Saturday, August 28, 2010

Haleakala Secret Spots -- by Eric Stelene

From the Oahu Hiking Enthusiasts Archives
Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2001 09:00:47 -1000
From: Eric Stelene (
Subject: Secrets of Haleakala

I've been working at Haleakala National Park for about 5 months, but my job never gets me into the back country so I have to go on my own. Last week I went into the "crater" with another ranger on his back-country patrol. The plan was simple: he'll take me to the secret places he knows about and I'll show him the secret places I have discovered.

Keep in mind that hiking off established trails in the Park is prohibited and I am providing this write-up for "informational purposes". I'm not going to get specific about the locations of some of these places so don't bother to ask.

We started from the Halemau'u trailhead (elev 8000 ft.) about 6 miles up from Park HQ. Next time you go to Haleakala be aware that you pass no fewer than 5 lava tubes all within spitting distance of the road between the entrance station and Halemau'u. (Don't bother looking, you'll never find them unless you know where the are.) These tubes are fairly small but have some interesting history. When the road was built by the CCC in the 30's, the workers apparently used these little caves for shelters. There are remnants of dynamite boxes and other debris left behind. One has some petroglyphs which are believed to be pre-European.

Although I can't tell you where the lava tubes inside the Park are (well, I could but then I'd have to kill everyone who reads this) so here's one just ouside the Park which is similiar to the ones described above: When heading up the mountain pass mile marker 9 (Park boundry is mile 10). Park at the first guard rail mauka of mile marker 9. About 50 ft off the road you'll see the small cave.

Anyway, back to Halemau'u. The Halemau'u trail in use today was built after a landslide wiped out the old Halemau'u. No one I talked to seems to know how long ago this happened but from what I learned, the new trail is about 30 years old. The old Halemau'u was a pre-European route into the crater. We left from the parking lot and headed for the old trail. We were at the crater rim in a few minutes and spent some time looking for some petroglyphs rumored to be in the area. We found no petroglyphs but did find a small shelter (an alcove in the cliff with a small rock wall built in front of it.)

The old Halemau'u trail dropped steeply to the crater floor in a series of short switch backs. The footing was rough since the trail was rocky and ummaintained. About half way down we came the old landslide area. A huge, deep gouge cut into the crater wall and took most of the lower switch-backs with it. From here we just cut straight down the the steep cliff and were soon at the crater floor. Total distance from the parking lot to the crater floor on the new Halemau'u is 2.8 miles, the old Halemau'u: about 1 mile! At the crater floor we picked up a faint trail through a grassy area and in few minutes came to the gate at the bottom of the new Halemau'u.

From the gate, an unmaintained trail branches off in the direction of Koolau Gap. (Not being an established trail, its use is prohibited by visitors). Soon this trail branches. One fork cuts across Koolau Gap to Waikau, the other fork heads down Ke'anae Valley a short distance to the fence at the park boundry. There is a locked gate there and the trail continues past the fence. I have not been beyond the fence yet but I have been told by some hunters that it ends at a cinder cone or pit of some kind called "Dead Man's Hole". There have been past instances of Park personnel assisting in search and rescues in the area for lost hunters and one report of someone falling to their death off a ridge.

We took the fork that led across Koolau Gap to Waikau (pictured at right). There used to be a cabin there similar to the other cabins in the crater. Soon, we made a short side trip to some small lava tubes I found on a previous trip to Waikau. One of these small caves had skeletal remains that I thought were human. I have studied human bones and can identify them; however these bones were slightly out of proportion. They were small like a child's but too a little too thick. My friend thinks they were goat bones. I've never seen goat bones so I can't be sure. Maybe they were Menehune?

A little farther along the trail we made another side trip to huge a lave tube I found on my first exploration of the area. At the entrance there were more bones like the ones we found in the smaller cave. This tube is about as big as the one near Holua cabin. I paced it off to be about 150 yards long. In the back of this tube is one of the strangest things I've encountered while hiking. There is sort of table-like rock formation with about 50 seashells all lined up on it. In front of this is what appears to be shingle-sized sections of palm tree bark arranged in an even pattern. There was also a ti leaf lei and fresh ohelo berries indicating some one else has been here recently. The was also a circle of rocks arranged like a minature heiau on the cave floor.

Everyone in the Park who I asked about this has the same idea as to its origin: hippies probably did this. We do get a lot freaks and new-age types leaving weird offerings in Holua cave - candles, bird feathers, animal bones, etc.

We left the cave and continued to Waikau where the trail ended at an intersection with a streambed. This is as far as I have been in this part of the crater. Distance from Haleamu'u to Waikau is about 2.5 miles. Our plan now was to find a route into the central crater. We followed the gravely streambed upslope about 1/2 mile to the leading edge of a huge a'a flow. We were happy to find a rough switchback trail ascending the flow. We followed this narrow trail up the lava and climbed steeply through a gully. The trail leveled off at a beautiful meadow with the base of the pali on the right and the a'a flow to the left.
The guy I was with said he was familar with this area and was sure he get us to an old trail through the a'a to the central crater. To make a long story short, we spent the next 2 hours walking though hell with no trail in sight. The a'a finally ended in a sea of black cinders. We joined up with the Haleamu'u trail about midway between Bottomless Pit and Silversword Loop. My plan from here was to continue to the central Crater to check out some archeological sites I heard about and to look for a pit called "Dante's Inferno" and a lava tube called Crystal Cave. The trip through the a'a exhausted me and we still had over 5 miles to go to get back to the parking lot. Dante's Inferno and the arch sites weren't going anywhere, so we headed for home. I'll go back in a few weeks and let you know what I find.