In 1975, at the start of my parents’ year-long trip around the world, they hiked through Haleakala National Park. Forty years later they brought their kids back with their spouses to enjoy the same experience.
We started planning about six months ago making sure everyone would be ok with the idea. This included making sure my husband would be ok with the heights, my sister-in-law would be ok with the altitude, and my brother’s knee would hold out. My parents trained and the rest of us, in all honestly, kind of winged it. Although I did try doing everything at an incline at the gym, when I would go, to get my legs somewhat ready.
We left Lahaina at 6 a.m. March 30 to make the long two-hour drive up to the top. We opted not to drive up for sunrise because of the threat of how thick the fog could be on the roads. And once we were on the road headed to the park, I wouldn’t have wanted to be on it in the dark in a swath of fog. There are no guardrails and a lot of switchbacks. We drove through the clouds, and when we were above the cloud line it was amazing to see them from above. One cloud was billowing like an atomic explosion. We even passed a lavender farm on the way too.
We dropped one car off at the Halemau’u Trailhead parking lot because that is where we would be ending our hike. We all piled into the other car and took that to the summit. Once at the summit, we were able to go into the Visitor’s Center to look around. It is a nice lookout point to see into the crater. It is also so windy up there it took my favorite hat right off my head and I thought I almost lost it to the depths of the crater. In addition to the Visitor’s Center, there are also bathrooms to use before starting the trail. The rangers in the center also recommended three liters of water per person while hiking.
We started on the trail at about 8:30 a.m. for our 11.2 mile trek. The temperature was certainly colder than it is at the beach, so if hiking make sure to have layers. I was in a long sleeve shirt, fleece jacket and my rain/wind jacket over that with a hat and gloves.
The crater makes you feel like you have landed on Mars or the moon. There is almost no visible wildlife or plants and it is very quiet. The silty sand slopes down into the crater so that you can see for miles across it. It gave me a feeling of wanting to take a sled straight down the slope to the bottom, although that would be a dangerous ride, not to mention probably illegal.
For most of the morning we hiked downhill into the crater, occasionally slipping on the sand and giving our shins a test of strength and durability. We walked past silversword plants that looked like someone had come around and spray painted each one with bright silver paint. We even saw one that was in full bloom, which is pretty special as they only bloom once before then dying. They are an endangered plant species and only found in the Haleakala Crater.
We stopped near the bottom to enjoy some snacks and give our legs and feet a break. We had hiked for about four miles by then. We enjoyed sitting around and looking at where we had hiked from and seeing the red of the soil contrast with the blue of the sky. A few birds came by that we called Nenes because we hadn’t seen one yet, but they were really chukars. A little masked bandit looking for food.
After our stop, we had three and half miles to go before getting to the Holua cabin where we would stop for lunch. This was the first part of the hike where we started to go uphill and I could really feel the altitude. This is also where I started to realize that some cardio training to strengthen my lungs would have been a good idea. So, I took my time and hung back and hiked with my dad. My heart was pounding, my stomach was gurgling and my hips were starting to hurt.
About a mile out from the cabin, the landscape starts to change from the sandy soil to more plant life, low shrubs and ferns. The lava rocks become harder to hike over. It was a nice relief to be able to stop for lunch. At the cabin, which you have to book about a year in advance if you want to stay there, there is also an outhouse to use. The first one all hike. I recommend making sure that you go before your hike and to also know that there aren’t many places in the crater to go that are private if need be.
As lunch was ending and we were packing up, the clouds started to roll in and the fog was hovering. We started out on our hike and could see in the distance the switchback we needed to tackle to get out of the crater. We were officially out of the sandy area and now it felt more like hiking through Jurassic Park. My sister-in-law provided the theme song for us as we hiked. It felt like a raptor might run by at any moment.
We finally reached the gate to start the switchback climb. This climb is not for the faint of heart or for people who are scared of heights, like Blake. I am ok hiking at heights, they are nerve-racking of course, but they don’t give me much vertigo. For Blake, his hands were shaking, he was sweating and we had to continue without stopping. He did a great job and I am very proud of him. When we did stop briefly, because it is important to drink water, I had to turn him to face the mountain wall so he couldn’t see what was below him.
Never has cloud rain ever been so welcome during a hike. It was refreshing in the heat. I would also recommend good hiking pants that aren’t jeans, as I felt the water beaded off my Columbia pants quite well and then dried quickly afterwards. At one point the trail goes on a ledge where there is nothing on either side of you. Luckily, because we were hiking through clouds, I wasn’t quite sure what was below us.
Eventually the switchbacks stopped, but we were still hiking uphill to the parking lot. It’s even more deceiving when you can see the parking lot in the distance, yet it still feels like you are hiking a long time to get there and not getting any closer. We crossed over into the parking lot at 3:30 in the afternoon. Exactly seven hours after we had left the summit.
What a sense of accomplishment! All six of us were quite tired, muscles burning but thrilled that we had hiked through the whole crater and that everyone had made it. We were even happier that we were able to share the experience with my mom and dad. We celebrated the next day with a lazy pool day.
Visit Haleakala National Park online to learn more and plan your own trip.