Practically giddy from the sudden transition from a drab gray misty world to a bright and dramatic landscape, we took a few nerdy self-portraits.
We continued on roughly in a westerly fashion, now climbing more steeply as we rounded high up on the cinder cone of Ka Moa o Pele. From the trail's highpoint on the side of the cone, we got our first gimpse of the summit portion of the crater wall, still over 2,000 feet above us.
From the height-of-trail around Ka Moa o Pele, we descended in a long switchback back to the crater floor, then followed a wide sandy path across the flats towards the base of the south wall (of the crater), where we would intersect with the Sliding Sands trail. Along the way, we passed through some interesting old eroded lava fields.
We arrived at the junction, the sun shining brightly, at about 9:15am. We had come over halfway of the total distance from Paliku to the summit at this point, but had only gained 1,000 feet in elevation. That meant that our remaining less-than-halfway distance was going to be substantially steeper!
After a full boots-off break (we decided to reinstance the per-thousand boots-off break rule for the remainder of the climb), we headed off up the Sliding Sands trail.
Brian climbs Sliding Sands
Up to this point, we had seen no one else on the trail - not surprising, since the vast majority of hikers do short day hikes from the high trailheads on the crater rim above and do not start at crazy before-sunrise times like we do. Since it was now mid-morning and since we were now within day-hiking distance of the rim, we expected to soon see a multitude of people.
Above the junction, the Sliding Sands trail began switchbacking up a steeper slope. The combination of an increased incline and noticeably thinner air conspired to slow down our average speed - as did the photo stops for the great views that were now available in all directions.
View west to summit walls
It's clear that the Sliding Sands trail was heavily travelled - it was very wide, sandy, and in places, deeply dug-in to the sand from all of the traffic. Sure enough, we soon met small groups of dayhikers coming down from the rim above.
I remembered Ted and Lois' offer of a ride down the park road, and wondered if we would be able to get to the top before they caught up to us. They were travelling on horseback, and so they would be making much better time than us on the way out. They had not, however, planned to start as early as we did, and I was hoping to work things so that we made to the top just before they did.
Jenn and Brian on Sliding Sands
The trail traffic continued to intensify as we headed higher. A horseback tour passed us, heading downhill. Soon we could clearly see the upper visitor center building perched on the crater rim. Only a thousand vertical feet more!