Double summit: Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.

Double summit: Mauna Loa, largest mountain on Earth, and Mauna Kea, highest point on Hawai’i.

Hiking up yesterday took longer than we thought, so we did not reach the summit proper until this morning. Mauna Loa, largest mountain in world. Bigger than Everest! The volcano begins at the ocean bottom and rises to 13,679 feet (7,079 ft prominence). We traversed 5 miles around crater rim to reach the summit proper. Definitely worth the effort! By far one of the neatest accomplishments I have pursued. I was on top of the world, and felt like I was transported to Mars. What a crazy crazy terrain.

After reveling in the moment, we left the summit and hiked back down to vehicle parked at the observatory. We hiked 6.2 miles up 2,291 feet of gain to the summit cabin and 11.6 miles today (which still had 762 feet of gain, despite climbing down). Fortunately, I learned from the mistakes of Waimanu Valley and brought my phone battery to map our route!

On the return route we had better views of the more recent lava flows and a view over the Mauna Loa Observatory. Once back to the vehicle we drove back down the winding lava road, crossed the highway, then drove straight up the side of Mauna Kea.

Mauna Kea is the highest peak on Hawai’i (and the Big Island, obviously). We drove almost to that highest point. Mauna Kea is the location of 13 (soon to be 14) giant telescopes. So there is a paved road all the way to the top, except for an odd four miles right after the visitor center, which seems quite odd.

The true summit is 13,803 feet. Due to cultural and historical significances, we did not finish hiking to the summit. Others may violate that request, but I feel morally ok in claiming the Hawaii high point by standing just off from the true summit. Almost instantly after reaching the top we were enveloped in clouds. And while up there we drove to Keck Observatory but didn’t go in. So many telescopes!

It was barely after lunch and we had completed both volcano summits. Afterward we drove to Hilo and checked in at Arnott’s Lodge (seriously a hiker haven if I have ever experienced one!). There is camping in the plush lawn, enforced quiet hours at night, a large sitting area with tables and copious electrical outlets, and access to kitchen, laundry, showers with soap, coffee, and toilets. It was awesome!

Anyways, we showered and repacked the car. Then drove to bus stop to pick up Jack. The three of us went to store and then hung out at Arnott’s eating chips with guacamole and two soups mixed together and eaten like a dip. We drank beer, chatted, and went to bed.

Check out my Instagram for more photos and videos @schemesinmotion

Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Mauna Loa Summit Cabin


USGS marker
Trekking on a’a
Mauna Loa crater.
Mauna Kea summit proper. You can see the sign requesting people to respectfully go no further.
Me with the true summit as the clouds rolled in.
So many telescopes!
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Looking out from Keck Telescope

Sleeping on Mauna Loa, the largest mountain in the world!

Sleeping on Mauna Loa, the largest mountain on Earth!

We again woke early before sunrise. And it was definitely a better sunrise than sunset! To beat the heat for the climbs back out, and head off to our Mauna Loa summit, we set off quickly. Made great timing! Unfortunately I forgot my battery cable so wasn’t able to map the hike profile, but should be about 9.5 mile hike in yesterday and a 9.5 mile hike outthink morning. We arrived back to the lookout by 11 AM.

The local man watching the valley entrance was impressed we came out so early. Though we also had comments that our packs were really small. I am sporting my new Mountain Laurel Designs 38L Burn pack in the wasabi color, and my sister is sorting my old MLD 45L Exodus pack in the gray color. I haven’t really used my new pack extensively since it arrived in the mail, so I am excited to give it a variety of outings on this trip!

We hit the road and drove toward the island interior, to the high saddle between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. The trailhead required a drive up this eerie single lane road to the Mauna Loa Observatory. Saw three adult mountain goats shedding their coats and one tiny baby black goat. It felt like we were leaving Earth on the winding and climbing road impossibly built into the a’a lava fields. The road climbs to just above 11,000 feet and we drove right up into a cloud. It was so calm and quiet with no one around. We were the lone vehicle in the parking area and the Observatory looked empty, despite it being just before 3 PM.

