Monday, March 10, 2014

Mauna Kea 13,796', Kona, HI

I couldn't come to Hawaii without ascending the state's highest peak. I knew it would be a long trip, but after a week of running on Maui, plus a few training runs on Kona, I felt in decent shape. It is interesting reading all the hiking guidebooks on this route which recommend about 10 hours for the roundtrip. I understand why they emphasize the dangers of altitude sickness and how cold and wet it can be in the winter months. But I have to remind myself that they are writing for the "high heel" brigade who likely never hike seriously. With a road right up to the summit this accessibility can lead to the assumption that this is just a stroll with minimal risk. But risk is relative and although I found this to be a very safe, unrisky route, my experience and perspective is hardly common.
Sunrise on the initial slopes of Mauna Kea

It was still dark at the Visitor Center when I arrived. There was one car in the parking lot and no-one around. Someone got an early start and I would doubtless catch them on the trail. It was cold and windy as I laced my shoes. I put on my windproof jacket over my teeshirt and this helped considerably. I packed a liter of water on my running sack plus a few provisions and a hat and gloves and started jogging up the initial section of trail. Very similar to Haleakala on Maui, the trail was very sandy. With the cloud cover I was treated to a beautiful sunrise.
Looking up the trail to the summit - about 4 miles and 3,500' away

With improving light I was able to make quicker progress, but the initial two miles of the Humu'ula Trail are very steep and gain altitude quickly. I was warm and blowing hard and was grateful for the stiff breeze. There was no sun because of high level cloud cover but I could see how this would be an ordeal in the heat of the day, particularly during summer.
Spectacular view back to Mauna Loa

At one point I stopped to check the map and gauge my progress. Looking up into the distance I traced the line of the trail and picked out 4 hikers about a mile ahead of me - 20 minutes at my pace. It would probably take me another 40 minutes to reach them. It was daylight and the view to Mauna Loa was spectacular. Unfortunately the cloud cover prevented sight of the coast line 30 miles away.
The trail curves to the right to connect with the access road and then another mile up to the summit (out of view to the right)

With targets in sight I kept up a steady, slightly elevated pace. I caught the hikers in 22 minutes as they sat taking a break. They were Norweigans in their late twenties and didn't look in very good shape. They has set off at 4am - 2 hours earlier than me - and remarked on how quickly I had ascended. I gave them some of my water and advised them to turn back. If they were struggling at this altitude they would be in more serious trouble higher up and they had another 3,000' and 3 miles to ascend. I left them pondering their decision. After another mile I looked back and could see them trying to ascend a little higher - not the best decision.
Puu Hau Kea - a volcanic satellite summit with my ascent trail visible on the right

Final 150' to the summit - cold and windy
Summit of Mauna Kea with Mauna Loa in the background
The many observatories from the summit
The upper 4 miles to the summit is a little more forgiving and I was able to keep a good pace. It was getting colder with altitude and I could see the snow line up ahead. The Humu'ula Trail connects with the summit road a mile below the summit and the final stretch to the road was frozen ground. The crunching of ice under my feet was welcome in comparison to the sand and when I reached the road I was passed by a steady stream of observatory workers driving to the summit facilities. I felt really good. I knew my ascent of the trail had been pretty quick, but it was only after I uploaded my data to Strava that I found I had broken the ascent record by 12 minutes. Not bad for an old guy.
A detour on the descent to Lake Waiau - the highest natural lake in Hawaii

Once on the road I jogged steadily up the final mile to the summit. A couple stopped their car on the way up and asked if I was OK and needed a ride. It was a nice thought and made me wonder what kind of state I was in. But I felt really good, thanked them, and set off up the final stretch. The Park Ranger was driving down as I crested the last steep section of road and he stopped for a chat. He remarked how quickly I must have run given the time. He had seen me leave the Visitor Center from his cabin next door and hadn't expected me at the summit for at least another hour.
Much warmer on the descent. View of Mauna Loa a mile above the Visitor Center

The summit is a barren place, but beautiful nontheless. Leaving the access road the final section of trail descends to a col and then climbs about 150' up to the summit proper. The snow and ice on this section posed no problem and although it was cold on the summit I took a few pictures, had a drink and then set off on the long descent.

