Hawaiians laid out trails and evolved practices which assured availability of shelter, drinking fluids and firewood. (NPS)
In 1840, Lt Charles Wilkes, as part of the US Exploring Expedition, came to Hawai‘i to conduct experiments and make observations, including swinging pendulums on Mauna Loa’s summit to calculate the force of gravity. They hiked from Hilo to the summit.
Wilkes noted, “I had the pleasure of being accompanied by Mr. Brinsmade, our worthy consul, and my friend Dr GP Judd, both of whom volunteered to accompany me in the novel and arduous enterprise I was about to undertake.”
They first landed in Hilo, “The scene which the island presents as viewed from the anchorage in Hilo Bay, is both novel and splendid : the shores are studded with extensive groves of cocoa-nut and bread-fruit trees, interspersed with plantations of sugar-cane …”
“… through these, numerous streams are seen hurrying to the ocean; to this succeeds a belt of some miles in width, free from woods, but clothed in verdure …”
“… beyond is a wider belt of forest, whose trees, as they rise higher and higher from the sea, change their characters from the vegetation of the tropics to that of polar regions ; and above all tower the snow-capped summits of the mountains.”
“From Hilo, Mauna Loa looks as if one might walk over its smooth surface without difficulty; there is, indeed, so much optical deception in respect to this mountain, that it served to give us all great encouragement, and we set about making our preparations with a determination to succeed in the attempt to reach its highest summit.”
“Beside about two hundred natives, the party consisted of Lieutenant Budd, Passed Midshipman Eld, Midshipman Elliott, Mr Brinsmade, Dr Pickering, Mr Brackenridge, Dr Judd, myself, and ten men, including our servants from the ship.”
“This was a large party; but when it is considered, that besides our instruments, tents, &c., provisions were to be carried, it will not be considered so disproportionate, especially as it generally requires one-third of the number, if not more, to carry provisions for the rest.” (Wilkes)
Then, the confusion started, “our chief scribe, Kalumo, who had the books containing the lists (of who was to do what,) was missing, and there was an uproar resembling that of Bedlam.”
“In consequence of the absence of Kalumo, the natives had an opportunity of trying the weight of some of the bundles, and before he was forthcoming, many of the lightest loads had very adroitly been carried off. … it was soon found that there would be many loads for which we had no bearers, and these were, of course, all those of bulk and weight”.
Wilkes was forced to hire, at double pay through another chief, a second group of porters to carry the bulky and heavy items … two days later and 30 miles inland … and close to the summit of Kilauea volcano, Wilkes had become increasingly disenchanted … (NPS)
Then, things got worse … Wilkes took the ‘wrong road;’ actually, he ignored references to take traditional trials, and, leading a party of 300 Caucasians and Hawaiians, Wilkes took off on a trackless beeline from Kilauea toward Mauna Loa’s summit, guided by a midshipman holding a compass. (NPS)
Wilkes substituted his own route for the Hawaiian Ainapo trail. Wilkes’ line of march was through wooded country, but without streams or waterholes. Shoes of the Caucasians scuffed and soles abraded on the lava they crossed.
Most of the Hawaiians were barefoot. To mark the path for the straggling porters, Wilkes’ associates built fires and blazed trees. Bushes were broken with their tops laid down to indicate the direction of travel. (NPS)
“Our (first) encampment was called the Sunday Station, on account of our having remained quietly here on that day. The altitude given by the barometer was six thousand and seventy-one feet, at which we found ourselves above the region of clouds, and could look down upon them.” (Wilkes) It ended up being the principal base camp.
Much unnecessary thirst, hunger, cold, altitude sickness, fatigue, and snowblindness were suffered by both Caucasians and Hawaiians of the expedition when Wilkes substituted his own route for the Hawaiian Ainapo trail.
‘Mountain’ sickness, probably caused from the combination of fatigue, dehydration, chill, hunger, and the altitude, was prevalent.
Fuel was scarce to make fires for warmth or cooking, Hawaiians sold water at 50 cents a quart to thirsty sailors and accepted warm clothing if cash was not available.
To the rescue came the Hawaiian guides ‘Ragsdale’ and Keaweehu, a famous bird catcher. Both had apparently been waiting at Kapapala for the expedition to arrive and planned to guide the expedition up the Ainapo trail.
Ragsdale was hired to supply water for the camp. His men delivered it the next day – fifteen gallons carried in open-top vessels over the trackless ten miles of rugged lavas which separated Wilkes’ camp from the Ainapo trail.
At about the same elevation on the Ainapo was a large lava tube with pools of water inside. This tube was used by Hawaiians on the Ainapo trail and was easily supplied with grass (for insulation from the cold ground) and firewood from a point on the trail not far below. (NPS)
Eventually, Wilkes ended up with other camps on the way up to and at the summit area of Mauna Loa: “Recruiting Station” just below the 10,000-foot elevation (used primarily staging & medical care) …
… “Flag Station” between the 12,000- and 13,000-foot elevation (Wilkes “left a flag on a rocky peak near by” and “Pendulum Peak” near the summit where they conducted pendulum and other observations.
After conducting their experiments and observations, “When day broke, on the 13th January, all was bustle on the summit of Mauna Loa.”
“Every one was engaged in taking down and packing up the instruments and equipage, loaded with which the native labourers scampered off. Some of them, indeed, unable to bear the cold any longer, and hoping to obtain loads afterwards, withdrew without burdens.”