My sister and I set out on our hike up to Mauna Loa at 3pm. Later than we wanted, so we went straight to the Mauna Loa Cabin. Which is right on the crater rim opposite the mountain’s high point. Took longer than we thought. Lava rock hiking is no small feat, especially at 13,000 feet.

This hike was a geology wonderland! I felt instantly transported to Mars. A lifeless, desolate terrain devoid of motion except for the volcanic signature. Not even wind was overly effective at modifying the landscape. Some terms:

a’a = stony rough lava, burn, blaze. This is a rough, or rubble lava surface composed of broken lava blocks called clinker. The clinkers surface actually covers a dense massive core where the flow is active.

pahoehoe = smooth unbroken lava. This is a smooth, billowy, or ropy surface from the flow of very fluid lava under the congealing surface crust.

lava tube = Forms when lava cools at the surface, forming an insulating crust, allowing the more fluid lava to flow underneath. Over time the flow forms a tunnel-like conduit which eventually drains, leaving the empty and open tunnel behind.

crater = A circular depression in the ground formed by the subsidence of volcanic material as gases vent out and magma chambers empty.

Our hike up a mostly a’a trail was 5.9 miles up 2,100 feet to above 13,000 feet. Considering we started our day hiking out 9.5 miles from Waimanu Valley at sea level, we were kicking ass!

We made it to the cabin with some sunlight to spare. Mauna Loa Summit Cabin is a great cabin! I did not know what to expect. There were 12 bunks, a composting toilet, and rainwater catchment. We had phenomenal views over the main crater, Mukuaweoweo Caldero. In the fading light we could see a tiny lone release of gas from the rift zone cutting across the crater. No lava action today, but the rift zone is created from magma pushing up from below and pulling the rift apart.

What a great sunset! We are definitely on Mars. The air became instantly freezing once sun left horizon. The wind began to blow. But the rocks continued to radiate heat from the sun’s rays. The stars seems particularly bright and beautiful, but the bright full moon quickly diminished their twinkle. We met two other hikers at the cabin who came up from the Red Hill cabin the previous night on the Mauna Loa Trail.

Despite hiking up out of a cloud at the parking lot, the sky that night was particularly clear and crisp. We had stunning views of the Milky Way. I tried to find the Scorpio constellation that night. In Hawaiian culture it is known as Maui’s fishhook, called Ka Maka. We couldn’t see it. Nonetheless I began singing Moana songs in my head the rest of the night. “…Open yours eyes, let’s begin. Yes, it’s really me, it’s Maui, breathe it in. I know it’s a lot: the hair, the bod, when you are staring at a demi-god.” I really want to re-watch that movie now.


Check out more photos and videos on Instagram @schemesinmotion

Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Hybrid mouflon sheep. See the baby hiding behind the front mouflon?
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Sister selfie!
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Trekking up a volcano! #sistervacation
Mauna Loa Summit Cabin. Sitting above the clouds.
Cooking in the dark inside Mauna Loa Summit Cabin
Collapsed a’a lava tube
Mauna Loa crater filled with super smooth, glassy lava.
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Lua Manu pit crater.

Waipi’o and Waimanu Valleys trek to exclusive black sand beach.

Waipi’o and Waimanu Valleys trek to exclusive black sand beach.

We woke early and caught a beautiful sunrise over Hualālai volcano. Finished last minute errands around Kona then headed up coast to Waimea. Kona is an incredibly dry region of the island, but the island suddenly became lush and alive as we drove through Waimea. Hawai’i has 4 out of the 5 major climate zones (missing the continental climate, which occurs in places like Fairbanks, Alaska, and Fargo, North Dakota) and 8 of the 13 sub-zones: continuously wet (humid tropical climate), monsoon (humid tropical climate), dry (humid tropical climate), dry arid (dry climate), dry semi-arid (dry climate), summer dry (temperate climate), continuously wet (temperate climate), and polar tundra (polar climate), What is not found includes: winter dry (continental), winter dry (temperate), summer dry (continental), continuously wet (continental), and polar ice caps (polar). Waimea sits in the continuously wet – temperate climate, but the Waipi’o and Waimanu Valleys are a continuously wet – humid tropical climate region. The tropical forest I loved only occurs in the valleys on this side of the island.

