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Red Hill later climbed Thu, Dec 8, 2016|
Kolekole later climbed Thu, Dec 8, 2016
Pa Ka'oao later climbed Mon, Dec 12, 2016
Haleakala is the massive shield volcano that makes up East Maui, occupying 75% of the island's landmass. The 10,023-foot summit of Red Hill is the island highpoint as well as the Maui County highpoint. The easiest of Hawaii's county highpoints, it is nearly a drive-up, requiring about 50 stairs to reach the lookout building at the summit. The lookout features large plate-glass windows to allow sunrise viewing out of the chill of the morning air and strong winds that blow across the summit. I had been to the summit back in 1991 at the godforsaken hour of 5a to watch a rather mundane sunrise (proper cloud cover is key to getting the epic sunrise). I had done a short hike down the Sliding Sands Trail, no more than a few miles, before calling it done on the mountain. Today I came back for a more extensive tour. In addition to tagging the highest summits around the Visitor Center at the top, I wanted to visit Haleakala's second most prominent summit, Hanakauhi with more than 1,500ft of prominence. Getting to it would require a long hike of about 15mi roundtip, but would prove an excellent route by which to experience much of Haleakala's crater region.
Leaving Honokowai before 6a, I managed to reach the parking lot below Red Hill just after 7:30a. I watched hundreds of cyclists riding down the mountain as I was driving up the Haleakala Hwy, groups of 1-2 dozen being led by a guide in front and a second at the back with the company van bringing up the rear, all wearing full motorcycle helmets, company jackets and gloves. It all seemed a little too safe and sanitary for what would otherwise be a great downhill ride. I felt a little sorry for the sunrise folks who were driving back down and finding themselves stuck in a huge line of bike traffic. The summit was almost deserted when I arrived to pay it a visit, only one other party of two in the building that would be crammed with 40-50 folks for the sunrise party.
Just a quarter mile to the southeast and the same distance to the southwest are the two other named 10K summits of Maui, Magnetic Peak and Kolekole, respectively. I hiked down from Red Hill to find the summit of Kolekole, not as easy as it seemed at first. There are a number of installations about it's summit, partly managed by the US Air Force, partly by the University of Hawaii. There are several large telescopes found here, including a new one currently under construction. Signs indicated No Entry due to the construction, but I found that by entering through the Air Force gate and then climbing directly to the highpoint just south of there, I was able to reach Kolekole without disturbing the project that involved a number of workmen, large cranes and other construction equipment. I snapped a photo of the benchmark found there, along with a few of the views to be obtained. Clouds were blowing steadily up from the north and northeast, making visibility hit or miss for much of the day. I dropped back down to the pavement and then made my way to the top of Magnetic Peak, a high cinder cone. A few picture later and I returned to the car.
I drove a short distance back down the road to the Visitor Center where I found a trail leading to the summit of Pa Ka'oao, the fourth highest summit. It was a short 0.2mi to the top where I found clouds obscuring the views into the crater region to the east, though partial clearing to the southwest and Red Hill. I stopped briefly inside the Visitor Center to check it out before getting in the car once more to check out Kilohana, the fifth highest peak. The road comes within 1/10th of a mile, but the closest turnout to park I found was half a mile to the north. Seeing there was going to be no views at all on this one, I almost let it go (but didn't). In making my way up the gravelly slope from the north I stumbled upon a decent trail marked by small stones wrapped in flagging. The trail doesn't seem to go to the summit, but follows the road about 20-30ft above it as it passes by Kilohana on its west side. Several rodent traps were found along the trail, one with a live rodent trying to find its way out. A small solar-powered instrument was found at the top, and as expected, no views at all.
Taking almost 2hrs for the preliminary, I got back in the car and drove a few miles down the road to the Halemau'u Trailhead. It is one of two trails leading down to the crater, along with the Sliding Sands Trail that starts at the Visitor Center. The advantage of the Halemau'u Trail is that it starts at only 8,000ft, saving almost 2,000ft of gain on the return compared to the Sliding Sands Trail. This is a huge plus, especially at the end of the day when you're tired. The disadvantage is that the trail is often wet. Located on the wetter north side of the mountain, the clouds blowing up from that direction tend to saturate the cliffs through which the trail travels as it descends in about 3mi to Ko'olau Gap at 6,600ft. The views while descending this trail can be incredible but today it was socked in. My feet, boots and pants were all soaked by the time I completed those first three miles. I wore a rain jacket to keep my upper body dry and the usual hat upon my head, but the rest of me was left to the elements (about 50F when I started down the trail). I passed by a number of parties hiking up as I descended. Several were eager to know "How far is it to the top?" which I could accurately respond to with the GPS I carried. One little girl of about 7 or 8 was with her mom, both wearing cheap plastic ponchos to fend off the light rain. She was none to happy when told it was about half a mile or half an hour (at their pace) to the finish - she looked finished already and started whining to Mom. Dad was about 100yds back carrying his own full backpack along with his daughter's daypack in front. At least he was smiling.
