Hiking Haleakala Crater

Haleakala, with an elevation of 10,027 feet, is the highest point on Maui. It is a volcanic cindercone with a well maintained highway that goes all the way to the top. With a road distance of 38 miles and an elevation change of 10,000 feet,  the highway is one of  the steepest in the world.

Trisha and I left our condo on the Kihei coast at 4:00am and arrived just before 6:00am, shortly before sunrise, at the peak. It was eerie, because the parking lot was full at that time in the morning, and there were some 200 people (on a regular weekday) huddled in the freezing wind, some of them wrapped in hotel bedspreads, towels and whatever else they could find to keep them warm. A full contingent of park rangers kept order, and one of them sang a native chant while the sun rose.

Seldom are there no clouds shrouding the peak, so the sun does not rise over the ocean, but rather over a blanket of clouds that surrounds the peak a few thousand feet lower. Here is a photograph of the sunrise on top of Haleakala.

We brought our hiking gear and provisions, so we could hike into the crater.

[you can click to enlarge these photographs]

I took this picture from the rim down into the crater, facing east. The red arrow points to our hiking destination, down the Sliding Sands Trail to Ka Lu’u o ka ‘O’o, which means “plunge of the digging stick” and I’ll talk about that later. The crater looks like a moonscape from the rim, and the distances are deceiving. The point of the arrow is 2.6 walking miles and an elevation change of 1,400 feet down. The valley further behind is some 3,000 feet down and 9 miles away. You can hike all the way down to the ocean from  this point, but for us, a day hike to Ka Lu’u o ka ‘O’o was all we needed.

Here is Trisha taking a breather with our destination (red arrow) still 0.6 miles away.

Finally arrived, you can see why it’s called “plunge of the digging stick.” According to one Hawaiian myth, the volcano goddess, Pele, traveled through the islands seeking a home suitable for making good fires with her digging stick. Pele drove her digging stick into the ground here and created Ka Lu’u o ka ‘O’o. Pele then moved to the island of Hawaii, where she resides today, creating eruptions at Kilauea and Mauna Loa.

Hiking in Haleakala is a little bit like hiking in the Grand Canyon. At the canyon, you start at the elevation of 7,200 feet and hike down a mile to about 2,000 feet. That’s not so hard to do for a reasonably fit hiker.  But then the return trip is brutal.

At Haleakala you start hiking at 10,000 feet, where the air is thin enough to make you dizzy and lightheaded. Then you go down effortlessly, sliding in loose sand along well maintained trails. Then there comes the time when you have to return. Within a few steps you realize that going back up is not at all the same, with the steepness of the terrain and the thin air. I would advise scheduling at least twice as long, or longer, to come back out. Depending on your fitness how how accustomed you are to hiking at altitude, it can be quite challenging.

This is the view back to where we needed to go, the red arrow pointing to the visitor center at the top. You might as well be on the moon.

Hiking in the Haleakala Crater is an unforgettable experience.