Sunday, September 26, 2010


     For the outdoor enthusiast or just the recreational visitor, not much can top a trip up the 10,023 foot mountain to view the world's largest dormant volcano, Haleakala.  The crater is 3000 feet deep, 7.5 miles long by 2.5 miles wide and is officially considered "active" even though there has been no activity registered there since 1790.  Haleakala is revered by many as one of the earth's most powerful energy forces and is well worth the 2 hour, 37 mile drive that encompasses a total of 33 switchbacks, numerous climate zones, going under, in and then out of the clouds.

     The Haleakala park boasts two scenic overlooks.  The first one located at approximately mile marker 17 is probably the best one to start with.  Travelers must remember that this is a high altitude area, which may cause dizziness due to lack of oxygen, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, nausea and other such ailments.  People with asthma, heavy smokers, pregnant women and those with heart conditions need to be aware of the limitations the altitude might place on them.  It is recommended that you get out of your car and just take a slow walk close to your vehicle to see how the altitude will affect you before straying too far.
      The Leleiwi overlook provides you a view down into the crater itself.  If you time your visit just right, which is usually right around sunset, when the clouds are low and the sun is in just the right spot you might experience a phenomenon knows as the "Specter of Brocken."  You might be lucky enough to catch a reflection of your shadow, ringed by a rainbow in the clods below.  This optical illusion is caused by a rare combination of sun, shadow and fog that only occurs three places in the world: Haleakala, Scotland and Germany.  It isn't advised that you wait around all day for this phenomenon to occur as it isn't something that happens on a regular basis....but just thinking of how awe inspiring seeing such a rare event would be sends shivers down my spine.
Just a few steps back and it's a LONG way down!
      The second overlook, Kalahaku, is a couple more miles up the mountain and is home to the rare silversword.  These aren't just ordinary plants, mind you...they've got an attitude almost as the thrive where few can hang on.  They project their silvery bayonets that display tiny purple flowers.  This plant grows only in Hawaii, takes anywhere from 4 to 50 years to bloom and when it does, usually between May and October, it shoots up one 1 to 6 foot talk with a purple bouquet of flowers that resemble sunflowers.  The silversword is a very rare inhabitant of Haleakala, so don't even think about taking one home with you.
Note to self:  This is not the way to dress if planning to spend time at top of Haleakala!
      There is a park ranger station located closer to the bottom of the mountain at the park's entrance.  I believe the entrance fee ran us 10.00 per vehicle but was well worth the admission price.  It is at this ranger station that you can get info on special hikes, camping and hiking, trail rides and other park info.  Be sure that if you plan to trek the interior of Haleakala that you bring your own survival gear.  The crater interior boasts very raw, rugged, unforgiving terrain.  Temperatures at the summit can easily dip below freezing no matter what time of year you visit.  You are also subject to a wide variety of climates ranging from rain to wind to dense fog that can all change at a moment's notice.  If I could only offer one piece of advice at this point, it would be to be prepared!  This being said, I hope that if you make the trek to the summit, you will feel the awe and sacredness of one of the few untouched places that remain.

 "Gone with the Schwinn"

      I can't blog about the Haleakala experience without including my first trip.  Sitting here in sunny Florida, behind the safety of my computer, I booked all of the activities that my sister and I had or our "to do" list for our first trip to Maui.  She finally gave in and we didn't have to do the zip line (thank goodness....I probably would not have survived that one), but in exchange for this, I agreed to take a 38 mile bike ride down from the summit of Haleakala.  Sounds simple enough, right? our tour van slowly wound its way up the mountain, I began to wonder more and more just what I'd gotten myself into.  Our guide explained that we'd be sharing the road with vehicles, both coming up towards us as well as coming down behind us.  He also explained that the Hawaiians don't use guard rails so it was extremely important to keep your eyes focused on the road.  He said that should we allow ourselves to gaze off into the vast beyond, that more often than not, that was the direction the bike would head and we would be entering a zone he referred to as "Gone with the Schwinn."  He instructed us in the event that this should occur, please strike various poses as we sailed off the side of the mountain, on which we would be rated by those who watched our departure.  This was meant to add humor to our situation, but only severed to make my fear worse.  When we reached the top, we were instructed to get out and simply walk around to see how the altitude at 10,00 feet was going to affect us.  I have to say that I've never come so close to feeling "weightless" if you will, as I did as I paced the lot.  As we adjusted to the altitude, we were given our wet weather gear, our helmets, and out bikes.  At last, it was time to saddle up and head out.  Keep in mind that I hadn't been on a bike since I was 12 I think...what on earth was I doing letting my first time back on one be going down a 38 miles of "down!".  Not wanting to be known as the chicken of the group, I mounted my ride and held on for dear life.  The bikes were simple one speed bikes but I swear, they had the best brakes I've ever I can attest to after riding the entire way down, not peddling once, white knuckled from holding onto those brakes!  Needless to say, I did survive my ordeal and am very glad I did it....altho I will not be doing it again :)