Hawaii Blog Day 4: Haleakala Summit

I promise this blog will become more triathlon-centred in a few days – bear with me!

The eastern half of Maui, the Haleakala volcano, is mostly National Park. The volcano itself last erupted about 400 years ago, but in geological terms, that’s not all that long. It’s claim to fame is as the world’s largest dormant volcano, with a footprint 7.5 miles wide, 2.5 miles across and 3000 ft deep. You could fit Manhattan into that.

The morning was bright, sunny and clear, so for once, peaks to the east and west were visible.


Pele is a jealous goddess, and requires sacrifices of significant worth, so I offered up my run and instead we headed for the peak. It’s a 37 mile drive from sea level to the summit at 10,023 ft, and the road snakes back and forth across the eastern face. As you climb, the isthmus (the proper geographical name for the “neck” part of the island) spreads out below you. This road is the highest elevation gain in the shortest distance anywhere in the world, and when you reach the summit, you have passed through as many ecological zones as you would if you drove from Mexico to Alaska.


Before the summit, there is a turn off and a short walk takes you to the Leleiwi overlook where you literally watch the weather forming. The clouds roll over the edge and white out the crater in a matter of minutes. Just as quickly, they blow through and the view opens out again. Madame Pele was gracious enough to give us the full overture.

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The summit is a similar moonscape to that of Mauna Kea on the Big Island, although at about 3000ft lower, there is more in the way of vegetation – particularly an endangered species of shrub called Silversword Ferns which look like someone has got busy with a can of silver spray paint. The shrubs can live for 50 years and yet flower only once, which might partly explain their precarious position. This one is young and small, but they grow to the height of a person.


Haleakala used to be an extra 2000ft tall, and the “crater” at the summit is technically not a crater, having been formed by erosion rather than volcanic eruption. It is a breathtaking sight, in both the literal and metaphorical sense, as at altitude, our normal hiking pace results in a heart rate closer to that of a steady run, particularly on the way back up out! The clouds roll across the crater, creating an ever-changing view and as the sun shifts round, the rock faces glow red. To the south, you can see both Mauna Kea and her younger sister, Mauna Loa, of the Big Island. This picture is a slight cheat, as it was taken the following day, but again, as was mostly busy with my “real” camera, so shots I can upload here are limited at the moment.


The second summit is closed to the public – here, the University of Hawaii scientists study the sun, and the DOD keeps its largest telescope, which can spot a basketball sized object 22,000 miles away. Wow.

Late in the afternoon, we made it back down to the mortal realm and headed west, to Kihei and Keawakapu Beach for a swim and some body surfing before the setting sun bled out in a majestic pallet of crimsons, with the Big Island beautifully silhouetted to our left, and Lana’I to our right. After a couple of cloudy days, with second rate sunsets, this was a stunner. The weather today was utterly perfect for everything we did today, so thank you, Madame Pele, the reward was worth it.

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