Haleakala Sea-to-Summit Climb
Day 3 - Paliku to Summit
Sunday, February 26
We had a big day ahead of us. Not only did we have to make it from Paliku to the summit of Haleakala - a not-insurmountable but still solid gain of nearly 4,000 feet and 16km (10 mi) of distance, but we also had to somehow make our way down another 14km of park road down to our ultimate destination for the night - the Hosmer Grove campground near the park's northern boundary. It would be from near here that we would begin our bicycle descent the next day. We weren't guaranteed to get some sort of ride down the park road, so we had to budget accordingly.
This meant an extra-early start, and so we arose in the dark at 3am to begin getting ready. There was only one problem - it was raining again!
Yes, sometime during the middle of the night clouds had crowded out the stars and once again it had started raining. Not the cold, blustery rain of the night before, but rain nevertheless. We had so been hoping for good weather on this, our summit day.
Wet Dark Start
This disappointment did not absolve us of the need to get going, however. We were on a schedule, and we had to follow it. So, out we went into the wet night, had a very quick breakfast, and packed up our tent and gear as quickly as possible. Our tent, which had dried out nicely in yesterday's late day sun, now had to be packed away sopping wet - and heavy.
By 4:30 am, we were ready to head off - wearing full raingear top and bottom and on our packs. By headlamp, we trudged through the fog and light rain away from the Paliku campsite.
Junction w trail to Holua
We headed west on the Halemau'u trail out of Paliku. The trail had good footing and ascended only very gently, so the hiking was easy. It was completely dark, wet, and clouded-in, and basically all we saw for the first hour was our feet and a few feet of trail in front of us. It certainly wasn't what I would call harsh conditions - the temperature was fairly warm and there was not a breath of wind. It was just really wet.
We had one major choice to make while hiking up towards the summit: hike directly to the Sliding Sands Trail and the most direct route to the top, or take an alternate route along the Halemau'u trail that was a little longer but explored some of the interesting features on the crater floor. Partially because we like seeing scenic things and partially because we hoped a longer route might give more time for this view-busting weather to clear out, we chose the longer way.
A Dull twilight
Slowly, ever so slowly, a dim grey light seeped down through the clouds. We walked across a wide field of scrubby grasses and nearly no trees, seeing a few faint shapes in the mists off to our left and right. The air was completely still and the rain had lessened into a faint drizzle.
A lack of anything notable to take pictures of effectively increased our average hiking speed, and soon we had covered over 5km (3mi) of distance across the crater floor from Paliku. We stopped at another trail junction for a snack. Brian's spork started its attempts to escape from him at this point.
Another Halemau'u Junction
At the trail junction, we stayed right on the Halemau'u trail and entered a region much more devoid of vegetation. The trail crossed stark, craggy fields of old lava partially filled in with a coarse cinder sand. With the clouds hiding more earthly-looking reference points, it felt quite "off-world".
Then, a sunrise approached, we happily noticed that the clouds seemed to be having a hard time keeping us enveloped: patches of brightness appeared here and there above us, and soon we could look back and sometimes faintly see the disc of the sun. In other words, the clouds seemed to be burning off!
Much more enthusiastic now about the prospects of good views, we marched on. We were entering an area of the crater floor that had many cinder cones, and their smooth shapes rose up all around us.
Andrew photographs Haleakala
At the weird and colorful volcanic vent known as kawilinau - the Bottomless Pit - we turned off the Halemau'u trail and took a little side trail that would wind among some of the larger cinder cones on the way over to the Sliding Sands Trail (The ultimate destination of the Halemau'u trail is a point at about 8,000 feet on the park road - not where we wanted to go).
As our connector trail led up to the gentle saddle between two cinder cones, the clouds to the south of us cleared away and we suddenly were presented with a breathtaking view of a large-expanse of red-tinged wasteland along the crater's southern floor. Lows hills covered with red cinder and with crags poking out here and there made for a dramatic landscape. With the clouds still hiding the vegetated crater rim beyond, it looked like mars. Then, with even those clouds burning away, the scene changed from martian to one of earthly juxtaposition, with the green tropical vegetation of the south crater rim contrasting with the red desert on the floor below.