Please watch this traditional hula dance before continuing:
Captions on top of photos.
The ancient Hawaiian Creation Chant, the Kumulipo, begins:
O ke au i kahuli wela ka honua
-At the time when the earth became hot
O ke au i kahuli lole ka lani
-At the time when the heavens turned about
O ke au i kuka'iaka ka la
-At the time when the sun was darkened
E ho'omalamalama i ka malama
-To cause the moon to shine
Mai ka Pō ke Ao — From the Night is born the Day.
My third and final day in Haleakala crater arrives brilliant and sure; its motives absolutely clear. Today, the sun will reign with abandon. I lie face up in my tent – my dreary but beloved tent – a Big Agnes Seedhouse cursed with a rain fly the color of a storm cloud. My sleeping bag is twisted tight around me like a Chinese finger cuff. I gracelessly flail and kick free from my restraint.
Damn, my feet hurt.
I pull thick socks over my bruised feet. This trip has been hard on my body. I'm thankful that my head feels good. But I must get out of this storm-colored cocoon. The sun is rising.
I stumble a hundred yards from my tent and turn to look back. The light pours down the landscape like spilled paint.
In the west, the Haleakala Mountain rises more than three thousand feet above my campsite. The park visitor center and summit house are visible on the faraway ridge.
He ali'i ka 'aina he kaua ke kanaka – The land is our master, we are servants.
Haleakala National Park is one of our most endangered parks. From sea to summit, the park provide native habitat for more imperiled species – over 36 species – than any other national park. The grim list includes the spectacular Haleakala Silversword pictured below.
The Haleakala Silversword is an endangered plant endemic to Maui. It occurs in the alpine region of the park and nowhere else in the world. Other silversword subspecies, also endangered, occur on the Big Island.
The silversword (called 'ahinahina in Hawaiian) is a natural masterpiece adapted for life in an extreme environment.
The rigid sword-like leaves are coated with a dense layer of silvery hairs that reflect away harmful sun radiation and help the plant capture moisture. The narrow leaves, arranged in a parabolic rosette, protect the plant's core from extreme heat and cold. The leaves are filled with a jelly-like substance that store water in the dry high-desert climate.
The silversword may grow for 50 years as a small rosette before revealing a tall flowering stalk that reaches full development in just a few weeks. After the spectacular flowering, the plant disperses tiny seeds and dies. The seeds germinate in barren volcanic cinders where temperatures may reach 140 degrees. The fate of this precious species depends on this sublime flowering effort.
National Park Service photo by Kit Harris
Silverswords once covered the ground like a blanket of snow. The plant population experienced a precipitous decline after cattle and goat were introduced in the late 1700's. In 1927, barely 100 plants were alive on the slopes of Haleakala. It was ultimately the creation of Haleakala National Park that saved the native silversword from extinction. The perimeter of park is guarded by 34 miles of fencing that provides effective feral animal control. The park's education program discourages people from hiking off-trail, and possibly harming the plant's shallow root system. The spectacular silversword recovery is "one of the most dramatic single-species conservation success stories known" according to the National Biological Service.
Graceful even in death, the parched silversword proclaims, "One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it's worth watching."
Kulia i ka nu'u – Strive to reach the summit.
I look back into the crater while approaching the summit of Haleakala Mountain.
"Kulia I ka nu'u" was the favorite motto of Hawaii's Queen Kapi'olani. While most visitors keep their toes in the warm ocean water, I swim in the sentiment of the Queen's favorite proverb. My diving board resembles a plastic lawn chair at the far end of a grassy lawn - my brother's lawn - a lucky man who lives with his wife and kids in Keanae on Maui's windward coast. Conveniently, my Mom lives in the house next door. Together they run Uncle Harry's Hawaiian Fruitstand, along the road to Hana.
I sink into my chair while watching visitors drive by on their way to Hana. In a land that tantalizes the five senses, some visitors choose air-conditioning over the sweet and sour scents of the jungle. Far above the road and rain forest is Haleakala Mountain. It fills the sky like a massive tidal wave. The Queen says, "Strive to reach the summit." And I add, "…slow down, lower the windows, and enjoy the journey."
Haleakala translated is "House of the Sun." It is a towering dormant volcano from which the demigod Maui snared the sun and forced it to slow its journey across the sky. Long ago there were only a few hours of light each day because the sun was so lazy that it hurried home to rest. The demigod's mother was unable to dry her clothes during the few hours of sunshine, so Maui climbed to the mountain's summit, where he caught the sun by trapping its first rays as they crept over the crater's rim at dawn. He released the sun only after it promised to move more slowly across the sky.