I took a detour to Lake Waiau, the highest natural lake in Hawaii on the way down. This lake is fed by melting permafrost. There wasn't a lot of water because there is less melting in winter, but it was an eerie place with no vegetation at this altitude.

I made quick time on the descent and I made the whole trip 90 minutes quicker than I expected. I did not pass the Norwegians - they either walked across to the access road and hitched a ride, or returned down the trail. Sensible choice. But this was a great run and recommend it to anyone used to higher altitude running.

Lahaina-Pali Trail, Maui, HI

There's nothing particularly appealing about this trail when tracing its route on a map. It starts nowhere and ends up nowhere and doesn't seem to visit anywhere interesting in between. I can't explain why it attracted my attention but it offered a nine mile return trip and a reasonable amount of climbing. It therefore met my requirements as I worked my way back from injury.
On the initial ascent

I had planned to do this run earlier in the week but a spell of heavy overnight rain put me off. I didn't want to run through a potential mud bath and I was unsure about starting in the dark. On our final morning on Maui I took the opportunity to set out a little later and this was a wise choice.
Lahaina Bay with the coast road bottom right

The trail starts on the west Maui coast in a large pull-off sheltered by dense trees. This turns out to be the only tree cover on the whole route and various guidebooks advise on doing this trail early to avoid the worst heat. By running the trail I expected to be done well before the sun became a problem. As it turned out I got a refreshing "shower" half way through.
Looking back on the ascent - all runnable

This trail is part of a network of ancient Hawaiian by-ways. The ascent from Lahaina coast is steep and rock and the switchbacks enable height to be quickly gained. I passed a family after a half mile and they were aiming to do the route one-way and had someone picking them up at the end - I would see them again on my return.

Information board at the far trailhead - "The Zigzagiest Road"
I was able to make decent time on the ascent to the ridgeline. This holds the largest windfarm on Maui and the turbines were completely still as I crested the ridge and traversed to the top of the long, steep descent. And it is a very steep and rocky descent. Thankfully I was able to pick my way down by skipping across the tops of larger rocks and boulders and avoided the looser rocks on the surface, but this wasn't going to be an easy ascent.
Looking back from the top of the steep ascent - lots of cars heading from Kahalui to Lahaina

The final half mile to the trailhead was fairly level and I took a short break before the return trip. I had passed 4 runners ( two individuals and a pair) who were climbing up the steep descent but I wasn't sure if I would meet them again on the way back. It seems that most people either do the trip one way and have someone pick them up, or just run to the half-way point and return. I seemed to belong to the "idiot" section who does the whole trip both ways.
Two runners in sight climbing towards the halfway point on the way back

I wasn't looking forward to the steep climb but I was helped by having some runners ahead of me as targets. I thought I might catch the pair of runners, but they had about a mile start. I pushed hard up the steep section and then caught sight of them about a half mile above me. I eventually caught them up below the wind farm at the point where the other two runners were on their way back after a half-way trip. I quickly left them behind as the gradient eased and with the undulations I was out of sight.
Trail cuts up and right from the windfarm access road

Crossing a deep gulch on the final descent
Starting the descent to the car I passed the family who were still ascending. They were making hard work of it and it seemed to me that it was too tough a trip given the time they were taking. I left them some water and made a quick descent. In the Lahaina Bay I could see humpback whales breaching every few minutes. It was difficult not to be distracted and I had to concentrate to avoid falling over. With so few people around this wasn't the place to get a broken leg.
Descending to the trailhead at Lahaina Bay

This is definitely a recommended running trail. Despite there being no summit and no landmarks on the route, the trail is really enjoyable.

