At first glance I’m sure we looked like a bunch of hyper-coloured and over-dressed ponies prancing up the road, which may explain why it took us a while to hitch a ride up to the summit of Haleakala, but we made it after about forty minutes. It took two kindly gents from Oahu to stop for us, they knew what we were up to. But why were we hitch hiking on the road to the top of Maui’s infamous dormant volcano in the first place? Why, to run to the other side of course?!
The chance to run at elevation, without interruptions, for miles – was a chance not to be missed and I was excited at prospect of a trip that would help prepare for the HURT100. So flights and a B&B were booked, and off we went – to Maui! Between the four runners in our small group, Kelly, Rosie, Shawna & I, there were numerous ultra trail race finishes – it was going to be a good weekend!
On Saturday morning, after a fulfilling breakfast of fruit, yogurt & cereal, washed down with coffee at the B&B in Makawao, we piled into our rental car and started the drive up the Haleakala Highway. We left the car at the first, lower visitor’s centre on the Haleakala road, with a plan to run a loop that would bring us back to the car. After catching a ride up to the summit and main visitor’s centre, and snapping a few quick pictures we found the aptly named, ‘Sliding Sands’/ Keonehe ‘ehe’ e rail head and set off down the cinder track into Haleakala’s crater.
The trail was fairly smooth, in terms of technicality, but the difficulty was keeping one eye on the trail as the astounding views captured the other! The air was crisp and fairly clear – not maybe Arizona dry, but nearly. It reminded how much I enjoy mountain air. However we all noticed the effects of the altitude, a slight tightness in the sinuses and an increase in breathing rate, but since we were descending, at that stage it was not a problem. We exchanged Alohas with groups on the trail, and kept up a good pace until we reached a junction, where a group of hungry ‘Chukar‘ birds were waiting for handouts – or crumbs from peanut butter pretzels…
The next section was fairly level, but not flat. A few sections crossed the youngest lava flows, and the jagged, black basalt rock formations looked very uninviting! We all realised that a layer of tread was possibly going to be removed from our shoes on this run! The sparse vegetation of the crater creates an ‘other worldly’ atmosphere, which makes it hard to grapple with the fact that it is still Earth! We ran through patches of the endemic Silver Sword plant, with its velvety leaves. And at the first small log cabin (where back packers stay), we met two Nene – the rare & endangered Hawaiian Goose.
After a few more miles navigating the undulating crater floor, we reached the farthest cabin at the Paliku location. Here the scenery was different. The trees and grasses were well established, and clouds laden with moisture swept in around the craggy edges of the crater. We felt almost immersed in the Savannahs of Africa, and decided a giraffe on the horizon would not be so out-of-place… One trail led straight down towards the ocean, following the ‘Kaupo Gap’ – but we already knew that was going to be for another day. We turned around after a few snacks, and started the gradual climb back into the center of the crater.
The next section on the Halemau’u Trail was most surreal, as the cinder landscape dramatically morphed colour and shape. Watching the ground change from orange to rusty-brown, to red, and then back to dirt brown beneath your feet was quite mesmerising. Running through the cinder cones was an experience I’ll not easily forget.
Finally we approached the section we knew as the ‘Switch Backs’ and after a brief assessment, realised the ‘speed hike’ gear was needed. We filed up the trail, stopping for breathers and acclimatisation periods – the swift change in elevation almost getting the better of us. But we made it out – and back to the road. It was at this point we realised we’d left the car lower on the Haleakala road than needed, but thankfully another local couple gave us a ride back down to pick it up. We ended our circle, calculating we had covered roughly twenty miles of the Haleakala National Park and drove back down to the low lands for some oxygen.
Overall it was an excellent & breath-taking trail run, one that I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a complete change of scenery and a challenge! The elevation and uneven, shifting surfaces (cinders can feel like sand) were not a breeze in the park, and the blocky sections of basalt were unforgiving. Water was hard to come by – we each took at least 3 litres and did refill one bottle at a cabin (but this is untreated water & is not recommended). I personally drank nuun in my 70oz Camelbak reservoir, and carried a small 1 litre bottle of water. For fuel I took dates, fig biscuits, Mana Bars, two gels and a few jellies (not all of which I ate). We carried waterproof jackets and I wore my new Oiselle Lux base layer with a pair of running tights. Haleakala, like any high volcano, has a reputation for unpredictable & inclement weather.
One added element to the run was the GoPro camera! I wore a chest harness and tried to capture as much of the scenery as possible – but then the batteries ran out! I’m blaming it on being a GoPro newbie… But from the footage recorded it was possible to put together a short, fun film clip of our memorable run into Haleakala.
ps. HURL stands for Hawaii Ultra Running Ladies!