Monday, March 10, 2014

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.

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