MAUNA LOA VOLCANO HIKING GUIDE | DAYS 3 + 4
EARLY START FOR OUR DAY 3 ADVENTURE
The next morning, we woke up to the clattering of the other hikers packing up their bags for an early departure. Little did I know, Ryan had a headache and stomach ache the entire night and didn’t sleep for more than an hour. Despite feeling the effects of the altitude, he still got up in the bone-chilling temperatures to snap photos at sunrise. He enjoyed capturing the surreal beauty of the landscape with the entire crater below frosted and sparkling in the early morning sun. After the tourists zipped out the door, I cooked a warm breakfast of oatmeal and coffee for the both of us. Looking outside for our sticks we had used throughout the entire hike, they were nowhere to be found. We assumed the foreigners had taken them without realizing they were ours. Knowing that the elevation would be drastically changing as we descended, I knew this could be extremely challenging; however, Ryan kept our spirits high and remained optimistic about our trek down. Soon after, we took some time to soak up the beauty from the summit as we gazed into the center of the crater.
WHAT YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT HIKING DOWN A VOLCANO
Since we only took 4 ½ hours to hike up a steep incline for 7.5 miles on our first day, we thought we would be fine starting our hike at 11am (we knew we’d only be hiking 7.5 down the volcano). We were feeling pretty confident for the first few miles as we were still within the vicinity of the National Park and there were numerous visible signs and markers throughout. Once we had reached the three miles marker, there was a large sign indicating that there were 4.5 miles ahead to the Ainapo Cabin.
After that mile marker, the weather seemed to shift within seconds. We started hiking in the clouds as a storm rolled in. At first, the temperature dropped, and Ryan and I decided to bundle up. When the rain began, we were just thankful we had our rain gear on and our backpacks zipped up. As the storm intensified, there were points where we could only see ten to thirty feet ahead of us. At this point, we were descending at a quick rate hiking on the uneven and sharp a’a lava rock. It felt as if we were hiking on giant marbles down the steepest trail of our lives! Every couple of steps, I had to catch myself, as I no longer had my hiking poles. Nevertheless, we (mostly me with Ryan waiting for me every hundred feet or so) walked a lot slower than anticipated.
HOW WE FOUND OUR WAY AFTER BEING LOST
As we slowly trekked on, we realized there weren’t distinct ahus guiding us like the ones we had followed in the National Park. Instead, we were following rocks wrapped in tin foil. We began to become frustrated as we continuously lost sight of the trail and had a hard time spotting the tin foil rocks. For an hour or so, Ryan and I spent in silence both reflecting in our own minds how to overcome the difficulties we were facing. Finally, we reached a break in the clouds where we could see the coast in the distance. This gave us a huge boost of confidence and excitement, as we knew we were at least headed in the right direction. Although there was still no mile marker or elevation signs anywhere, the weather became more pleasant as we descended below the storm.
We were so stoked when our eyes sighted trees for the first time in days. The trail hugged the forest for about a mile before we made our way through the beautiful trees and chirping birds above. We then hiked another half-mile and finally reached the Ainopo Cabin. When we arrived around 4:30pm, our friends (Ben and Barb) were snuggling sound asleep in the cozy cabin. It felt like such a relief to finally have made it there and to have our friends peacefully sleeping as we entered. Although most of our belongings had been soaked from the rain, our friends lent us clothes to stay warm. We combined all our foods to make an amazing meal including Indian meals with cheese quesadillas. Yes, I know it sounds like a strange combination, but at the time, it was all we could ever want and called them nandillas! We played Ryan and Ben’s childhood card game, Euchre, and sipped peppermint hot chocolate before hitting the hay for the night.
HAVING A RIDE AT THE END IS ESSENTIAL
We had a slow start to our morning and stayed inside mostly because it was raining. Ryan cooked up our regular breakfast of oatmeal and granola. We were lucky that Ben and Barb brought a French press, so we actually had coffee that tasted like coffee! After breakfast, we helped clean up the entire cabin and made our way down to Barb’s car. Although we started at 10am and it was raining, we were just thankful because we knew it would be a relatively short hike to Barb’s car at the beginning of the Ainopo trail. Ben and Barb had driven Barb’s truck up the 8 mile four wheel drive road so we wouldn’t have to hike the last 8 miles once we had reached the trailhead. Finally, the rain stopped and the sun came out to illuminate the green moss blanketing the limbs on all of the trees. After 3.5 miles of hiking, we finally made it to the car after a total of 30 miles over the past four days. Reaching that car was the pinnacle of our trip and we held each other as we squeezed in the back seat of Barb’s truck.
HOW TO STAY POSITIVE WHEN EVERYTHING KEEPS GOING WRONG
Just when we got comfortable (well, as comfortable as you can get in the back of a small truck), the car wouldn’t start. We tried a couple more times, but when the car still wouldn’t budge, Ben, Ryan and I pushed it down the hill. It started for two minutes and then shut down again. We spent an hour pushing the car until we got it to start again. We were so stoked! I mean the car was actually moving and driving down this bumpy road perfectly for about a mile. Then, it just completely shut down again. At this point, we knew we had to cover our bases by calling in reinforcement. Thankfully, Barb’s brother was working in the area and drove to meet us down this road and tow us out. We waited a few hours and filled our time with reflecting on our trip, encouraging one another, and making more quesadillas. Finally, her brother arrived and towed us slowly down the four-wheel drive road for seven miles. It seemed to take at least 2 hours to get down that highway, but we had finally made it! Ben, Ryan, and I hopped in the back of her brother’s truck and he drove us to our car on the other side of the volcano where we had started. We were completely filled up with happiness as the three of us sat in the back of the truck-bed watching the sunset over the mountain. We made it back to our car around 7pm, stopped at the Volcano House for a burger and fries, and finally made it back to Kona by 11pm.
Although this journey had some setbacks and challenges, ones we had to struggle through and face head on, it was truly worth it to overcome. Ryan and I finished this experience new people and a stronger couple. This is only the beginning of what we will see on our travels and we are STOKED on what’s to come. Thanks for stopping by and stay tuned for more stories of adventure, challenge, and ultimate growth!