The Hike In
Our overnight in the Haleakala Crater had been planned for months. On the day of our hike in, I woke up before the sun had even risen. I woke Bill and we tore down our tent at the Hosmer Grove Campground in Haleakala National Park. Only one other tent was at the campground and I noticed that that couple was breaking down their campsite as well. It was time to join the hundreds of cars and bike tour vans to the 10,000 foot summit of the volcano to watch the sun rise. The attraction to the sunrise on the volcano, which people get up at 3 am so they have time to get to the top, is that you are above the cloud cover and the effects of the sunrise above the clouds is spectacular.
When we got to the top, the entire tourist population of Maui was already there. Despite the crowds, however, it is still possible to get a fantastic view of the sunrise, though finding a parking spot is more challenging. I dropped Bill off with the camera while I drove around looking for a place to park. I was glad that he was able to photograph what I would miss.
After the sun rose, and I was able to finally park the car, we had to descend to the visitors center to get a back country permit. Camping back country permits are only available the day you plan to hike out, though there is an advance lottery reservation system for cabins in the crater for a notable fee. We opted for the free camping.
Getting to the visitors. center was a challenge. There are several companies that bring busloads of tourists up to the top of the volcano with trailers full of bikes in tow. The bikers then sit on the bikes and coast down the only road on the volcano (the one the cars use) and then continue coasting back to the coastal town of Lahaina. Some of the bikers are out of control and dart in front of cars without warning or veer off of the road on a sharp turn. By the time we made it to the visitors. center, a bike accident was already being reported.
Applying for the permit was very easy, but getting to the trail head would be another challenge. We would start our hike at the 10,000. parking lot, but would end at another parking lot several thousand feet below. It is recommended that you introduce yourself to a tourist at the visitors center and explain that you want to park your car part way up and but would then need a ride to the top. However, there was no one else at the center so early in the morning. The ranger suggested that we park the car as planned and then hitch a ride. I had never hitched a ride before, but I was open to new experiences.
After parking the car, we went to the road and waited for a car to go by. Then we waited for a car to go by. Then we waited some more. Finally, a car came around the corner. It was the couple from the campground this morning. They also wanted park their car in one lot and hike from another.
They joined us hitchhiking on the side of the road. As soon as they joined us, the ranger car came around the corner. The Germans brought us good luck! The ranger piled all of our backpacks and our bodies into her car and brought us up to our trail head. Unfortunate for the other couple, they forgot their "photograph machine" in their car and had to hitch a ride back to their car below. I guess we used up their good luck.
The Sliding Sands trail can be seen from the ridge of the crater. It forms a light scar against the dark rainbow colors of the cinder in the crater. The first part of the trail is heavily traveled compared to other parts of the park. Many people take day hikes down to a pit about two miles in and then ascend back out along the same trail.
We thought that hiking this trail would be like hiking on the beach, but it was much easier to hike on cinders than it is on sand. The first few miles of the trail descended into the crater. The air was thin at 10,000 feet, but dry, and the hiking was very comfortable. On a rare occasion, we would come across a plant sprouting out of the barren ground. The only other life out there was the microscopic bugs that live under the rocks. It is crucial that one does not wander from the trail, step on a rock, and crush this endangered species.
When we reached the intersection of Sliding Sands Trail and Halemauu trail, it was time to cook a hearty lunch of Ramen noodles. As we boiled our water, I thought about how wonderful this trail was in that the only "trail marker" was the sign at the intersection of the trails. There were no spray painted trees, and no unnecessary cairns. This is the wilderness that I always hope for when I hike, but it is rare to find.
Once we finished lunch, we started down the Halemauu trail. It was a much more gradual descent with a few miniature hills to walk over and a few towering cinder cones to walk around. The scenery became more colorful as we hiked in. The cinders and rocks were sometimes orange or yellow, and green plants grew in the distance, gathering water from the clouds passing through
As I waited for Bill to hike on a spur trail out to see "a bottomless pit", the German couple caught up to us, with a "photograph machine" in hand. They would be hiking though and out that day, so they were not burdened with packs. They asked me to show them where they were on my map. As I showed them the location, I realized that Bill was on a loop trail rather than a spur, but would end out about ¼ of a mile past where I was waiting. Maybe we should have consulted the map before he started his walk! As the German couple departed down Bill's trail, I told them that if they saw him to send him back to me.
