

I reasoned with myself that, although it would take five-point-something miles to reach Kapalaoa Cabin, that this would be “easy” because it would be a pure descent into the crater. I’d be walking downhill for five-point-something miles. Easy, right? Not so much. It was still a challenge because I was carrying a 35 pound backpack. And the sand doesn’t make the hiking any easier. The first two miles of the Sliding Sands trail really lives up to it’s name. I’d recommend pants and long socks for this portion of the trail, because the sand does indeed get into everything.

Two miles in, the group took a break near a very large rock, adjacent to a side trail junction. Some of the group decided to check out the 1-mile trail to a cinder cone. Others decided to conserve their energy and have a little snack break. I stayed back and munched on some almonds. Around this area, I found a silversword in full bloom, just off the main trail, while I was looking for a place to to go the bathroom, so to speak.

One of the many silverswords that you'll see on the trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

One of the many silverswords that you’ll see on the trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Up close and personal with a silversword. Photo by Janice Duldulao.

Up close and personal with a silversword. Photo by Janice Duldulao.

Silversword in full bloom. Photo by Allison Baird.

Silversword in full bloom. Photo by Allison Baird.

Mike on a large slab of rock. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Mike on a large slab of rock. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Joel ready for a snack. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Joel ready for a snack. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

A short side trail leads to these two cinder cones. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

A short side trail leads to these two cinder cones. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

A short side trail leads to these two cinder cones. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

A short side trail leads to these two cinder cones. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Carry on. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Carry on. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Awesome place to take a break. Photo by Janice Duldulao.

Awesome place to take a break. Photo by Janice Duldulao.

Horseback. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Horseback. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

1.9 miles more to Kapalaoa. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

1.9 miles more to Kapalaoa. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Miles 3-4 were much harder, compared to the first two miles. At around mile 3 I found a cool bench. I took a break here and just looked into the crater. I could see Mike, Ahnate, and John far ahead resting too. It turned out that they were at the 4-mile mark, near the Kapalaoa-Holua junction. A few moments later, I noticed a group of horses making their way up Sliding Sands. This was a tour group, of course. Those lazy people, I thought to myself! Then, I started wishing that I had my own horse that would take me to Kapalaoa Cabin. Out of nowhere, Allison popped up and decided to have a light snack break with me. A few minutes later, Joel and Janice showed up. They looked exhausted. I know that I was exhausted, but energized to finish up the first leg of our multi-day adventure.

Once I reached the Kapalaoa-Haloa junction, I took another break. There was a nice open area, and a place were people could rest their horses. Allison passed me by and said she was gonna try and finish up the final 1.7 miles, so there was no rest for her, here. Not too long after, I was up and walking again. I could only hope that Joel and Janice were doing okay, I could not see them in the distance. I trudged on.

The final 1.7 miles were pretty much a flat walk to the cabin. The hard part is finding the motivation to keep going. Fortunately for me, I brought along my headphones. I plugged those white earbuds into my iPhone and found the motivation to finish with Green Day’s 2003 album, American Idiot. This album was a graduate school staple of mine. I listened to Jesus of Surburbia a few times before I reached Kapalaoa Cabin. With just half-a-mile to go, I ran into Bin, I Ting, and Allison. In the distance, I saw Mike walking back toward us without his pack on. I then saw him stop and talk to Bin, Allison, and I Ting. They looked concerned. He then walked  toward me, smiling. He told me that he had told a little fib to Bin, Allison, and I Ting. He told them that the combination code to the cabin did not work, and so he would walk back to the summit to find out what’s going on. He continued on, in the meantime, Allison and Bin were freaking out, because he didn’t even have water with him. Allison looks at me and I told her to just keep walking. She said, “is he bullshiting us?” I winked and repeated to her to keep walking. Allison likes to use the word jerk a lot. She used it in an explicit manner on this occasion, but was also relieved that he wasn’t stupid enough to hike back up.

Finally, Kapalaoa Cabin was in sight. I walked in, John was already napping. I threw down my backpack with enthusiasm, took off my shoes, and rewarded myself with a pair of comfortable slippers. I was so happy that the first leg of our trek was in the books. After a short tour of the cabin grounds, I plopped down into my bunk bed and took a nice, long, nap. By the time I woke up, it was time for “dinner” and some night photography. We’ll save those shots for another post, though.

My backpack. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

My backpack. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Almost there. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Almost there. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Kapalaoa Cabin. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Kapalaoa Cabin. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Kapalaoa Cabin. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Kapalaoa Cabin. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Cabin in the crater. Photo by Janice Duldulao.

Cabin in the crater. Photo by Janice Duldulao.

Joel made some chocolate chip cookie stuffed with Oreo cookies. Yep, we devoured them. Photo by Allison Baird.

Joel made some chocolate chip cookie stuffed with Oreo cookies. Yep, we devoured them. Photo by Allison Baird.

And Allison made an epic Rocky Road something-something that was totally delicious. Photo by Allison Baird.

And Allison made an epic Rocky Road something-something that was totally delicious. Photo by Allison Baird.

Inside, looking out. Photo by Allison Baird.

Inside, looking out. Photo by Allison Baird.

Joel with his MRE. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Joel with his MRE. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Where's Allison? Photo by Janice Duldulao.

Where’s Allison? Photo by Janice Duldulao.

Beautiful weeds? Photo by Allison Baird.

Beautiful weeds? Photo by Allison Baird.

Allison and Janice shooting the sunset. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Allison and Janice shooting the sunset. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Darkness falls over Kapalaoa Cabin. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Darkness falls over Kapalaoa Cabin. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Day 1 By The Numbers:

  • Start Time: 11:50 am
  • End Time: 3:20 pm
  • Total Distance: 5.8 miles
  • Total Time: 3 hours and 30 minutes
  • Total Ascent: 287 feet
  • Total Descent: 2,858 feet

Day 1 Food Intake:

  • 2 beef jerky sticks
  • 1 protein bar
  • Nuts for snack
  • 1 beef stew dehydrated pack
  • Dried mangoes for snack

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii, Blogger, Hiker, Foodie, Apple Aficionado, T-Shirt Enthusiast, Psychologist, and Rogue Scientist.

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