If you didn’t know where you were, you would probably mistake Haleakala for Mars. Full of red dust, vast landscape and with an altitude of 10,000 feet makes it slightly hard to breathe. You would definitely think “Yep, I made it to Mars”.
I have very few bucket list items and they usually include an adventure, trying some exotic food or seeing a sight that no one has really heard of. Yeah, it would be nice to see the Taj Mahal, but my bucket list is always a little less glamorous. And sometimes slightly dangerous. And this bucket list item is no exception.
I have wanted to hike into the crater of this enormous volcano for about 10 years. Every year my family goes to Maui, I always swear this will be my year. I have rode horseback along the green mountainside (twice), taken a bike tour at sunrise from the summit down to the base, but never adventured down into the volcano. So you could imagine I was extremely excited to check this item off my bucket list.
So, I convinced my small gang of three (myself, my boyfriend Mark and my sister Maurisa) to wake up at 3am, watch the sunrise at the volcano’s summit and then hike down into the crater. After driving up a windy road in the predawn darkness, we arrived at the summit parking lot just before sunrise. Hawaii is obviously known for warm weather but at the top of the volcano, it is absolutely freezing! Luckily, we brought blankets from our room and layered on our socks so we didn’t turn into popsicles.
After watching the sun rise for a few minutes, Mark found a little trail away from the crowds with a perfect view of the crater. Perched at the top of the volcanic rock, we ate our pre-hike snacks (Safeway croissants and squeezable apple sauce) while watching the gorgeous sun peek over the mountains. It was breathtaking.
Then, we started our hike!
We decided to hike the Sliding Sands Trail which is about 5 miles and descends 1,400 feet in elevation. The trail seemed easy going down with a slight and manageable decline, however all of the travel books said to be cautious of the hike back out and to not go too far down the trail. That small decline down will seem like a massive incline coming out and one of the park rangers said that if it takes you 1 hour to hike in, expect to take 2 hours climbing back out. Yikes!
So we took it slow and steady with a few stops for pictures. We had our eye out for the volcano’s native Nene goose which is one of the rarest geese in the world, which we never saw. And we looked for the Silversword, a small palm tree looking plant that only grows in the volcano. Yeah, we didn’t see that either.. As you can see in the pictures, there was virtually no vegetation or animals inside the volcano, not even a bug!
After hiking halfway down the declining trail, we found a great spot to stop and have some lunch. We had a gorgeous 360 degree view of the red volcanic ash with the base of the crater just below. A few hikers passed us going up and down the trail but otherwise the crater was silent with only a chilly breeze making any kind of noise. We had packed a few snacks to munch on throughout the hike but we saved the prized deli sandwich till we had hiked as far as we wanted to go. And let me tell you, that dry, day old roast beef deli sandwich was so delicious! It might have been the altitude or the fact that we woke up a 3am, but that sandwich was giving me everything I needed.
After gazing at the view a few more times, we decided to head back up and save the full hike down into the crater for another trip. I was so impressed we made it halfway down the trail, but knowing that we had a heavy incline getting back out of the volcano was always something we were planning for. The hike up and out wasn’t too bad but I highly recommend taking small breaks to catch your breath .. and gives you an excuse to snap more photos!
Till we meet again Haleakala!