Haleakalā

Elevation: 3055 m
Elevation Loss: 450 m
Haleakalā is a massive shield volcano which accounts for ¾ of Maui’s land mass. The volcano’s highest point rises an impressive 3,055 m above the surrounding ocean and is referred to as Puʻu ʻUlaʻula (Red Hill). Haleakalā is Hawaiian for “House of the Sun.” According to legend, ancient chief Māui climbed the volcano to restrain the sun, lengthening the days of summer. Haleakalā is still active, however, its last eruption was over 200 years ago.
My Descents:
December 24 2010, April 22 2016.

I ❤ Maui. Where else can you lie on the beach, snorkel amongst tropical reefs, get soaked in the rainforest and watch the clouds at your feet from 3,000 m above the Pacific on the same day? So, when an amazing seat sale came to my attention, I immediately called Brianne to see how she’d feel about a family vacation there. As you might guess, it wasn’t too tough to convince her (in fact, we even convinced Grandma and Grandpa to join us too)!

After “enduring” the thick sea level air and tropical heat for a few days, however, I could take no more! I had to get back into my element atop a mountain! As the highest point on the island, Haleakalā was obviously the place I most wanted to visit and, with a road all the way to its summit, I would be able to share the peak with my 6 month-old baby girl!

Just because there’s a road to the top doesn’t mean that you can’t get off to an alpine start! With the intent of watching the sunrise from the highest point on the island, we aimed to leave our Kihei vacation rental at 4:15am. That was the plan anyways; until our alarm failed to go off at 3:30am! Despite “sleeping in” until 4:20am, we still managed to get our butts in gear and out the door by about 5:00am as the full moon was setting over Maalaea Bay.

So much for sunrise on the summit! As we drove up the volcano’s west flank, the sun rose and Haleakalā cast its long shadow across us. Even though we missed the sun rising over the Pacific, we were still granted some pretty awesome views of the island in the early morning light! Our Maalaea Bay starting point can be seen on the left, connected to Kahalui by Maui’s narrowest point (10 km). Beyond, the West Maui Mountains (formed by the separate older Kahalawai volcano) are already capped by clouds (center left). Click to see larger.

Our vacation rental way down in Maalaea Bay. The south (lee) side of Maui is very dry…

Kahalui and the lusher north (windward) side of the island. Despite the fact that the windward and lee sides of the island are separated by as little as 10 km, they see a pronounced difference in rainfall! Dryer (lee) areas see as little as 204 mm (8 inches) of rainfall annually while wetter (windward) regions receive as much as 10,271 mm (404 inches) of rain during the same span!

After driving up 2,000 vertical meters, we pulled over to capture our first views of Haleakalā’s massive volcanic crater and the sea of clouds covering the Pacific below.

The recently risen sun casts its warm rays over the ancient lava flows in the crater below.

Brianne and Mera finally come out to enjoy the view of the crater with me (both of them slept most of the way up)!

Spectacular views into Haleakalā’s massive crater. The crater itself is 860 m deep and as much as 12 km across. Although, Haleakalā is a volcano, its crater is not a volcanic caldera. The crater was, instead, formed by erosion. Despite this, the crater is home to numerous volcanic cinder cones and ancient lava flows. Beyond the crater, the more active Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanos of the Big Island can be seen rising up above the clouds on the horizon.

Mera’s ready to hike! Unlike all of the other hikes that she’s been on to-date, however, this one starts with the down and finishes with the up!

The barren crater from the “Sliding Sands” trailhead. Our plan for the day was to follow this trail and explore the crater for as far and long as the baby would allow!

Into the crater!

Hiking in the Haleakalā crater is like being on a different world; one filled with red rock, cinder cones and clouds challenging the lofty crater rims. Click to see larger.

Grandpa and Grandma enjoying the hike.

Even though we were descending into the crater, I (of course) had to find something to scramble up! Note to self: hands-on scrambling is harder when you’re wearing a baby!

Grandma eyes the nearest of the cinder cones.

The grandparents tackle a small scrambly-bit en route to the cinder cone.

Family photo atop the scenic volcanic cone. The cone was 450 m below and about 4.5 km from the trailhead so we decided that it would make a good turnaround spot so as not to push our luck too far with a baby!

A series or surreal cinders.

Circumnavigating the cinder cone. Even though it hasn’t erupted in hundreds of years, it’s easy to imagine lava belching forth from this colorful feature. Click to see larger.

Mera stops to check out a “Silver Sword” plant. This threatened plant species only grows on Maui within a 250 acre area and is well-adapted to survive the cold, dry environment of the crater. These strange looking plants live anywhere from 3 to 90 years, flowering only once before they die.

The Silver Sword’s spherical base of leaves is, essentially, evolved to be a reflector oven. Their parabolic shape focuses sunlight and heats the shoot tips up to 20°C.

After exploring the cinder cone, we slowly started our return journey, pausing to feed Mera some lunch in the shade and then again for some family photos high above the Pacific.

Loving her hike with Grandma.

Grandpa and his MANY cameras.

Unfortunately, some things in the crater erupt more frequently than Haleakalā! While the East Maui volcano has only erupted 10 times in the past 1,000 years, my little girl goes off far more frequently. As a result, I learned that changing a diaper while trying to keep your little one from eating igneous rocks can be quite challenging!

With Mera’s belly full and her bum clean, it was time to head back to the car to enjoy Haleakalā’s actual summit. After all, what comes down must go up…

Apparently 450 vertical meters wasn’t a good enough workout for Brianne so she decided to lunge step back up to the trailhead. Guess whose legs were sore the next day? :-P

Brianne pauses for one last crater panorama near the top as the Sliding Sands trail cuts across the hillside into the crater below. Click to see larger.

Once we returned to the trailhead, we enjoyed an air-conditioned respite from the strong tropical sun while waiting for Grandma and Grandpa. Once everyone was back together, we embarked on the short drive up to the “parking lot in the sky” at Haleakalā’s summit. For the record, this Ford Mustang wasn’t ours but it was much prettier than our rental car for the purpose of a picture!

Pretty impressive given that it rises straight up from the ocean over a distance of only 10 km!

While the road grants easy access to the summit, it somewhat mars the panorama! Even so, the views of clouds pouring into the crater from the island’s windward side (left) and the contrast between the red rock and clear ocean to the lee side (right) make for a spectacular view. Click to see larger.

Looking down at the crater’s many cinder cones from the summit. The Sliding Sands trail is even visible on the lower right.

Baby’s first 3,000 m (10,000 foot) peak!!!

Telephoto of the Big Island about 60 km away. While Haleakalā’s height is impressive, the Big Island is higher and still growing. Mauna Kea is 4,207 m high (13,803 feet)! Since Mauna Kea’s base is 6,000 m below the ocean, it is technically the tallest mountain on Earth (10,000 m compared to 8,848 m tall Mount Everest).

The summit of Haleakalā is also home to a large astronomical observatory. The combination of dry, still air, elevation and little light pollution make Haleakalā one of the most sought after locations in the world for ground-based telescopes. Click to see larger.

After spending a beautiful morning hiking and enjoying the sights from the summit of the island, it was time to head down and get back to the serious business that is Maui life. Seriously – I ❤ this place!