We arrived at the Visitor Center early on Saturday morning. Working with the Chief Park Ranger, we shared our concerns. He understood them and worked with us to resolve the issues. The Park Service decided on a limit of four permits for a group and an exact time for the issuing of climbing permits to begin, 7:45 a.m. on Monday. The Chief put this in writing and posted for everyone to see.
Satisfied with the policy, we saw only one issue remaining. How to avoid chaos Monday morning? John’s solution was simple. Treat it like a rock concert and form a first-come, first-in admission line. After all, a total solar eclipse is one of the greatest shows on Earth. For rock concerts the bigger the event, the earlier the line starts forming. John explained the idea of a line to the Chief. He liked it and gave permission for the line to form on Sunday. He had rangers show us where the line could start and where the line should be located as it lengthened.
Kilauea Visitor Center modified from image by Ken Lund. Used with permission. CC BY-SA 2.0
Late Saturday night we helped put the Chief’s plan into action. We arrived at the Visitor Center parking lot a little after 11 p.m. and then waited.
At midnight, we moved our gear to the spot where the line was to begin. Within a few minutes two other backpackers arrived,. After brief introductions, John explained the system. They agreed and took positions 3 and 4.
Shortly after midnight a Park Ranger drove by.
“People, the line for hiking permits forms on Sunday. Go get some rest.”
To which John replied, “Sir, it is now Sunday and the line is forming. Thank you and all the other park rangers for all you do.”
The ranger smiled, nodded his head, and drove away.
Slowly and steadily through the night in cold, rain, and drizzle the line formed. We explained to arriving backpackers this was the line to receive mountain passes early Monday morning. There was little dissent from the participants. On a nearby post was the Park Service permit policy so anyone could read it.
The line continued to grow through the night. John and I took turns going back to the house to catch some sleep. By midmorning Sunday over 60 eclipse-seeking backpackers were in line. It was a time of bonding. We shared stories as we passed the time while enduring the rain and cold at the 4000 feet Visitor Center.
By late Sunday evening, climbers who had been strangers just hours before were warmly nestled in their sleeping bags speaking to each other in hushed, yet eager tones. The members of the line seemed to evolve into one body, one spirit. It was a moving experience I will never forget.
The stage was now set for an even greater bonding experience – the total eclipse of the sun.