Haleakala Hike Part I (July 16, 2015)

Though we had been to Hawaii and Maui before, we had never explored much of West Maui (except the road to Hana).

During this visit, we had plenty of time to explore beautiful Haleakala National Park, an International Biosphere Reserve, and a sacred place for the Hawaiian people.

Be sure to click on any image for a larger view!


Haleakala National Park was about 30-45 min drive from where we were staying in upcountry Kula.

Haleakala ("house of the sun") or the East Maui Volcano, is a massive shield volcano that forms more than 75% of Maui. The tallest peak of Haleakala is 10,023 feet and the stunning views from the summit look down into a massive depression of about 14 square miles and as deep as 2,600'. The barren landscape looks alien.

Panorama view down into the Haleakala "crater"

After our very first visit, we were hooked, and during the month we spent on Maui, we went up to Haleakala eight times. A couple of times to generally explore, once for sunrise/moonrise, twice for sunset, once for night sky, and once for a very fun hike down into the "crater". (The word "crater" is in quotes because this is not a true volcanic crater or caldera, but much of the entire summit and topography was formed by volcanic activity and subsequent erosion.)

Our son and grandkids at the Haleakala summit

Haleakala crater filled with clouds (not the day we hiked)

One of our big goals was to hike down into the crater via the Sliding Sands trail. We had two cars at our disposal, so we were able to hike from near the summit just one-way to another trailhead to pick up a car left by our friends (who picked up the car we left at the summit). The one-way hike was still over 12.5 miles with 3,800 feet of descent, and 2,050 feet of rise. Not a trivial hike!

We arrived at the summit about 7:30am and found it socked in with clouds, very cool temps, windy, and trying to rain.

Mike at the trailhead
Susan at the trailhead

We spent a few minutes considering if we really wanted to hike down into the clouds. Finally we just decided to gamble that the clouds would eventually clear, put on our rain gear and headed downhill on the Sliding Sands trail, into the crater.

Mike coming down the Sliding Sands trail

Our starting elevation was about 9,700 feet, and in the first two miles we dropped about 1,300 feet! And we had a lot more elevation to drop. The clouds continued to dissipate and we saw more and more blue sky.

The view back to the Visitor's Center

Fortunately, the clouds began to break up and we got some wonderful views farther down into the crater, and beyond, to the ocean. The scenery was breathtaking!

Clouds were clearing!
Susan along the trail

We considered hiking down and around the Kalu'Uoka'O'O cinder cone, but didn't

It was interesting how the landscape, rocks and vegetation changed as we dropped. It was very barren at first, with the landscape dotted with the native Silversword, a rare plant that only grows above 6,900 feet in and around Haleakala. The only other silversword plants are found on the Big Island at similar elevations on western slope of Mauna Kea.

Susan looking at a Silversword

Silversword, this one  about about 40" tall)

More Silversword plus some shrubs

Looking down at the trail junction where grasses meet old lava flow

After hiking down nearly 4 miles and about 7,500 feet elevation (about the same as Estes Park, where we live), we stopped at a trail junction for a quick rest, and then turned onto the more northerly trail, still descending.

Susan at the trail junction

Heading north

Hiking along the alien and sandy lava landscape

Another couple from Canada we met a little ahead of us on the trail

Mike on the trail 

At about the 5 mile point, we made the decision to take a detour counter-clockwise around the Halali'i cinder cone, and we were really happy we did, as the scenery and geology around the northeast side was very interesting.

View to the South, towards the trail junction
Susan with one of the interesting volcanic rock formations

As we hiked around the cone, the light changed slightly and we noticed how much red we were seeing in the landscape rocks and sands. Such an alien, barren, and beautiful landscape.




Susan heading down the trail 

Multi-colored gravel, someday to be sand

As we came back out to the main trail we had detoured from, we sat down on some rocks for a lunch break.

Click here to continue reading Part II...

Haleakala Hike Part II (July 16, 2015)

Continued from Part I... 

Our lunch spot was probably the most desert-like and otherworldly place on the hike. I barely sat down to rest even though we were 6 miles into the hike, with another 7+ to go, including dropping about 800 feet, then gaining back another 1,300+ feet.






Another mile down the trail we found we were walking through old lava flows.






We were about to drop down our lowest point were we expected find more vegetation, especially grasses.