Because of the wet conditions, I left my camera in my covered pack while I was descending the trail, not taking it out until I had reached the Holua Cabin at the four mile mark. The cabin was deserted and locked (advanced reservations are required, up to six months in advance, only 1 party per night up to a maximum of 12), as was the nearby camping area. I paused here to eat half of my lunch when I found the rain had stopped, though the picnic bench and all the plants along the trail were still plenty wet. There are a few Hawaiian nene (geese-like birds) that hang out at the cabin looking for handouts. Despite being endangered, feeding them is a strict no-no. There is a lava-tube cave behind the cabin with a use trail leading up to it through the grass but I didn't walk the short distance to check it out.
I continued on the Halemau'u Trail, now heading southeast into the heart of the crater. I understand that the large crater area is not really a caldera but the fusion of two lava flow areas. The further south I travel, the drier it becomes. The clouds begin to fade as does the flora that had covered the older lava fields around the Holua area. In the span of little more than a mile, the look and feel changes from damp and lush to dry and desolate, but no less scenic, I think. The trail becomes more sandy and walking with wet feet across the sand is trying (and blister-producing, I would find). I got views looking southwest to Red Hill and the Visitor Center as I started to reach through the leading edge of the clouds blowing in. The change in the landscape over the course of a short distance is amazing. Of the two main trails, The Halemau'u is the wetter of the two. In contrast, the Sliding Sands Trail starting from the Visitor Center descends along the bottom edge of the ridgeline bordering the south side of the crater. The clouds reach it with much less frequency and ladden with much less water. As a result there is very little growing here. Silverswords dot the landscape with a few other species, ferns take hold on the steep cliff faces where there is sufficient sand/gravel to hold moisture. I don't normally think of ferns as colonizing species, but here they are the dominant plant doing this in the raw lava.
I reached a trail junction in the middle of the crater near a handful of cinder cones and turned east. The trail passes through some colorful bands as it snakes its way north past Halalil and Pu'u Naue, two of the smaller cinder cones. A 65-foot deep vent is found at another trail junction between the two cones. The vent is inactive, but fenced to keep the curious or unaware from accidently falling in. It's easy enough to step over the fence to peer into the 8-foot diameter hole, but it would be difficult to say you fell in unaware of the danger. Yet another trail junction is found a short ways east as the trail reaches its highpoint before it starts a gentle decline into the Kaupo Gap. The SE fork heads to the Kapalaoa Cabin in little over a mile, situated at the base of the impressive cliffs on the south side of the crater. The east fork heads to the Paliku Cabin located about 3.6mi further at the far east end of the crater. My route took neither of these forks, but rather a third option - a use trail than can be seen ascending the lower portion of Hanakauhi's SE Ridge. By now my boots have dried, at least on the outside, but this will not last olong. Hanakauhi is hidden in the clouds and it seems inevitable I will be in the mists once again.
After an initial steep section, the use trail reaches a saddle with Pu'u Mamane a few hundred yards to the left. I paid this minor peak a short visit before returning to the trail and continuing up. The trail does a good job of bypassing two of the more difficult features along the ridge before petering out completely. I continued cross-country up the ridge, bypassing another bonus peak, Mauna Hina. The slope turns steep again as I climb steeply to reach the ridge. I'm scrambling up loose sand/gravel slopes, finding them tedious. A large section of ferns higher up seems to hold hope for better footing, but that is soon dashed as I find the ferns do little to improve the ground's traction (It does add a nice dash of color to the landscape, though). Upon reaching the crest of the ridgeline I find that the gravel gives way to blockier volcanic scrambling which I found more enjoyable. The whole ridge can be done at class 2, though class 3 options are available for the more adventurous or those not taking the time to look for easier alternatives. It took a little over an hour from the last trail junction to reach the summit, or about 3.5hr from the TH. As expected, my boots are once again soaked and the views are all but non-existent. A few fleeting views towards the south are to be had at intervals, but for the most part I found myself finishing my lunch in the fog.
Descending the same route, I paused to tag Mauna Hina (about 20ft of prominence) before returning to the maintained trail. My more ambitious plan had me tagging half a dozen of the cinder cones found along the trail in the middle of the crater, but after doing just two of these (Pu'u Nole and Pu'u Naue) I decided to call it a day. I returned along the Halemau'u Trail, my boots once again drying out only to get wet once more as I neared the Holua Cabin. The clouds had receded some by this time leaving some blue sky overhead, but the grasses and shrubs along the trail were saturated, my boots acting like sponges as I passed by. I was happy to get some views to the top of 8,907-foot Hanakauhi, even if I was unable to get views while on its summit. The cliffs on the west side of the crater were a stunning mix of green ferns and rock enveloped in the thin, swirling mists that blanketed them. I found the Holua Cabin occupied as I passed by, but I didn't stop to socialize with its new occupants.
By the time I had reached the base of the exit climb about a mile north of Holua Cabin, I was back in clouds, finding my views limited. The switchbacks that climb up through the cliffs here are impressive, and the few views I got were even more so. I made good time up the 1,400-foot climb, finishing the last three miles in just over an hour. I passed by a few other parties making their way back to the TH above at a more leisurely pace. It was 4:45p by the time I reached the parking lot, all the happier when I could finally remove my boots. The constant soaking had done a number on my feet and toes. I would need to let them rest for a day to heal some of the sores that had developed, but it had certainly been worth it - Haleakala has some of finest hiking the island has to offer...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Red Hill
This page last updated: Tue Jan 14 21:41:10 2020
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