Haleakala Crater, Maui, HI

Hawaii is hardly a trail runners paradise. For all the lush vegetation and dramatic mountain scenery, so much of it is either inhospitable or off limits. The pineapple plantation owners prohibit access to the higher terrain from across their lands and there is a complete absence of a right to roam. Coming to the end of our week on Maui, the few trails that exist require very long car journeys. But those few trails do offer some compensation.
Sliding Sands trail - Kapalaoa Cabin is beyond the highest peak left of center

At the crater floor with under two miles to the cabin
For most of the week I have been restricted to offerings close to the west coast near our hotel. A sea front jaunt, plus a severe hill work out on the Kapalua Village Trails. The latter is a lung-buster and follows the up and down cart track on a dilapidated golf course. It is like fell running on asphalt. I liked this track so much the first time that I went back for more punishment and wasn't disappointed.
A mile to go to the cabin on a cinder trail - the cabin is just around the obvious spur

I never got around to running the trail I really wanted to until our last day on the island. The Lahaina Pali trail seemed to offer access to a higher mountain - Hana'ula - which at about 6,000' gave the potential for some serious climbing. All of this would be illegal, of course. The Lahaina Pali trail crests a ridge and then drops into another valley. My plan was to hit the ridge and just head up to the distant summit. But it didn't matter. The only day it was possible was pouring with rain and this made the route an impossible mud bath.
A quick breather by the cabin with the sun just penetrating the cloud cover

The trails at the top of Maui's highest peak - Haleakala - looked spectacular, but they were a long drive. A fortuitous opportunity opened one morning to pay them a visit, and even a steady, warm drizzle as I left the hotel just before 5am couldn't dampen my spirits. The drizzle didn't even last for long and a muggy 75 degrees started to cool as I gained altitude on the 36 mile long approach road. The uphill road was deserted and I couldn't work out why. I paid my dues at the park kiosk and drove the last 9 miles to the parking lot below the crater summit. I had a nice surprise. There were a huge number of cars and several hundred people all waiting for the sunrise. It was a nuisance, because I had to wait 30 minutes for a parking space - until the sun came up and these early trippers could go back to bed.
Silversword plants dotted the terrain

Looking back over a cluster of Silverswords towards Kapalaoa Cabin as I headed around Pu'u Naue
It was 45 degrees and the sky was lightening as I set off on the descent of the Sliding Sands Trail. I wore a light wind jacket but was dressed for summer heat and I clicked along the long, winding descent. I covered the first 4 miles of steep descent in 38 minutes and reached the turnaround point at the Kapalaoa Cabin after 6 miles in 58 minutes. It felt great to be moving fast in high mountains again. I wore my Hoka's, but I didn't really need them because the trail was sandy and forgiving - great on the downhill, punishing on the ascent back to the trailhead..
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Kawilinau sink hole
Loose and sandy running 
Looking north across the crater rim on the slow ascent of Sliding Sands trail
I took a quick drink at the cabin and circled around the back of Pu'u Naue to the strange sink hole at Kawilinau. The sun was rising and warming nicely. Although not a clear crater, the exhausted Haleakala volcano had a crest to the west and remnants of smaller eruptions dotted around the crater floor. It was a barren landscape dotted with Silversword plants. Apart from a family at the cabin I never met a person until back on the final ascent to the summit - and even these people were casual walkers who were descending the upper reaches of the trail but with no clear plan or intent.
Looking back on my route from close to the summit

Final ascent to the summit
The slog back up the Sliding Sands trail was hard work. It wasn't the altitude - between 9,000' and 10,000' - but the trail surface. What had been pleasant cushioning on the descent was proving difficult or the return. Sections of deep sand meant lots of sliding around and it was difficult to run with any predictability. It was a pleasure to hit the occasional rocky section where foot placements could be certain. The profile of this ascent was also a little deceiving. The first mile is a mixture of gradual and steeper slopes which then level off and descend a little for a half mile. The final two miles climb uphill but weave around bluffs and sandy shoulders - these conceal the length of the trail and significantly foreshorten the summit, which seems closer than it actually is.

Once back at the parking lot I decided to add the additional mile to tag the true crater summit. This is an area that would be worth a return visit. There are many additional trails and extensions worth exploring. It would be great to find a trail that climbed up from much lower levels - I just can't get used to descending first and then climbing second. It was a great trail.