We stopped for picnic fare at Down To Earth and headed up the side of Haleakala. The route between Kahului and the volcano takes you through upcountry Maui, which is another term for ‘Wyoming’. It’s truly bizarre to see cactus and cattle farms in the middle of a tropical island.
It’s a 25-mile drive up the side of the mountain, and we encountered several bike tours coming down. People pack in vans and shuttle to the top of the volcano to see the sunrise, then get outfitted with bicycles and ride down. Seeing those guides, I seriously considered the possibility of moving there and taking up that career. Damn web development for being so lucrative.
We drove up to the summit, at over 10,000 feet. It took me a few minutes to lose the altitude-dizziness. From the top, you can see 360 degrees around the whole island; the West Maui mountains, the valley in the middle, Lanai, Molokai, Molokini, and even the Big Island far off in the distance. I was cold in my hoodie and capris, but figured I’d warm up while hiking.
We saw the extremely rare silversword plant, which can take up to 50 years to bloom, and is only found on Hawaii. The leaves are truly silver. We were glad to see a single plant in full bloom.
We drove down a little ways to the vistor center and trailhead. Both of our travel guides had advised us to avoid the Sliding Sands Trail, but we’re not always great at resisting a challenge.
sliding sands trail
One can take the trail all the way across the park; it’s a two-day hike, so most people pack camping equipment. We just wanted to go down into the crater, so we brought our food and tons of water (having learned from the last volcanic adventure). We had warm clothes and even a first-aid kit.
The first part of the trail, we had to pick our way around horse poop, so the beginning of the hike was alarmingly stinky. Descending into the crater, the trail was fine volcanic gravel and dust, just slightly less difficult than walking on sand. I had the sense that if I stepped off the trail, I would go sliding down the steep hill into a crater and never be seen again.
The thing I like about this kind of adventure (i.e. the kind of thing not everyone in the world gets to experience) is how other people act when you encounter them. Everyone says hi. Everyone is friendly. Everyone wants to talk about what they’ve seen just a mile down the path, or to encourage you with ‘you’re almost there!’ When a pack of horse-riders passed going uphill, every single person greeted us. It’s something you don’t see very often, which is sad.
We walked and walked and sometimes slid our way down the trail, constantly aware that the climb back up was infinitely harder, and supposed to take twice as long. After about three miles, we decided we should probably start heading back. We only had so much water. As we decreased in altitude, it had warmed up somewhat.
above the clouds
The climb back up was brutal. I discovered that if I walked at my usual hiking pace, I’d be painfully out of breath within a matter of 20 paces. It was a combination of the altitude, the steepness of the climb, and the fact that it was like walking on sand. I finally figured out that if I climbed really slowly, at a very constant pace, I could focus on keeping my breathing regular and not feel like I was about to have a stroke.
It’s a lot easier for me to keep moving constantly than stop and rest at regular intervals, so I’d do as long a walk as I could manage, then stop and wait. I noticed that even the people who appeared to be really seasoned hikers, totally tricked out with all the right gear and walking poles, were still moving at a snail’s pace up the mountain. That made me feel a lot better about the fitness I was starting to question. It was one of the most physically demanding things I’d ever done, second only to the Breast Cancer 3Day.
more of those stone-stacks
It was fascinating to see the differences between Haleakala and Kilauea. We had walked on new lava — not just new in terms of geologic time, but fresh lava, still cooling. The terrain around Haleakala was completely different, having had eons to weather. Half of the Big Island still looks very much volcanic, with little vegetation, and huge fields of lava. Everything except the actual crater is fairly overgrown on Maui, and the lava flows in the ocean are eroded into sharp rocks forming tidepools along the shore.
no spectre of the brocken
We were pleasantly surprised to actually survive that hike. We dragged ourselves back to the parking lot, and changed into more comfortable, not-lava-filled shoes at the car. I squatted to stretch my thighs, pulling my arms up behind me, and promptly got a massive cramp between my collarbones, something I’ve never had the joy of experiencing before. We washed volcano dust off our faces and arms in the bathroom, then drove back down the mountain to the another overlook.
The Leleiwi Overlook is one of three places on the planet (the others are in Scotland and Germany) where the Spectre of the Brocken can sometimes be witnessed. If the clouds roll into the crater valley close to sunset, you can sometimes see your gigantic shadow on them, surrounded by a rainbow.
i’m convinced nene are a myth.
We drove back down to Kahului, and went to check out Queen Kaahumanu Center, the big mall that was described in the book as looking like something out of Star Wars. We had trouble with the name, so we just called it Queen Kamehameha Center. Stephanie had a fascination with Hawaiian Macy’s; I expressed my feelings by suddenly having an overwhelming need to vomit, presumably from having eating vegetable chips an hour before. I’ve never rushed through a store to the bathrooms so quickly. That was some excitement I surely didn’t need.
i take this photo on every vacation. unsexy hiking hair.
The mall was, well, eh. It did have a cool futuristic canopy-thing, but the stores were traditional and, on reflection, I believe it was absolutely lacking in ABC Stores, which explains a lot. It didn’t have any decent restaurants, either, so we came up with another plan: we’d go back to Lahaina. We’d been joking constantly about Cheeseburger in Paradise since we’d first seen it, because I assumed from the name that it was another Jimmy Buffett restaurant like Margaritaville, which fills me with rage for no good reason except for the whole parrothead thing. But we knew they had two kinds of gardenburger there, and some goofy touristy entertainment on that order is always amusing. (Later we found out it had nothing to do with Jimmy Buffett at all except for the name. Whew.)
the a-frame hotel
We stopped at the hotel to shower first, because we were nasty. I didn’t even realize how filthy I was until I scrubbed and scrubbed and still managed to get black dirt all over the towel when I dried off. There was volcano dust in our eyes, ears, and noses. Yuck.
For the big Cheeseburger moment, I decided to wear a skirt. This probably amuses only me, but it was funny. We drove to Lahaina and waited in line outside along the ocean for half an hour, eavesdropping on the very very annoying east-coast family, praying we wouldn’t have to sit near them. We ended up seated at a shared table between a group of four who did a lot of staring but not talking, and a couple who talked a lot.
They were from Philadelphia, and were supposed to have arrived in Maui two days before, but had instead gotten in the previous night. They told us the horror story of their flight: layover in New York, layover in Texas, emergency landing for a sick passenger in Phoenix, long refueling, then finally reaching Maui. The girl told us she was terrified of flying, and actually screamed when they encountered turbulence. All of a sudden, I didn’t mind our hour-long delay at all. (Not that it made me hate Northwest Airlines any less).
We had dinner and talked to them for a long time afterward. On the way back to Kahului, we stopped at the overlook to see the stars. They were unbelievable. We could clearly see the Milky Way, and were able to pick out constellations we wouldn’t see that time of year in the north. I saw two shooting stars, three planets, and some airplanes I tried to convince Stephanie were really slow-moving comets. We went back to the hotel, packed our bags, and I showered again to remove the rest of Haleakala from my hair.