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Guest blogger: Hiking Haleakala Crater

January 12, 2013 - Leah Sherman

By Maui News Managing Editor Lee Imada

Leah invited me to write a guest blog about by wondrous but devilish 11-mile hike through Haleakala Crater with my college-age daughters, Allicia and Tina, and my girlfriend, Debra.

It was the perfect day for a hike, sunny with a mild to brisk wind. We chose one of the longer hikes, one that I had never done before, from Keonehe‘he‘e trailhead, starting at the Haleakala Visitor Center near the summit, through the crater and out the switchbacks to the Halemau‘u trailhead, a couple of thousand feet down the mountain.

This was not my first hike through the crater. As a Boy Scout, I earned my hiking badge on a four-day, three-night trek. We stayed in all three cabins. As a young reporter, I shadowed a backcountry ranger through the crater. Stayed in the ranger's cabin at Paliku for a couple of nights, then hiked 12 to 13 miles across the crater floor up the switchbacks down to Hosmer Grove then back up to Park Headquarters.

Then there was the time my friend and I decided to take Keonehe‘he‘e, also known as Sliding Sands, trail to the crater floor in sunny conditions and back up – in a driving rainstorm, wearing shorts, T-shirts and windbreakers.

That last experience taught me to respect the constantly changing weather conditions at the summit. We carried ponchos, layered clothing, sunscreen, toilet paper, trash bags to carry out our rubbish, 3 liters of water per hiker, first aid stuff and energy boosters, such as granola bars and Donettes.

It cost us $10 a car to enter the park. We stopped at Park Headquarters for a map and some advice from a ranger. He said the hike would take between six and eight hours.

We chose to take two cars, leaving one at the Halemau‘u trailhead and driving up to the visitor center and parking the other. There also is a pickup site just below the Halemau‘u trailhead, where hikers can get a lift to the Keonehe‘he‘e trailhead from visitors headed up the hill in a kind of “organized hitchhiking.”

We started our hike just before 9 a.m. The wind was brisk, chilling exposed areas. We got winded easily at the beginning as our bodies acclimated to the thinner air at 10,000 feet.

The hike had three parts. The nearly four miles down Keonehe‘he‘e trail was breathtaking with a view from above of the earthy reds of the cinders and volcanic cones. Silverswords dotted the barren landscape. By the end of the trail, the cinder cones towered above us.

The next phase of the hike, about three miles, took us across the crater floor to Holua Cabin. We climbed a cinder cone and hiked around another. Then, we crossed old lava fields that stretched toward the Koolau Gap. Looking out toward the crater rim, the view, moonlike with reds, oranges, purples streaked with white, drew out our smartphones for panoramic keepsakes.

We reached Holua Cabin at about 1 p.m. and had lunch with two friendly nene. The signs said not to feed them, so we did not.

Only four more miles, but it was a hellish four miles. After a mile on the flatland, we hit the switchbacks, carved into the face of the crater wall. Back and forth, up and up. The trail is uneven and full of rocks. Those who are afraid of heights may want to think twice because the trail is not particularly wide, but enough for horses to traverse.

With blisters and not having prepared for the strenuous switchbacks, we stopped often. As long as my legs would move, I thought I could make it. Didn't want my friend Lee Mainaga at the Fire Department having to write a news release about some 53-year-old hiker having to be packaged and flown out by Air One.

Debra eventually forced my pack from me, I have to embarrassingly admit. Things had gotten that bad for me.

We completed the switchbacks, but the Halemau‘u parking lot still lay more than a mile away — all uphill.

I decided that the person who designed the trail had a cruel streak because a turn brought the parking lot into focus but it was still a half mile to go up the hill, 20 to 30 minutes left to hike.

The ordeal ended with a series of rock steps to the parking lot. It was about a quarter to 5 p.m.

Gulped down lots of water, collapsed in a heap in the truck. Luckily, Allicia and Tina had finished an hour and a half earlier and had gotten the other vehicle from the visitor center. Mental note: Bring young, athletic people with you when hiking.

I waited for the endorphin rush, but it never came. Instead there was only pain and limited movement.

As I look back on the hike, now several days later, though, I am glad to have endured the pain because Haleakala Crater is so impressive, a gem of a place in the world. It's a place that Mark Twain and Jack London could not help but write about.

The views, terrain, habitat and climate are so unique to Haleakala Crater; I don't believe you will experience it all in any one place, in one 11-mile hike, anywhere else.

Just prepare yourself, because this is no ordinary 11-mile hike.


Article Comments

Jul-25-13 12:48 PM

We are in pretty good shape and didn't find it all that challenging. I guess it depending on your level. Sunrise in the crater was the highpoint for us. this interactive picture says it all fullscreen360****/haleakala-crater


Feb-07-13 1:16 AM

I know what you mean about that tantalizing glimpse of the parking lot.

Also, how come I always get rained on? It looks like the driest place on earth.


Jan-13-13 1:41 PM

You see why the name is used; Haleakala ("house of the sun)".


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Blog Photos

Lee, Tina and Allicia during their hike.