We started our hike from the Waipi’o Valley Lookout. This place is amazing but Waimanu Valley on the far side was even better. From the lookout, we could just make out the zig-zag trail leading up the far valley wall. Today, families in Waipi’o Valley continue the tradition of their forefathers by planting taro, a type of root vegetable, and producing poi, a Polynesian staple food from mashing up the cooked tuber or corm of the taro.

After hiking down the steep road, we crossed the river to begin the Muliwai Trail to Waimanu Valley. This is one of the least developed regions of Hawai’i island. There are a series of valleys running from Waipi’o the north to Pololu in the west. They formed from volcanic faulting and subsequent stream erosion from when sea level was up to 1000 feet lower than today. The current valley floors formed at a modern sea level, creating flat and fertile grounds.

I sported my hiking dress and new MLD Burn pack for this trip. I am so excited to push my UL strategies to pack smaller and lighter. I have big thru-hiking plans for the future, so I plan to hone in my gear over the next couple years of short excursions. Saw several semi-wild horses in Waipi’o Valley. Both Waipi’o and Waimanu Valleys supported large Hawaiian populations. These remain important cultural sites and location of sacred burial grounds. It was an incredible experience to pass through these valleys.

After hiking down, up, across, and back down into Waimanu Valley, there was a final river crossing to an immaculate, black sand beach almost empty save for ourselves. I don’t know if it is due to the large influx of fresh river water and/or the complete lack of carbonates, but this was one of the nicest beaches I have ever been to. I bathed in ocean water and actually felt clean! The only downside was having but a single night in this paradise. Waimanu Valley is well worth the 9.5 miles of descending 1,200 feet into Waipi’o Valley, fording Wailoa stream, ascending 1,200 feet up the Waipi’o Valley wall, traversing across 12 smaller gulches, and finally descending on steep switch-backs into Waimanu Valley. I could have stayed for days, foraging fruit from the trees, forgetting the worries of life.

That night was hot! We slept without the rain fly, but still in the tent for bug prevention. It was a beautiful starry night and brilliantly bright moon. I seriously felt like sun was shining as the moon came right up the middle of the valley, peering down on us in the night.

My sister and I met nice local guy who told us about a good water source. He called it a spring, but it was more like a waterfall with a pipe fixed into it for safer access. Still, great to have extra water. We had packed in a bunch, heading warnings to not drink the valley water due to all the agriculture drainage. So it was awesome that we had extra water for tea before bed!

We celebrated the beautiful day, kickass hike in, and secluded beach setting with IPA beer and avocado chips that I packed in (and then packed out the remaining rubbish for. Please, people, LNT – Leave No Trace – at all times!).

Kona was dry and brown. Waimea was a green valley microniche. Felt like we hiked through completely different biomes. Hot, tropical beach down into Waipi’o, climbed up loose non-deciduous leaf litter, hiked across dry pine needle forest, then palm forest with passion fruit and avocado trees, down into Waimanu Valley on slippery palm blades with their razor edges, and back into tropical beach land. Cliff faces lined with waterfalls. So much lush greenery. Wild-ish horses in Waipi’o Valley. Felt like we were the only humans alive in Waimanu Valley.

The forests are mostly non-native. The ridge tops were planted in the 1930’s, but along the Waimanu rim is a native forest section of ‘ohi’a-kopiko-lama (Metrosideros-Psychotria-Diospyroa) and the understory supports Cibotium tree ferns (hapu’u) and Clermontia fleshy fruit-bearing shrubs (oha’wai). This was definitely a nook of lush, green life.

We couldn’t see the sunset, but watched the sky darken and colors streak by. We were both ready for an early night to bed.


