The Trail to Emesine Cave

There are few open paths to trail ride on this island, a place where landowners gate every side road and jealously guard any access. There are a number of exceptions, but you have to look to find them. One such is a power line road off of Saddle Road. The power line is gone now, the stumps of poles remain where they were sawn down years ago. The road runs arrow straight across the landscape, now serving forestry crews, pig hunters and hikers. Enough traffic traverses the path the keep it clear of growth. Here is a glimpse of natural Hawai’i, where invasive species are relatively few and the calls of native birds echo amongst the ‘Ōhi’a.

Preparing for the Trail
Getting ready to set down the trail to Emesine Cave
While I had hiked the trail a couple years past, cycling gave me a whole new appreciation for the ruggedness of this old power line road. Whole sections were cobble that shifted and rolled under the knobby tires. I got a lot of rock dodging practice, carefully choosing where to run my tires through the rough lava. In the end I was forced to walk the bike along whole lengths of the route where the loose cobble was simply too dangerous to ride. The sections among more recent flows were the rough parts where the road was simply bulldozed through the rock.

Those parts of the road through well forested kīpuka were a treat in comparison. Here the road became a cool path through the trees with damp and mossy ground under the tires. The route alternated between flow and kīpuka every half mile, crossing centuries of lava flows from Mauna Loa. The kīpuka flew by at two wheel speed and the flows became a chore to cross with two feet.

My goal was the 1881 flow from Mauna Loa and a lava tube that can be found there, Emesine Cave. A mere 2½ miles from Saddle, what would be an easy, few minute run on a decent surface would take me a hour of bouncing through the rock to reach. Still, I could move much faster and farther with the bike than by foot alone.

On the road out I encountered a forestry crew hiking back to Saddle Road. I was somewhat happy when they described my biking the trail as “hardcore”, but I had to admit to having to walk sections of the trail. Further along I found stacks of steel poles and gear bags recently deposited on a lava flow. Some sort of study in progress?

Power Line Trail
An old power line road in the Humu'ula Saddle
There were other hikers out, I passed a group of birdwatchers as evident by the large binoculars. But surprisingly no hunters along this particular road, despite being hunting season and seeing pickup trucks parked on every other trial head along Saddle Road. Still, I was glad I had remembered to wear a bright yellow shirt, not to be mistaken for a pig or goat!

Ohia Forest
'Ōhi'a lehua Metrosideros polymorpha forest covering lava flows from Mauna Loa
Reaching the cave I stashed the bike in a depression well off the road to explore the cave and some of the surface of the 1881 flow. Hard to believe this flow is only 130 years old, already well colonized by ‘Ōhi’a and other native plants. The trees here were only three to six feet high, in comparison to the 40-50 canopy of the surrounding forest. The whole area is a botanist’s playground, not to mention a nice place to simply explore and appreciate.

Emerging from underground I noted how late it had become, time to hit the trail back or be forced to cover the rough trial by flashlight, not a tempting activity. I headed back along the road, finding I was riding more and walking less as I gained experience with the conditions and how to get the bike across some rougher patches.

I returned to the vehicle with the sun low in the sky, tired and with a sore butt from bouncing over all that rock. Still I felt elated at having succeeded in the plan. Next ride will feature a somewhat smoother surface, but then, anything short of full on a’a would be smoother than that road!

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

2 thoughts on “The Trail to Emesine Cave”

  1. Me and a few buddies use to ride this road. We’d start at Saddle rd and ride up and all the way to Volcano Village. You come out at the golf course. Border the prison property along the way too. Yes, its very rocky but, doable. We were hardcore Mnt Bikers back then. 1990’s. Many of the locations we use to ride are no longer accessible.

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