Susan, ahead of me on the trail



Now we were hiking in thick vegetation, bushes and grasses, all around us. We were getting fairly close to the Holua primitive cabins, where we thought we might take a break.


Now we saw bushes like these all around us, along with a lot of grasses

Hearing squawking, we looked up to see these three Nenes flying by. They're the Hawaii state bird.

Holua Wilderness cabins

As we approached the cabins and saw no activity around them, we saw a sign explaining they were closed for two days for ant bait application! So much for taking a break here on this hike.

At this point, we're about 8 miles into the hike and we were nearing our lowest point, 3,200 feet lower than where we started. But not only do we have another 4 miles of hiking, we have to gain back almost 1,400 feet to get back to the trailhead where our car is waiting.

The elevation (blue) and speed (red) profile for our hike

Susan on the trail, about our lowest point, about 6,600 feet

After a quick break, we forged on past the Holua cabins, passed through a gate, and then saw the hills with all the steep switchbacks we'd be taking to gain the remaining elevation.


The trail heading towards the switchbacks

Susan about to round a switchback

As we powered up the trail, we rounded one switchback and found a lone Nene (aka Hawaiian Goose) perched on a rock just below the curve of the switchback. Surprisingly, he wasn't skittish at all and let us approach pretty closely, and seemed to enjoy posing for us.

Nene on a rock at lower right, with the trail we came up on

Nene perched on a rock, trying to look raptor-like? :-)

The higher we climbed, the bigger our views got, not just of the grassland to the south, but also big panoramic views out to the ocean to the east.

Pano looking mostly east

We also gained enough elevation look back down on many of the switchbacks we'd just climbed.


The trail we'd just come up

The view back toward the south
We were getting pretty tired now after all the elevation gain 12+ miles into the hike, but we were almost done.

Our first glimpse of the parking lot at the trailhead!

We enjoyed this sign at the end of the hike, giving a "conceptual view" of what we'd just finished!

Our hike, starting at center right, going counter-clockwise

And here's the map view of our hike.

GPS track of our hike in the "crater". Starts at lower left. 

This was a difficult hike, but well worth the effort! A very unique experience and perhaps one of our best ever hikes.

Maui, Part I - Haleakala Skies

In July 2016 we enjoyed a home exchange trip and stayed in a wonderful home on East Maui near Kula. The Kula area is known as "upcountry" because it's at higher elevation (almost 3,500') on the slopes of Haleakala. Here's a view from the lanai of "our home."

View from Kula, looking towards West Maui
Be sure to click on each photo to see a larger version!

We spent a month here and had family and friends stay with us part of the time. During our stay, we enjoyed all the "standard" activities on the island, including scenic drives, hiking, beaches, sunrises, sunsets, night sky, birdwatching, ziplining, and more!

This will be a multi-part blog post featuring some of our favorite photos from the trip.

Haleakala National Park was a favorite place for us to explore and was only 30-45 minutes from our house. We made about 8 trips up there during our trip! And we did a pretty major hike down into the Haleakala "crater" too.

Looking down into the Haleakala "crater"

Since the summit of Haleakala is above 10,000 feet, and the air is so clear in this isolated part of the Pacific, there are several observatories and space-tracking facilities on the summit.


Military space tracking facilities near the summit of Haleakala

Because of the big views from Haleakala, which is often above the clouds, it's a very popular place to go for sunrise and sunset.

On the night we went up for sunset, the full moon was rising just a few minutes before the sun went down.

Moonrise before sunset. Note the pointy shadow of Haleakala center-right 

Clouds and ocean view from Haleakala just before sunset

Definitely a popular spot

Sunset, with West Maui mountains

Once the sun goes down, Hawaii's remoteness in the Pacific makes it an excellent dark sky location. We drove up late one night with no moon and the moment we got out of the car we could clearly see the band of the Milky Way and Galactic Center.

Milky Way over our car at Haleakala

View to the west

Milky Way with greenish airglow near the horizon

Our night sky experience was really good, especially since almost no one was up there. But when we returned another day for sunrise, we were shoulder to shoulder with others who got up early to watch the show. We had another very fortunate experience with the moon, too, as it rose in the east just before the sun.

Pre-dawn skies with the summit parking lot almost full!

Pre-dawn rise of the crescent moon

We were shoulder-to-shoulder with other sunrise observers

Another shot of the crescent moon just before sunrise

Sunrise