Walking in a Volcano

Hawaii was formed by volcanoes. On Maui, the eastern part of the island is dominated by Haleakala, a dormant volcano 3,055 metres high (10,023 ft). At this elevation, we’re not in the tropics anymore, it’s an alpine climate so bring your woolies.

It’s a big thing to go to the summit of Haleakala for sunrise. So many people want to go that the Haleakala National Park has set up a pass system, limiting the number to 80 passes per day. I had a pass. The sunrise is nice, probably spectacular some days, but I wouldn’t do it again.

Hiking down into the crater is far more impressive. I was struck by the colours of this grand but barren landscape. Shades of ochre, red, grey and brown pour down the many cinder cones onto the floor of the caldera. From there, they seem to flow like frozen rivers towards the two gigantic gaps on either side that open up to the green valleys below. It’s otherworldly and magnificent.

Ken and I hiked down the Sliding Sands trail for about an hour. The name of the trail puzzled me at first until I realized that the loose gravel and rocks that form the landscape move and shift with the wind and the rain and indeed slide down the slopes creating the washes of colour I was seeing.

We were still far above the crater floor when we turned around to climb back up, up, and up to the top.

About Haleakala: It’s not a true volcanic caldera. It was formed when two erosional valleys met at its summit. Inside, there are several cinder cones of actual dormant volcanoes. It’s estimated that Haleakala last erupted in the 17th century.

Silversword Haleakala
Silversword – Photo Ken

A few hardy plants are able to thrive in this environment. One, the silversword, like a big silver urchin, is endangered and grows only here and at the same elevation on the Big Island.

It was -5C (25F), plus windchill, when we were at the summit for sunrise. The temperature stayed close to the freezing mark all day and we saw snowflakes in the wind while we were hiking later on.


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