A painting of the legend embellishes the entrance gate at Haleakala National Park.
The summit of Haleakala is called Pu'u 'Ula'ula, or Red Hill. The top is 10,023 feet above sea level. From Pu'u 'Ula'ula, the park stretches across a dramatic depression known as the crater. The crater is not volcanic in origin. Scientists believe the crater was formed when the headwalls of two large erosional valleys merged at the summit of the volcano. These valleys formed the two large gaps — Ko'olau on the north side and Kaupō on the south — at opposite ends of the seven mile long crater. The volcanic activity inside the crater occurred in more recent times. The water-carved valley became partially filled with lava and cinder cones, and it came to resemble a true volcanic crater.
The park's boundaries extend beyond the crater to the ocean far below. On the eastern slope of Haleakala, more than 8,000 acres of rainforest creates one of Earth's last wild places. The internationally renowned Kipahulu Valley is a sanctuary for native plants and animals – an outstanding example of an essentially pristine but delicate ecosystem. Here, undiscovered species still exist. Public entry into this area of the park is forbidden.
The boundaries descend to the ocean at Oheo Gulch, where the famous seven sacred pools cascade into a roiling ocean. Rugged mountains, impenetrable jungle, and rough seas characterize majestic Haleakala National Park.
Faith is the bud that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.
Those words taken from the journal of Hawaiian freedom fighter George Helm, who died with my uncle while crossing the 'Alalakeiki Channel in protest in 1977 . My uncle, Kimo Mitchell, was a park ranger at Haleakala National Park.
It's the 20th of December. Christmas is coming.
The past few nights in Keanae have been filled with heavy rain, thunder, and lightning. The upper mountain has been shrouded in cloud for days.
The stream runs high and swift behind my brother's home. I'm anxious.
I pass some time by collecting coconuts from our friendly neighbors.
I crack these beauties open with an axe. Mom cuts and cleans the juicy meat for use in coconut candy.
Another day in paradise passes quickly and a sultry moon is unveiled. Tomorrow, I will hike into Haleakala's crater.
Ola i ke ahe lau makani - There is life in a gentle breath of wind.
We gather around the dinner table and eat. I talk about my plan to camp in the Haleakala crater and hike to the summit. My Mom and brother express serious concern – Maui is not forgiving. I confirm my aloha 'aina and tell them not to worry. I agree to stay in touch when cell-phone coverage is available. There will likely be no cell-phone coverage.
My plan is simple. Day one: hike four miles into the crater and establish base camp at Holua. Day two: hike 18 miles to the summit and back. Day three: tear down camp and hike four miles out of the crater. I estimate the entire hike is 26 miles with approx. 5,000 feet of vertical gain.
I fill my backpack with gear – down bag, pad, tent, headlamp, camera, first aid, food and wine – any missing items can be purchased at the Pukalani Superette in Upcountry. But I am certain I have everything I need, maybe too much, and I struggle to carry my bulging pack to the trunk of the car. I take a deep breath and close the hatch softly. My ears search the darkness and tune into it. Dogs bark far in the distance. All around me, twisted in shadow, the Ti leaves sway like sultry hula dancers entranced by the rhythms of the breeze. I squint, smile, and nod my head. It is time for sleep. I will need my rest.
Makahana ka 'ike – Only through doing, you learn.
Date: December 21, 2009 Hike Distance: 4 miles one-way Elevation Change: 1,100 ft. loss. Trailhead: Halemauu Trail Used: Halemauu Destination: Holua
I wake before the sun rises, and lie in bed with my eyes closed. I hear the rhythm of distant waves crash into rock. I don't hear any rain. I smile and laugh to myself – it's time to get up. I drive down to the ocean and put my feet in the water.
The Hana Road twists and turns through thick jungle. In many spots the road narrows to one lane. I'm hours ahead of the visitor traffic and drive accordingly – fast.
I slow down for a moment to remember: it's all just a state of mind.
I reach Haiku and turn left onto Kaupakalua Road. A wall made of a thousand surfboards hides the corner property.
The road travels through Maui's beautiful upcountry districts – Makawao, Pukalani, Kula – before climbing a series of contorted switchbacks. The park's main entrance gate is 6,800 ft. above sea level.
At headquarters, Ranger Sandy greets me with the spirit of Aloha.
It doesn't take long before we're talking story. I learn that she knows of my 'ohana (the Hawaiian word for "family"). We talk over my plan to camp in the crater and summit the mountain. She writes the necessary permits as I watch an engaging 10-minute video about Haleakala and Leave No Trace ethics. The video begins and ends with a Hawaiian Chant that touches my soul.
