Hiking Haleakala: A Trek through Maui’s Volcano

Two more posts about our trip to Maui and then I’ll get back to loving on northern Michigan. Last Monday we got up at 5am to get to the summit of Haleakala for our hike. I cannot recommend a six-hour time difference enough. We were up early on Monday, but only about an hour earlier than our usual for the week, and if you know me, you know that’s seriously early. The thing is, I didn’t even need an alarm clock. Now that we’re back, it’s a different story. I digress.

Meg drove her little red Saturn to the parking lot where we would end our hike, as we had planned to hitch a ride to the top. Alas. The road to Haleakala was filled with folks returning from watching the sunrise, but there were practically no cars headed up. Instead, we picked up a couple from Canada, and they rode with us to the summit. We’d figure out transportation back to the car after the hike.

At 10,000 feet in the early morning, Maui is a chilly place. Fortunately, Meg, Tony, and I all wear the same size. Kidding. I am about a foot shorter than they are. But thankfully, Meg has a closet full of adventuring gear, and she graciously shared. Loaded with water (very important in the high elevation and desolate terrain we were about to traverse), sandwiches, apples, and trail mix, we began our ~4,000-feet descent into the dormant volcano along the Sliding Sands Trail.

We walked down, down, down across grainy, multicolored sand. For such a hell-ish place, the volcano holds an unexpected and surreal beauty. Meg had been weather-watching for us, and chose Monday as the best for our hike. She did well. For most of the trip, the air was perfectly clear, and we could see across the collapsed summit with the Big Island in the distance. In several places, we had expansive views of the trail miles ahead.

A few miles in, we saw a trail heading off to a colorful cinder cone. It took some minor back-tracking, but we found the unmarked access, and scrambled our way down to the trail. We hiked around part of the rim, remarking on the steeply banked hole in the center of the cone. You could climb out if you accidentally tumbled in, but I suspect it wouldn’t be the easiest climb. I’m no geologist/mineralogist, but rocks around that cinder cone showed off their iron-y reds and sulfur-y yellows with aplomb. For being literally in the middle of a volcano, there was an astonishing spectrum of color displayed.

After a quick snack break, we rejoined the main trail to continue our excursion. Soon, we came across a smattering of silverswords. Probably because of their endangered nature and the harsh climate they endure, the plants have a special place carved out in my heart. These little bundles of perseverance can live up to 50 years. Right before they die, the produce a giant stalk full of flowers. That’s it. A once in a lifetime event. I wonder if they get performance anxiety?

We eventually came to a fork in the trail, which I have labeled – possibly inaccurately – the end of the Sliding Sands Trail. We turned left onto the Halemauu Trail (maybe…we definitely hiked that trail) and headed across the frozen expanses of formerly flowing lava. And by frozen, I mean the science teacher definition, not the “water at O*C/32*F definition 😉 Here the trail shifted between lengths of fairly compact sand and uneven, hard, immovable rock topped with sand. Eventually, we came across a lava hut where we lunched in the only shade around. And by lava hut, I mean a hut made of lava 😉

As we continued on, the clouds and vog (volcanic outgassing + fog = vog, but it’s really more like smog) that were lingering below began to spill into the depression. Our path continued into the obscurity of the rising vapors, where the first real signs of life began to emerge. In this area that is frequently bathed in atmospheric moisture, a surprising array of plants abound. Many of them look like juniper, but in an impressive rainbow of colors including shrubs with black, purple, pink, orange, and red berries. Add in the extensive number of ferns and fragile yellow oenothera-like flowers, and we nearly had ROYGBIV.

Looking across this lavascape, we glimpsed but a small portion of the switchbacks in the trail ahead. We enjoyed the relative ease of the flat meadow before crossing the gate marking the ~2,000-feet ascension to come, ~1,400 feet covered in just over two miles. Occasionally the steep trail was protected by stony guard walls, but mostly it was exposed and your own care was your safety net. After crossing around the windward side of the ridge and back a few times, we eventually came out onto gently rising shrubland. Though the trail was solid here, it was incredibly uneven, as it is constructed of unsmoothed, half-buried stones.

Back at the parking lot where we had intended to leave the car, Tony and I hung out with the nenes while Meg hitched a lift back to the top. Thirteen or so miles later, thirsty, tired, and me sporting four blisters including the biggest unburst bubble I’ve seen, I’d call the day a success. But until I get a better-fitting pair of shoes (Note: I wore my favorite pair of Merrell trail shoes, and they were great for 86% – I measured – of the hike. As the trail became more solid but uneven, my foot slid side-to-side in my shoes too much. Takeaway: make sure you can lace your foot securely in your boots, and consider something that covers your ankles.) and teleportation, I’m not in a hurry to do it again.

Pictures are in chronological order, going along with the story above. I’d click the first one, and then click through the slideshow that opens for easiest view. Hope you enjoy!


14 thoughts on “Hiking Haleakala: A Trek through Maui’s Volcano

    • We’ve been to Maui twice, and I’m not sure we’ll make it back to the Hawaiian islands again. So many places to see! Is Oahu more jungle-y and what you’d typically think of as “Hawaii?”

        • Preferences are a funny thing. We lived in Miami for four years, and the overgrown parts of Maui reminded us of some of the places we visited in FL. Very cool, and I can definitely understand how people yearn for it and want to live there, but it’s not for me either. I’m glad it’s there though 🙂

  1. Wow, Incredible pictures of the beautiful landscapes. Thank you for taking us along. Because, I think that if we EVER do get to Hawaii, this is one hike that I will not be taking! 13 miles of hiking that terrain? Yep….glad I got to go along in your blog!

    • It’s not a trail I’d recommend for you. The uneven trail is bad enough (my blister finally healed enough by yesterday that I felt safe to work out on my foot), but the elevation makes this a more difficult hike than it seems. Plus the 2+ mile climb at the end. So…I’m glad you could come along this way 🙂

  2. I’m with Barb – absolutely incredible and I love the photos, the variety in terrain, the whole hike – which I think for me was best done from the comfort of my chair. Thank you – again!

  3. What a wonderful journey this has been!! I’m not really a hiking kinda gal, so for me this is just perfect 🙂 Your words transported me to the Haleakala volcano and I hiked right along with you from the considerable comfort of my bed 😛 Just the way I like it.

    What a stunning landscape! It feels so otherworldly – almost Lunar or maybe even Middle Earth! Great pictures to go with the story too, as always 🙂 Thanks for the link Heather – really enjoyed the read and learnt a lot!

    • It was such a cool hike through some pretty distinct biome changes. It’s not at the top of my list to do again, but I’m so glad we did it…and of course glad you could join in so easily!
      There were multiple remarks about the volcanic remnants feeling moonlike, but I think Middle Earth fits too. You know, pre- or post-Sauron, because it really didn’t feel menacing 😉

      • 😀 Not menacing at all…ruggedly beautiful. It reminded me of the Ladakh Plateau near Tibet – similar sort of terrain with the Himalayas as backdrop – stunning!! It’s on my Bucket List of destinations 🙂

      • Not menacing at all…ruggedly beautiful. It reminds me of the Ladakh Plateau near Tibet – similar sort of terrain with the Himalayas as backdrop – stunning!!

        It’s on my Bucket List of destinations 🙂

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