Check out my Instagram (@schemesinmotion) for more photos and videos!

End of the trail (mile 2650.4-2658.9)

Day Ten
6 September 2016
Mile 2650.4-2658.9
Day total 8.6
Tally 197.4 miles
Total up/down: +1570/-1875ft
Camp: resort lodge floor and bus to Vancouver
LL: 49.062823, -120.782672

The end of the trail.

I don’t know what that entirely means to me yet. It is hard to put into one sentence the experience of 2658.9 miles and four months of hiking across two summers. These emotions are made more complicated by the suddenness of the trail ending last summer due to forest fires. I am sure I did a better job of conveying those emotions last summer when I was fresh from the trail. This reflection is more about feeling closure with the trail.

I can remember individual days with astounding accuracy from last summer, but I probably cannot tell you what I was doing or who I talked with three weeks ago. But then I feel like in general I can recall details from my other adventures with a higher level of accuracy than I could for the non-adventuring days. To some degree I suspect that relates to my journal-keeping habits for trips that I do not practice in between. But there is also something deeper. I think it has to do with my level of presence during adventures, and the lack there of during the day-to-day rat race. Some might call this mindfulness.

I am definitely guilty of multitasking to the detriment of whatever activity or whosever company I am trying to “enjoy.” I will be the first to admit that I revel in staying busy. That is where I feel most efficient. And anyone who has spent much time with me, even while traveling, will tell you that I have a skill at finding tasks to check off a list. That is just who I am; a list maker. My brain is a chaotic maze of thoughts bursting simultaneously like rice crispies poured onto milk. If I don’t scoop them up right away they become soggy with disinterest and sink to the bottom. This is not to say I am a compulsive person. In fact I tend to think through my actions with exhausting precision. That is how I have found myself feeling in somewhat frozen in motion from having not finished the PCT in 2015.

When I set out from the Mexican border to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, I knew I would not stop until I reached Canada. I knew that with such intensity and focus that it never crossed my mind to question its validity. For 2461.6 miles, that goal was my reality. What I did not anticipate was a fire season so bad that several brave firefighters would lose their lives and almost 200 miles of trail would be closed. So on 21 August 2015, my hike was over. I went to Monument 78 at the northern terminus with my hiking companions at the time. I needed that moment to see what I had been pushing for all summer. I also knew that I would not be satisfied if I did not go back to finish.

That closure finally came yesterday, when I arrived at the monument again, about one year later, but this time on foot via the trail. And now it’s all over again. My emotions not yet organized. I feel incredible relief to be done with sadness that it is over, unexplainable gratitude to all the people who helped me along the way, deep love for this amazing trail and the people now in my life from it, humility for accepting my accomplishments while seeing the greater deeds done by others far more generous and adventurous than me, and growing joy that I have more adventures to come.

This trail is over. I hope to someday hike it again, but that will be a new trail. The trail is constantly changing as nature changes, but I too am constantly changing. This experience will always be mine, and from it I will see every future experience in a different light. The best gift is that I know I have accomplished what I set out to do, and now I can move forward, back into motion.

Day nine (mile 2625.3-2650.4)

Day Nine
5 September 2016
Mile 2625.3-2650.4
Day total 25.1
Tally 188.8 miles
Total up/down: +4270/-6530ft
Camp: Castle Creek passed Monument 78
LL: 49.000288, -120.802120

Today we reached Monument 78, the official US-Canadian border marker.  At the border, the rainy clouds in Washington stopped right at the peak along the clear cut marking the border. Canada was sunny and warm compared to the cold, wet and windy Washington we left behind. The moment was surreal. The old monument has been sealed closed since last year, and the trail register was simply sitting out in a dry bag. We have no idea why it was sealed. Though we also found a grocery bag filled with weed, and that reminded us that last year there was also a lot of weed stashed in the monument with the completion register. I can easily imagine the monument being sealed to prevent the storage of illegal drugs. Technically weed is legal in both Washington and BC, Canada. However it is not legal to cross the border with it. Regardless, it feels really strange to officially be here, to have completed the trail on foot as I intended last summer. It is a strange thing to actually be finished now.