Next to the video screen is this beautiful sculpture of a flowering silversword.
Sandy urges me to visit the Leleiwi overlook prior to descending into the crater. I leave headquarters with a hui hou (the Hawaiian phrase for "until we meet again") and drive to the Leleiwi overlook near 9,000 ft. of elevation.
Leleiwi translated is Flying Bone. This area of the park is sacred to Hawaiians. I step to the edge and gaze long and deep at the crater. I repeat a short Hawaiian chant and ask the mountain for safe passage.
I leave Leleiwi and drive back down the road to the Halemauu trailhead at 8,000 ft. I park the CRV, lower the windows, and recline my seat. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole sings Hawaii '78 on the player. I take a deep breath and step out. I double check my gear and then swing the bulging catastrophe onto my back. I lower my head for a moment and then walk into the wilderness.
The Halemauu trail (aka, Too Tall Mr. Bud Trail) is one of two trails that provide access to the crater from the summit district of the park.
My destination is Holua. This sign at the trailhead says it's 3.7 miles away.
I walk a few feet and see a sign that says Holua is 3.9 miles away. When I reach Holua, my GPS will record just over 4 miles of hiking.
The Halemauu trail begins a mild descent through alpine shrubland. To my left, a section of the animal control fence vanishes into cloud.
I reach the crater rim after a mile of hiking. The vista stirs my soul. The mysterious east face of Hanakauhi Peak (8907 ft.) hides in the clouds that fill Ko'olau Gap. Below me, the trail continues down steep switchbacks to the crater floor.
To my right, the towering cliffs of Leleiwi dominate the skyline.
The trail continues to descend. The air thickens with moisture and the flora turns more lush.
The beautiful 'Ama'uma'u fern graces the landscape. It is a native species.
A halo appears around my shadow as I walk through cloud. This otherworldly phenomenon is known as the Specter of Broken.
The clouds disperse and the valley floor is unveiled. The narrow trail traverses steep cliffs.
A tree reaches out for the moisture in clouds.
My descent steepens as the switchbacks continue below.
I approach the crater floor. The trail cuts south towards ancient lava flows.
A mystical place lies behind this old gate.
I introduce the ubiquitous Evening Primrose.
The elevation gain is subtle as the trail continues towards Holua.
Holua is cloaked in cloud at the base of the pali (the Hawaiian word for cliffs).
The historic Holua wilderness cabin is maintained by the park service. The cabin is available for visitor use by advanced reservation. Tonight, the cabin appears to be occupied.
Near the cabin, a curious and endangered Nene approaches. The Nene is the official bird of the State of Hawaii. The species is on the brink of extinction. It is estimated that only 500 of these graceful birds exist in the wild.
I hike past the cabin and pitch my tent in the designated area. Another tent is pitched about fifty yards from mine. The tall shrubs between our tent sites provide privacy.
The towering cliffs rise over two thousand feet to the crater rim.
I relax on my lava rock recliner with a glass of merlot. The temperature is about 30 degrees due to a cool moist breeze blowing in from the east. I'm glad I brought a down sweater. The jacket keeps me warm as I sit back and watch the final vibrant hues of autumn fade away. Winter solstice arrives tonight at 9:47 PM.
I sit back in the darkness and savor my wine. I have never felt this tranquil. It is remarkably liberating to be free of all concern, free of all fear. In Haleakala, there are no hungry creatures hiding in the shadows. There are no bear bags to hang. There are no cougars to watch for. On this mountain, darkness hides only the rain.
The powerful smell of burning wood invades my nostrils. The strange thing is, campfires aren't allowed in the crater.
Alarmed, I stand on my feet and scan the dark horizon. I look above me to see the moon and stars vanish. I nearly collapse to my knees. Call it an epiphany – or maybe just one of those moments – but I was overwhelmed by the realization: the fantastic scents of the rainforest are carried into the crater by the moist clouds pouring through the Ko'olua Gap. The intoxicating smell slowly fades, only to return 20 minutes later on another blast of cloud. I close the book I'm reading – No Shortcuts to the Top – with the pages wet from the humidity. I slip a rain cover over my pack and retreat to the tent. I shut off my headlamp. I am satisfied that the last three months have been some of the best ever. I greet winter with a handshake and a smile.
Uwe ka lani, ola ka honua – When the heavens weep, the earth lives.
