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!

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...

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