Peak Performance: Stewards of Haleakalā

Join a pickup team of volunteers helping to protect Haleakalā’s fragile environment.

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Tiny, light green fuzzy plants poked up defiantly every few inches or so, with a few brazen stalks in full, flowering — or worse, seed-dispersing — glory. Matt handed out bags for pouncing on the seeding plants ASAP, and our two methods of attack could be categorized as either “Sit down and pluck every little plant you see,” or “Wander methodically around looking for anything taller than six inches to yank.” Heterotheca has a nice, sage-y smell to it, so the work could have been quite pleasant if it weren’t happening in a frying pan. By late afternoon it was the humans who had wilted, but roughly 8,000 Heterotheca g. would never have the chance to grow up to wilt. We’d been relentless. Haleakalā ecosystems: 1. Weeds: 0.

Back at the cabin, we flopped in the cool green grass, feeling triumphant — if somewhat irradiated — and were joined by five wild nēnē, the celebrated Hawaiian geese that were extinct on Maui until reintroduced to the Haleakalā summit wilderness in the 1950s by Boy Scouts carrying geese in wooden whiskey boxes. Clearly used to people, these nēnē grazed around us, nibbling the tender new tips of the grass and softly calling to each other. A through-hiker, one of many who traverse the eleven miles from Keonehe‘ehe‘e to Hōlua Cabin and then up the Halema‘uma‘u switchbacks in a day, stopped to borrow our shade before tackling his last four miles. Slim and handsome, he turned out to be an employee of Alaska Airlines on a thirty-hour layover. Rather than catch up on sleep or luxuriate on the beaches of Maui, he’d chosen to experience the fantastically silent, astonishing volcanic wilderness at the very top of the island. He watched the nēnē closely as they moved and murmured around him. We explained their extinction and recovery story, which included the invaluable help of the Slimbridge Wetlands Centre in England, and suggested he visit nēnē at his home, Los Angeles, at the celebrated zoo. “How,” he said, “could I possibly improve on this?”

Haleakala cabin camping
Deb and Lia start dinner by candlelight.

Service-trip participants clean and repair the cabins in exchange for using them, so after a coma-inducing and most excellent pasta dinner and another early zonk time, we rose on our last day to tackle melted candle wax on the communal picnic table (Gerry), grit on the windows (Deb), spider webs on the outside of the cabin (Bryan), inventory and bunk wipe down (yours truly), and a thorough sweep (Lia). It must also be stated here that Gerry took on the heroic task of cleaning the outhouse, the site of some terrible personal events before we’d gotten there, as most through-hikers make a stop at the Hōlua outhouse before tackling the switchbacks. When, in a contemplative mood, I asked everyone for his or her favorite moment, Bryan’s answer was “Being the first one to use the outhouse after Gerry cleaned it.”

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