Date: December 22, 2009 Hike Distance: 18 miles round-trip Elevation Gain: over 3,200 ft. Trails Used: Halemauu, Silversword Loop, Ka Moa o Pele, Sliding Sands, Summit Road. Destination: The summit and back.
The windward slopes of Haleakala receive over 300 inches of rain a year. Upslope flow, typically from the northeast, is capped by an inversion near 5,000 feet—resulting in maximum rainfall between 2,000 and 3,000 feet of elevation. Strong systems push moisture far up the lush Keanae Valley. The moisture spills into the crater through the Ko'olua Gap at 6,400 ft. of elevation.
The gap creates a narrow transition zone, where dense rain forest meets a dry high-desert environment. My tent is pitched on the edge of this transition zone at 6,900 ft. of elevation. Here in Holua, the first day of winter arrives cold and wet.
I lie at rest in the tent, my mind dancing to the rhythms of a light rain against the tent fly. I am in no hurry, and remain in my tent until 8 AM. Thick cloud blankets the mountain. The air is dense and moist. I consider myself fortunate – the clouds will provide the perfect ambience for trekking through a sacred landscape.
I enjoy an energizing breakfast and then repack my bag. I carry only the necessities – rain gear, camera lenses, food, first aid, headlamp. Non-potable water is available at the cabin. I fill two water bottles, dropping a treatment tablet into each. They'll be ready to drink in an hour. The sign near the cabin directs the way. I start walking towards Paliku.
The plants in the crater are masters at moisture collection.
The cinder trail fades from black to red, and then grey, and then black to red.
The majestic silversword plants begin to appear beside the trail. I take a short detour on a side trail called the Silversword Loop.
The silver dots on the side of the cinder cone are silversword plants. The plant has made a spectacular recovery from the brink of extinction.
The Halemauu Trail crosses vast areas of fine cinder.
Up close, the variegated nature of the cinder is evident.
The clouds break. My view expands towards the cinder cones of Kawilinau.
I approach Kawilinau as another blast of moist cloud pours into the crater.
A trail junction is just ahead.
I turn right at the junction and continue past the magnificent cinder cones of Pele's Paint Pot.
Lava bombs litter the cinder slopes.
The trail contours across the lower slope of a tall cinder cone named Ka Moa o Pele.
The trail continues across moist cinder flats. Another blast of clouds stream overhead.
I arrive at the junction with the Sliding Sands trail. The crater valley expands towards Paliku in the east. I've come four and a half miles from my tent at Holua.
These fearless non-native chukars pose for me near the trail junction.
I turn towards the west - the ascent begins in earnest. From here, the summit is more than four miles with over 2600 ft. of elevation gain.
The clouds break overhead. The view into the crater expands.
I meet visitors on horse back descending into the crater. These are the first people I have seen on the trail since I left my tent more than three hours ago.
A majestic silversword has made the ultimate sacrifice. It went to seed and died.
The trail passes through a garden of silversword plants. Multi-colored cliffs rise high above me.
To my right is Ka Luu O ka 'O'o cinder cone. The half-mile hike to the cone is popular with visitors who drive to the summit, and then descend into the crater using the Sliding Sands trail. I am intent on summiting Haleakala, and resist the temptation to visit the colorful cinder cone.
I reach the upper slopes of the mountain. The summit house comes into view on the distant ridge.
I approach the final sweeping section of trail.
Behind me, towards the east, Haleakala crater lies half bare. Clouds stream into the crater through Ko'olua Gap on the left of the photo.
To the north, the rugged pali catch clouds that pour through the gap.
I get my first close-up of the crater rim – and the countless visitors who drive to the summit.
My tent is in Holua, hidden in cloud at the base of cliffs on the left of the photo. I've walked nearly nine miles to get here.
Approaching the summit of Haleakala.
The last hundred yards is walking on pavement. Pu'u 'Ula'ula, or Red Hill, stands 10,023 ft. above sea level.
I turn to my right and catch this view of the park visitor center.
The summit house of Haleakala.
The USGS marker is embedded in concrete.
Science City is operated by the Department of Defense, University of Hawaii, Smithsonian Institute, Federal Aviation Agency, and others. The remarkable clarity of the air makes the summit of Haleakala one of the most sought-after locations in the world for ground-based telescopes and space surveillance systems.
The view to the west includes the island's saddle, the rugged West Maui mountains, and the coastline.
I fill my containers with water from a drinking fountain. It's past 3 PM. I begin my descent on the Sliding Sands trail.
The clouds have relented, exposing the Ko'olua Gap to the north. The shadows get long – my tent is eight miles away.
The setting sun complements the ocherous cinder.
