Seeing the sunrise at the top of Haleakala (“house of the sun”) is a thrilling pilgrimage that many first-time visitors to the volcano make, but backpacking its trails to campsites or cabins miles past what can be seen from an overlook or visitors center takes the experience to another level. Its remote wilderness has a landscape like none other, where native Hawaiian plants, like the naenae and akala (raspberry), are growing roots, and native Hawaiian birds, like the nene (goose), pueo (owl) and iiwi (honeycreeper), are living in a remote and protected space.
Friends of Haleakala National Park is a nonprofit that works very closely with the park, and coordinates volunteer service trips to the cabins once a month. They’re overnight trips, usually two nights and three days, in groups of up to 12 that hike to one of the cabins in the park and do various tasks.
“Each of our trips is accompanied by at least one trip leader who is either a park ranger or a volunteer associated with the Friends of Haleakala,” says Matt Wordeman, the nonprofit’s president of the board. “The trip leaders associated with the Friends have all had training from the park on the biology, geology, mythology and history of the park, so we spend a lot of time teaching people about the plants they see, about the animals they see and about the features inside the park geologically.”
The first day of the trip is focused on hiking to the cabin and settling in before nightfall. Beginning backpackers are encouraged to sign up for the Holua cabin service trip, which is a shorter hike (3.7 miles) in comparison to the other cabins, Kapalaoa and Paliku (7-10 miles away). Prospective volunteers should also consider their own physical ability and the altitude of these hikes (6,380 to 7,990 feet) when deciding if this project is a right fit for them.
“We reserve the work for a long second day,” continues Wordeman. “We might have to hike to a place in the park to find the weeds or the planting site, and we’d work that entire day doing the service project.”
Tasks are adjusted to group capabilities, and also may include nene habitat improvement or cabin cleaning, scrubbing or painting. The nonprofit will supply gloves, tools and training to do the service work, and also has hiking poles, backpacks and other items, except sleeping bags, for you to borrow for the trip. Plus, because it is a service trip, there is no admission or rental fees, but you will be asked to chip in on the cost of groceries for the community meals at the cabin.
“Expect to have a good time, but also do some work,” says Wordeman. You’ll learn how to backpack and sort of get a guided tour of the park in the process.
What to Expect
It’s an early start at Foodland to shop for community meals, before a long day of hiking to the cabin. Once there, pick a bunk and help prepare dinner.
Get up early to watch the sunrise, eat breakfast, and then pack a bag (including your lunch!) for the work day until dinner at 5 p.m. After, gaze at the stars.
Eat quickly before a cabin cleanup and hike back to the trailhead, with possible service work along the way. Find your car, then head for the shower.
*Itineraries vary depending on time of year, project and cabin.
Visit fhnp.org for the 2016-2017 schedule and information on how to register. Reservations are encouraged two months out, but slots may open up all the way until the day.