Sunday, March 13, 2011

House of the Sun - Trail Run

I just returned from a week of running around Maui.  When I wasn't fleeing to the hills to avoid the incoming tsunami, I managed to get in two nice trail runs and a bunch of very boring road runs.

We were staying in West Maui, and I was really disappointed in the lack of trails there despite 5000' peaks forming a backdrop.  It is either private or forest reserve land with no public trails.  Most of the trail runs I found were on the other side of the island which meant a hefty car ride to get over there.  Since taking the car meant I would be leaving my family stranded, I picked one day for running the "grandaddy" of trail runs on Maui....the Haleakala Crater.

Ever since I got into mountain/trail running in CO, I find myself seeking the highest peaks anywhere I travel.  On Maui, that would be the Pu'u'ula'ula Summit "Red Hill" (10,023').  After reading several guide books, the recommended strenuous "long hike" was to drive up and start at the summit, hiking down into the crater about 3500' before hiking back up and out 1500' for a total one-way trek of about 12 miles.  I have a real problem starting a trail run at the summit, since in my mind, that's the reward.  I also was looking for a long run, so I ran it the other way making it a 25 mile run in about 4:56.  The guide book indicated it should take 9 hours to hike it one way.  While I was prepared for a long slog, I'm glad much of the terrain was runnable and I managed fairly even splits of about 2:30.

This run had everything I simply love about trail running.  There is no better way to see Haleakala than by foot.  Running around a volcano crater between 6500-10,000' was an incredible adventure.  At first glance, the landscape is barren.  But the colors and diversity within the crater were a feast for the eyes. 

I left our condo at 4:40am and pulled into the Halemau'u trailhead (7990') a little after 6:00am.  There were two cars in the parking lot, but no people.  It was cool (40's), so I donned my arm bands and gloves and started out with just enough light to see the rocky trail clearly.

Haleakala is often in the clouds.  I was hoping for a clear day, but these clouds were advancing fast.  Thankfully, they blew through and I had mostly sunny skies all day.

After the first mile, you get a look into the crater below.  There are two halves to the crater.  The green one and the brown one.  You can tell which one this is.  While running along this cliff/ridge, I had a hard time believing that I was actually going to be dropping down there.  It seemed much higher than a 1500-1600' drop.

The trail down the cliff was awesome and awfully frightening  All switchbacks with the sharp drop-off never more that a foot or two away.  This pic is blurry, but I liked how it shows the trail & drop-off.

I made it down and was treated to some soft, dirt singletrack to let my feet recover a bit.  The clouds were still blowing through, but it made for a dramatic effect on the mountains/cliffs.

Don't let all the green fool you into thinking this crater isn't chock full of rocks...the sharp and jagged lava kind.

Having gradually climbed about 1000', I stopped to take a look back at where I came from.

And then turned back to look at where I was heading.  Time for the brown side.  

This is probably as close as I'll come to running on the moon.

Once the sun came out, the brown tones gave way to the red dirt.  The summit is straight ahead and up.  The trail takes a much more roundabout way of getting there.

Yes, I set the camera up on a rock and then ran back down the trail to get this shot.  Cheesy for sure.  I guess I wanted to document my efforts at getting some sun on my white thighs!

On a spur trail that connects to the Sliding Sands trail...that leads to the summit.  Eventually.

This rare plant/flower is the Silversword and found only on the slopes of Haleakala between 7000-9000'.  I had seen pictures of it prior to the run, but didn't really get what all the hype was about.  When you see it up close the iridescent sheen of each "sword" is quite incredible.  Add some rain droplets and a glisten from the sun and it is a sight to take in.  Sadly, this plant will produce one flower and then die.  

Silverswords from above.

Now heading up the Sliding Sands trail to the summit.  I understand how it got its name.  At times I felt like I was running on the beach.

I made it...almost.  You get off the Sliding Sands trail around 9800'.  You then have another quarter mile & 200' to climb on a paved road to the summit.  You hit this sign...and then there was still a 23' climb to a summit house.

The weather/astronomy station just below the summit.  I believe it is run by NOAA and the University of Hawaii.  It is not open to the public.

Crater view from the summit.

After refilling my water bottles/bladder and chugging another two bottles at the visitors center, I started my return trip.  I decided I wanted to take some time to explore the cinder cones.