Today we met a woman named Cougar. She started the PCT last year too. She caught back up to us at the northern terminus and we all shared the moment of being partial PCT 2015’ers and 2016’ers. Cougar had a longer distance than us this year, but I can still understand having the end of the trail looming over like dark cloud until this glorious moment of true completion. Something really incredible about our encounter with Cougar is that she had a copy of Seawolf by Jack London that she picked up in White Pass. Last summer we were all reading Seawolf together on trail and had found it in book form at White Pass. It could be the same one!

Overall today was a relatively easy last day, despite the abundance of downhill miles. It was also a beautiful day! And we saw numerous falcons soaring the valleys. After our terminus party part two, we walked to the camp 3/10 mile further. We found a guy named Brandon with a big fire and a friendly dog named Maya. Brandon was an interesting guy, but it was the first night in a while where I went to bed completely dry and warm!

I am thoroughly exhausted and ready for a good night’s sleep.

Day eight (mile 2598.4-2625.3)

Day Eight
4 September 2016
Mile 2598.4-2625.3
Day total 26.9
Tally 163.7 miles
Total up/down: +5159/-4882ft
Camp: below Tamarack Peak
LL: 48.776890, -120.721379

We had trail magic today!! A PCT’er from this year, Walking Home, or Richard, had to get off in Northern California for an injury. He is from around here, so brought the best foods to deal out a little magic. I ate hot split pea soup, two turkey and salad wraps, strawberries, and marionberry jam on bread. The most welcome of surprises! And our last opportunity for trail magic.

Today has been our longest day; not by much, but true nonetheless. It was a formidable day as well. We climbed six different passes: Methow, Glacier, Grasshopper, Harts, Buffalo, and Windy Passes. About 3500 feet of the 5200 total feet all before lunch. All morning we hiked along a narrow patch of sun with visible rain to either side of us. Leaving lunch we had cold rainy spittle that turned into freezing grapple for the last three miles to Harts Pass. Walking Home was positioned at Harts Pass. I am so thankful for his kindness! My legs were definitely tired today. But mostly I think it was the cold that wore me out. I will sleep well tonight.

Tonight will be just as cold as last night. Icy tents by morning. We are all huddled in our fart sacks. Endless reading another Jack London short. Tomorrow we will arrive at the monument. Everything is coming to a close so quickly.

Day seven (mile 2574.3-2598.4)

Day Seven
3 September 2016
Mile 2574.3-2598.4
Day total 24.1
Tally 136.8 miles
Total up/down: +6815/-2674ft
Camp: camp below Methow Pass
LL: 48.585618, -120.720115

Today we crushed the trail. Last night was the first really cold night so I woke up to pee several times. But I felt good. My feet are feeling the beating of being weighed down with a pack (even light as it is) and my back is finally rubbing raw from my pack, but my legs feel great. I would say we averaged 3 miles per hour all day. Granted it was cold all morning and rained on us for 5 miles up a 2000 foot climb after lunch, so we weren’t dilly dallying around or anything. And we scored a local Washington IPL beer from some trail magic! Tami and I split it at lunch, where we stopped at the Rainy Pass trailhead. The sun came out and it was glorious. Two PCTA people were fixing a sign and two Forest Service people were checking the trailhead garbage and bathrooms. All of them were incredibly friendly and encouraging. The permit register showed eight Canada goers through this morning, and at least six from yesterday. We may run into a bubble for the end. We ran into Easy several times, and I hope we see him at the monument. He is hilarious. Anyways, we arrived to our campsite just after 5PM, despite the weather and 6800 feet of climbing, including two passes. The sun was finally out temporarily as we put up tents and the temperature dropped to freezing. Tonight is extremely cold!

