Sunday, July 16, 2006

Visually impaired camping trip and hike in crater

A group of blind and visually impaired youths will undertake an unprecedented four-day hiking and camping trip into Hale-akala Crater starting Monday.
The venture was organized by the Ho’opono Services for the Blind Branch of the state Vocational Rehabilitation Division and by Haleakala National Park staff.
“They’re all excited,” Ho’opono spokeswoman Geri Mitomi said Friday by phone from Honolulu. “It’s more the hike if anything – being in the crater, sleeping over.
“They’ve done many practice hikes on Oahu, so they’re really geared to go,” she said.
Participants will include seven adult chaperons and five high school students, ages 14 to 17, including one each from the Big Island and Kauai. There will be five sighted staff members and two who are visually impaired, including one volunteer.
Activities will feature hiking into the crater, staying at a cabin, performing a service project of removing alien plants near Kapalaoa Cabin, and hiking out.

Although the food already will have been transported into the crater, the youths will carry backpacks along with wearing hiking boots. They received hiking poles, but most will use their own canes, Mitomi said.

“They know already it will be a challenge, but 20 miles will be even more so,” she said.

She said the students practiced hiking, removing alien plant life and performing survival skills during an annual youth camp at Camp Erdman, Oahu, in early June.

“Even though they’re visually impaired, the service project of clearing brush – they’re looking forward to doing it,” she said.

Mitomi said the first-ever event was organized through the friendship of Ho’opono branch Administrator David Eveland and Haleakala Park Resource Management Chief Ron Nagata.
The youths stand to gain renewed confidence, an experience of the crater’s rarefied environment and a heightened sense of their own capabilities.

While some of the youths are blind, “some of them may have some sight. They may see shades or shadows,” Mitomi said.

But when out and about, “normally they all are equal. They all use canes,” she said. “I believe they’re all ready. They’ve been waiting for the day to come. They’re all looking forward to it.”


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