Hiking Haleakala, Finally!

[Haleakala National Park, Nov 25, 2022]

Finally, a clear day on Haleakala! I didn’t even bother checking the summit webcam. I hightailed it to the top of the volcano, which was now over an hour away that I was staying down by the beach. Oh, well. Even the best planned trips can encounter hiccups and I was just glad I was going to get my hike in! I was planning on 11.2 miles point-to-point from the Sliding Sands trail at the summit visitor center to the Halemau’u crater about 1,000 ft down.

But before getting to the trailhead, I first stopped at Leleiwi Overlook. Leleiwi translates to “bone altar,” Although the name of this area was recorded on early maps of the crater, the history of the name itself has been lost. The overlook was developed in 1966 to offer visitors a different view of the crater compared to the summit. It is short – only a third of a mile – but it rises 100 ft in steps to the edge of the crater. Near the trailhead are the remains of a stone wall built by ranchers in the late 1800s to guide cattle through the rough landscape. The views of the crater were fantastic! I got even more excited about my hike after visiting the overlook.

When I got to the summit, I couldn’t believe the difference between Monday’s 40mph gusts of wind and today’s calm, sunny weather. It was going to be perfect for hiking!

The first part of the trail descends gradually into the crater. This dip was not created by a volcanic explosion, although it may look like it. The deep basin is instead formed by erosion. Wind, steam runoff and landslides carried away loose cinder in-between volcanic activity. This upper portion of the trail lays bare the crater in front of me for miles.

I finally descended into the basin. I could have kept going on the Sliding Sands trail. Instead, I turned left and headed for the Halemau’u crater. I was among the cinder cones now, and I could see a bit of fog coming through the Kaupo gap.

I added in the Kawilinau Gulch, which itself was not that impressive. But I loved getting closer to the cinder cones.

It was after this section that the landscape started to change. It was now flat, and low-level shrubs were starting to appear. There was a litte bit of fog, as well, which I was actually thankful for as the sun can really beat down on you at this altitude. Plus, the fog was not that thick and I still had decent visibility.

When I reached Huloa cabin, it was time to take a break to eat some food. I sat on the picnic tables outside the cabin and chatted up the people next to me. Huloa is one of three wilderness cabins in the crater. They can be reserved up to 6 months on advance on recreation.gov.

As I continued on through the shrubland, the fog started to lift. I even saw a rainbow! I could see the crater wall ahead of me now. It was time to climb out of the crater. I was about to gain over 1000 ft in just over a mile via switchbacks.

They were narrow but not too precarious. I kept looking behind me. The fog lifted gradually like a veil to reveal the full beauty of this side of the crater. I couldn’t believe how lush and green it was, in stark contrast to the Mars-like landscape on the first part of the trail.

I even saw another rainbow!

I chatted up more people on the switchbacks. One couple turned out to live in Tannasbourne, an area in Portland near where I was at the time. It’s a small world! I soon encountered another group of people who were taking photos on a ledge. They took some great pics of me at this spot!

Once I cleared the switchbacks, I had another 10 minutes to the parking lot at the Halemau’u trailhead. With all the hiking I had already done this week, my legs were tired and I was ready to be done! I ended up clocking a little over 12 miles with my gulch detour.

Since this is a point-to-point trail, I had to find alternate transportation back up to where I started. Since there is no park shuttle, hitch-hiking is actually the recommended mode of transport. There were even signs on the road warning drivers that they were approaching a “hiker pick-up area.” First, though, I decided to try my luck hitching a ride with the people who were leaving the Halemau’u crater and had left their cars there. To my disappointment, nobody was willing to give me a ride. I went up to the road and stuck my thumb out. The very first car pulled over. It was a family of 3, and they had exactly one spot open! They were very sweet and asked me lots of questions about the trail.

Once I got back to my car, I drove up to the summit because I wanted to see that thing free and clear of clouds, gosh darn it!

View from the Haleakala summit towards West Maui

Since this was my last night on Maui and I had just completed the most amazing trail, I felt like a celebration of sorts was in order. I headed back up into Maui’s upcountry for dinner at Hami’imaile General store. Led by one of Hawaii’s most heralded chefs, Bev Cannon, this restaurant has been serving farm-to-table before it became a fad!

I showed up right at 5 when they opened, since I didn’t have a reservation, and snagged a spot at the bar.

I had the duck bao buns to start, macadamia crusted mahi mahi as my main and Hawai’ian pineapple upside down cake a la mode for dessert. Everything was amazing, including the sangria I washed it all down with. What an ending to a spectacular day!

One Comment on “Hiking Haleakala, Finally!

  1. Pingback: 7 Perfect Days On Maui - Balabanova All Over

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