I should not have worried, as Bill was back in a few minutes after the German couple departed. Unfortunately, I had to tell Bill that I wanted to hike the loop that he just finished hiking because I suspected that it was the trail that I saw from a ridge about a half hour previous. The trail I saw went through a pass that was surrounded by rainbow colored sand. I suspected that it was Pele's Paint Pot. I was glad that Bill agreed to take that path a second time that day.
Adding a mile to the hike by going out along this loop was the best decision I made all day. The bottomless pit was near a huge pile of rubble that must have blown out of the hole at one time. The rubble was all colors of the rainbow and looked suspiciously like a 30. pile of Fruity Pebbles cereal. Guess I was ready for supper. As we hiked the loop around the cinder cone, the scenery became more colorful. When Pele was finished painting the island of Maui, she dumped all of her remaining paint in this area. If you saw this place, you would believe that legend.
Once we returned to the main trail, the land changed drastically. The land began to look like one might expect from a volcano. Black rocks, black sand, and no form of visible life surrounded us. The clouds drifted across the ground making the scene look like the remains of a devastating fire. The clouds veiled the horizons, isolating us in the eeriest place in the volcano. Walking through the mist prickled my face with moisture. We decided that we would hike back here at night and see how it looked in the moonlight.
The black area ended abruptly at a ridge into the green area where we would camp after another mile of hiking. After hiking on the black lava, the remaining trail to the cabin held no interest to me.
Once we did arrive in camp, we were greeted by Nenes, which are an endangered species that lives in the wet side of the crater. The descended from the Canadian goose after a flock was blown from Canada to Hawaii in a storm. They flourished in Hawaii, but after the introduction of the mongoose, the bird has become endangered. A large effort to get the mongoose out of the park so the Nene eggs will not be eaten continues today.
We set up camp in a well trodden camping site. There was even a little shelter for the stove built from rocks. We were delighted and repulsed to find that the campsite also came with five cans of Vienna Sausage.
After scouting around, we found a camp spot where a rock wall had been built in a large C shape. We moved out tent to sit inside the wall, and were surprised to see that this campsite came with two oranges under a tree.
As the sun set, we began out hike back into the black area. We brought a map of the stars to see what we could identify. Along the way, we had time to hike The Silversword Loop trail. The Silversword is a rare plant found in the crater. It blossoms every 12 years. The hairs on the leaves catch moisture from the clouds and appear silver. They look a bit like an aloe plant with an overall round shape. They look like tribbles on the face of the moon. At dusk, you think you can see them move towards you out of the corner of your eye. We got a lot of good Star Trek dialogues going on that hike!
As we approached the black area, we saw out first heavenly body. It shone yellow against the darkening sky. Mars. One by one the stars appeared. For the first time in our lives, we saw the Southern Cross. How beautiful! As we walked back for the night, we heard the spooky cries of the `Ua`u, or Dark-Rumped petrel calling to its mate on the cliffs. They are almost extinct, and it is rare to hear these birds. Their name comes from the actual sound that they make.
We found that the trail was not so obvious at night with headlamps as it was in the mist in the daylight, but we managed to return safely. When we got to our tent we took one last look at the Southern Cross and realized that it could not be seen from out camp because of the ridge separating us from the black area. I was so glad we had taken that extra trip! I slept very well that night, and was able to fight off the cold in my 0 degree sleeping bag.
The Hike Out
When we awoke the next morning, it was cold, but by 8 am it was comfortable again. I was not looking forward to our hike, as it would be four miles of steep up hill hiking to get out of the crater. I was delighted to find that the first mile was a flat field from the campground to the cliff. Hiking up the switchbacks on the cliff ended up being a fantastic adventure. Every time we came around to the inside of the ridge and the rising sun was to our backs we would get our own private rainbow in the mist! This continued for two miles until we reached the crest and hiked up the rocky slopes to the parking lot. We only passed three people in the last mile; the rainbows were just for us.
Hiking Maui the Valley Isle by Robert Smith (published by Hawaiian Outdoor Adventures Publications, 102-16 Kaui Place, Kula, Maui, Hawaii).