A plump chukar greets me at the Ka Moa o Pele trail junction.
I turn to the north and start towards Holua.
The silversword plants remain radiant even in fading daylight.
Shadow creeps over the crater. The last rays of sunlight illuminate the top of Hanakauhi Peak.
There are just under two miles to go. I relax and slow my pace as darkness takes hold.
The day has become night.
My headlamp illuminates Pilo, a native plant species endemic to Hawaii.
It's past 7 PM when I arrive at camp. I enjoy a glass of wine as stars spin overhead. Tonight, there are no other people in Holua – I am alone in wilderness. I savor a second night of absolute peace.
Kuia ka hele a ka naau haahaa – Hesitant walks the humble hearted.
Date: December 23, 2009 Hike Distance: 4 miles one-way Elevation Gain: 1,100 ft. Trail Used: Halemauu Destination: return to Halemauu Trailhead
I wake at first light. I hear silence at its most intense.
Warm sunlight washes across the cinder.
My tent is exposed by the morning rays. Today will be sunny and pleasant.
I hesitate to break down camp. The truth is I must be at home in Keanae by 2 PM today. I have no time to relax. I deflate my sleeping pad, fold the tent, and stuff my pack. I'm sad to leave Holua. I pass the cabin on my way down the trail.
The endangered Nene shows little fear.
I take a peek in the cabin window. The cabin is uncluttered and airy – the bunks appear comfortable.
I drop my pack and climb the rocks behind the cabin. The well-worn path leads to a cave in the rock. Ancient Hawaiians used this cave when visiting the sacred crater.
Inside the cave are offerings wrapped in sacred Ti leaves. I don't have anything to leave, so I ask the mountain for forgiveness, and promise to return someday with an appropriate gift.
I leave Holua and hike towards the Park Road nearly four miles away.
I approach the steep pali that the trail will ascend.
Reluctantly, I pass through the gate. Thank you Haleakala, my adventure has been sublime.
The trail climbs high above the Ko'olua Gap. The rugged coastline of Nahiku can be seen far across the lush rain forest.
Thick stands of conifers grow on the slopes below the Halemauu trail.
The cars parked at the trailhead appear.
A bittersweet finish.
I point the car downhill and let gravity do its job.
I stop in the Pukalani Superette for da best egg salad sandwich. I pick up a container of shoyu poke (raw tuna with soy sauce) for dessert.
I drive halfway to Hana. I stop the car at the Keanae lookout. I step outside and take a deep breathe. 54 hours after leaving home I have returned – more humble, more aware, more intelligent. My trip into Haleakala will never be forgotten – the mountain connected me to my roots. Hawaiians act as one with the land – the concept of totality with nature is essential to understanding Hawaiian culture and beliefs. The land is the foundation of the greatest intellectual and artistic achievements of Hawaiian society. Today – the 23rd of December – I have never felt more Hawaiian. I have never felt more complete.
Ua mau ke ea o ka 'aina I ka pono – The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.
"Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono" has been a way of life in Hawaii for hundreds of years. King Kamehameha III spoke the words in 1843, after sovereignty was restored to Hawaii by proclamation of Queen Victoria following a five-month-long rogue British occupation. In 1959, the phrase became the official motto of the state of Hawai'i. "Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono" shows its simple truth no where better than Haleakala National Park.
GPS track of the complete hike:
Profile of the hike:
I ulu no ka lala i ke kumu – The reach of a tree's branches depends on its trunk.
I used many printed and on-line sources for the information contained in this trip report. This is a partial list:
Once upon a time, there was a wise kupuna (elder), who went to the sea to contemplate. One day while walking along the shore, the kupuna looked down the beach, and saw a gracefully dancing human figure. The kupuna wondered out loud, "who would so joyfully greet this day with hula?" and began to walk faster to catch up. Getting closer, the kupuna saw that the dancer was a keiki (child), who was not dancing at all. The keiki was reaching down to the sand to pick up something, and was gently throwing it into the sea.
The kupuna called out to the keiki, "Aloha! What are you doing?" The keiki paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing starfish into the sea." Surprised, the kupuna sputtered, "I guess I should have asked, "Why are you throwing starfish into the sea?" The keiki smiled brightly, pointed upward and, with exquisite simplicity, replied "The sun is up, the tide is going out, if I don't throw them in they will die." "But don't you realize," asked the kupuna, "that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You can't possibly save them all!"
The keiki listened politely, then bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it gently into the sea, just beyond the breaking waves, and exuberantly declared, "I saved that one."
Malama Ka 'Aina.
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