The last thousand feet of Sliding Sands trail to the rim were very scenic, but otherwise uneventful. The wide sandy path cut across the loose cinder slopes with nicely-graded switchbacks, and we stopped at each hairpin to take a few shots of the ever-changing views to the crater floor, which was now spread out below us to the east. We could clearly see both of the major 'gaps' in the main crater - Koolau on the left and Kaupo on the right. A sea of low clouds lapped against these two 'shores', preventing us from seeing any further down into the gaps.
Shortly after noon, we arrived at the crater rim. We headed over to a rocky ledge to take in a final sweeping view of the crater. We could see almost all of the way to Paliku at the Kaupo Gap end of the crater, but not quite - the sea of clouds from below prevented that.
Brian seemed surprised that we had made it to the crater rim - and nearly the summit - by shortly after noon. In actuality, we hadn't gone that fast, it being seven and a half hours since we set out shortly after 4:30am. Fortunately, still no sign of Ted and Lois. Perhaps we would get our pickup truck bed ride after all!
After some final contemplation at the crater rim, we made our way along a short flat stretch of the Sliding Sands trail to the park road. The summit of Red Hill - the true summit and a further 300 feet higher than we were, required us to walk along the park road. There appeared to be no designated hiker trail that leads to the summit (which I found somewhat strange).
If you are interested in reading more about our climb from the Paliku campsite to the crater rim, along with lot of extra pictures not in this main narrative, please click here
With rental cars now motoring by, we climbed on the shoulder of the road along the final few turns to the top of Red Hill, where we arrived at a large parking lot at the 10,000-foot level. Having such a prominent occurrance of an everyday modern-world piece of infrastructure up here on this beautiful point of land seemed a little incongruous. I prefer my summits a bit more wild.
We climbed the last few steps to the very top - and they were very sturdy steps, finished in fresh concrete and with a metal railing. Unlike most peaks that I've done, the remoteness level of our route that climbed this peak was reversed - it had been most remote at the faint and hard-to-follow Kaupo trailhead down on the south slopes, and was a paved sidewalk at the summit, with fifty cars just a few feet away!
The very top of Red Hill is crowned with a small round pavilion, glassed in on three sides and with a central interpretive display. Feeling very grungy and looking very dishelved next to the fresh and clean day visitors, we didn't stay in here long. We took a few summit shots to prove we'd completed our climb from the ocean, then began our walk back down to the [upper] visitor center.
The views from up here were indeed world-class. There was a carpet of clouds below us in all directions, making the summit feel like a true island. An array of white telescope domes nearby marked the location of the Haleakala observatory. Way off in the distance to the south, we could see the high broad peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on Hawai'i's Big Island. They were completely white, indicating that the long day of rain we had experienced at Paliku had meant a significant fall of snow at the higher altitudes of those peaks. We were planning to hike to the top of Mauna Loa in a few days, and it would be interesting to see if that snow would help or hinder us!