Day six (mile 2564.3-2574.3)

Day Six
2 September 2016
Mile 2564.3-2574.3
Day total 10
Tally 112.7 miles
Total up/down: +1950/-2056ft
Camp: Bridge Creek Camp
LL: 48.429472, -120.868353

A couple days ago we were told by a thru-hiker that there is this town named Stehekin before the border that has the best bakery. This is the sort of thing that eats away at me as a now section hiker. Of course we know about Stehekin, the last town stop before finishing the trail. I asked him if he had been there, thinking he would know if there would be cookies, my favorite food group. He response was that he has not been there before. Who gives former PCT thru hikers such ridiculous advice as if we wouldn’t know just as much as a current hiker? He was treating us like weekenders, as if we were strangers to the PCT thru world. It was saddening. Today we had a quick 5 miles into Stehekin from High Bridge Ranger Station, mile 2569.4. The advice from that hiker unneeded, all of us sent our packages to Stehekin.

Stehekin is great! There is a bus that picks up people from High Bridge Ranger Station and takes them to town. A bonus perk is that the bus stops at the bakery halfway between. The bus driver gives you about ten minutes to quickly buy baked goods. This is an amazing perk to the $7 ride, except this is actually a mental game. You walk in, smell the tantalizing baked goods, see that they offer everything from quiche and pizza to sticky buns to cookies to coffee to ice cream. They have the bus stops down to a tee, quickly grabbing items and cashing you out with a well-practiced efficiency. I frantically told them a few items then saw the day olds by the check out and bought about $20 worth of their delectable sugar and fat options. We spent the majority of the day in Stehekin. There was about an hour of torrential downpour followed by consistent drizzle the rest of the afternoon. We hiked out in drizzle and arrived to the campsite in quiet, post rain cold.

Last night we increased to five, with the addition of Juban, a PCT thru-hiker whom S+M inticed to our company. Tonight we are down to three. Juban stayed in Stehekin and S+M has headed home. She was feeling ill and yesterday dealt with a knee problem. With all the exciting things coming up in her near future, she had to think about what her priorities are right now. We have just over 100 miles together now, and about 80 to go. I am sad she left, but extremely happy we spent the last six days together. I cannot wait to continue reuniting with her for future adventures!

Day five (mile 2540.7-2564.3)

Day Five
1 September 2016
Mile 2540.7-2564.3
Day total 23.6
Tally 102.7 miles
Total up/down: +4947/-5553ft
Camp: site at large creek with foot log
LL: 48.344311, -120.902712

Today was cold and rainy. I didn’t actually bring a rain jacket. I don’t really know why. This is Washington. It rains here. That is what Washington is all about. It hasn’t been a problem, but the rest of the trail is supposed to be rainy and cold. It might be miserable, but there are only a few more days. I am pumped to walk across that border and bring an official close to this trail.

We arrived at camp super early and I am cold and wet. We met a really nice 63 year old man. He is a PCT hiker named Easy. He hiked on because he didn’t see the water trickling in the stream about a half mile back. He is from Indiana, has a distinct gentlemanly accent, and has the the sense of humor. I hope we run into him again.

Day four (mile 2518.8-2540.7)

Day Four
31 August 2016
Mile 2518.8-2540.7
Day total 21.9
Tally 79.1 miles
Total up/down: +5765/-8114ft
Camp: near Image Lake Trail
LL: 48.196496, -121.044992

Despite feeling completely at home out here, there are subtle things that feel weird. When we meet people we are section hikers, not thru hikers. Today a girl said she knew we were thru hikers because of my “hello kitty backpack,” referring to my ultralight setup. It felt really good, but also felt weird. This class is not my class. I do not feel apart of their summer. I feel like a normal hiker just passing through while these other hikers are coming to the end of their journeys. I too am coming to the end of my journey, but it is one for completion and not the close of a killer hike. It is a strange feeling.

One thing I have particularly been happy about is the warm nights. Mornings have been brisk, but I am super toasty at night. I am reminded how much I don’t like to put my tent up. As one of the few daily chores I have, I remember why I prefer to cowboy camp. But this is Washington, so it is not smart to risk falling asleep without cover…though we did cowboy two nights ago.