There is a mile and half trail around the Ka Lu'u o ka 'O'o cinder cone.  You can see two people standing on the other side to get a feel for how deep it is.

Continuing my lap around with a shot back towards the summit.

On the return, I ventured around this very short off-shoot called the "Silversword Loop".  The clouds had briefly returned and created a cool effect with the silverswords glowing in the mist.  The pic doesn't do it justice.

There were many stretches of trail like this and worse.  I couldn't help but think that the crater would be the perfect place to train for Bandera!

Dropping back down into the "green" part of the crater.  The looming cliffs were coming back into view.

At this point in the run, it was hot and I felt like water was being squeezed out of me like a sponge.  The sun was beating down on those cliffs.

I was a little surprised at how fast I motored up the trail.  I ran a bunch and power-hiked the rest.  It was encouraging to be feeling strong at the end of a tough run.

This trail is not for those that have a fear of heights.

Needless to say, I really enjoyed this run.  Despite only passing a few other people all day, I loved the solitude.  Not once did I want to take out my iPod and listen to music.  There was something inside that wanted all my senses to be available for what the crater had to offer.  There were many trails I did not get to run.  In fact there is a 30+ mile loop of the entire crater that looks amazing.  I'm also daydreaming about a route that would go from sea to summit.  There's an informal ultra called the "Run to the Sun" that does just that, but it is on the road.  I'd prefer doing it on trails.

There was one other trail on Maui (Waihee Ridge) that I wanted to run but didn't have time.  It would have taken over an hour to get there for what looked like a 5 mile run.  I did run the Lahaina Pali trail (another post later this week), but I'd give it a 5/10 after running Haleakala.  If we ever get back to Hawaii, I'd love to visit Kauai for some running.  There's no shortage of amazing trails there.


  1. What an amazing adventure! I love all the pictures you took. I would have set the camera up on the rock to take a picture in action too!! :) Very well written post! Hope you enjoyed Hawaii! I hope to go visit someday!

  2. Man, those silverswords are cool. Great pics...and a great write-up!

  3. Amazing scenery! I've heard about the drastic climatic differences in Hawaii, and it looks like you got it all in one run.

    I love the last picture, and trails with steep drops. There's a short stretch at the top of the Devils Thumb trail that's like that, where if you trip, you're going to tumble a few hundred feet. I admit to enjoying that adrenaline rush. Careful!

    Awesome. Hawaii is on the list. Especially Na Pali.

  4. Very cool run! Really enjoyed the pics. I love runs like that where you don't even feel like putting on the music because the run itself is so good.

  5. Very sweet run and post! Love that last pic of all them switchbacks.

  6. Dude, unreal. You won't get that from a CO run. Personal fav is the 'moon' shot. Stoked you had a great run.

    Kinda freakish to consider you giving up the beach, mai tai's, the surf for a long run like that...but I know you are a freak like that. Totally looks worth it though.

    You da man!

  7. Mallory - I need to take more action shots like that. It would be better if I had someone take it while I was running -vs- feeling like a dork setting the shot up!

    Jim - I'm sure it had a lot to do with riding the high of running, but I couldn't get enough of those silverswords.

    Mtnrnr - The adrenaline rush is no doubt why I ran well that day. Especially when running in a new place. Ah...Na Pali is on the bucket list. I've hiked 2 miles down the Kalalau trail (then 2 miles inland to a waterfall), but that was before my trail running days. Now I want to run the whole 22 mile round trip.

    Chris - It's run like these that leave me asking why I run races? Should I just seek out runs and enjoy them for adventure instead?

    Jaime - The switchbacks reminded me a bit of the "W's" on Pikes (but with no fences). They were super technical with lots of step-ups. Nothing that a Mt. Falcon veteran wouldn't be able to handle with ease!

    James - Ha! I'd give up the beach any day for some more time on Haleakala. Yes, I'm a freak. But don't worry, the Mai Tai's came later that day!

  8. Woody, Chantal wanted to let you know we were the chaminade silverswords! Great rec. Btw you are a little nuts

  9. Brian - Ya know, I wonder if I've heard that before, but never knew what silverswords were. Chaminade just moved up a few notches in my book!

  10. You're a fucking know it all haole. Respect that maybe there aren't a bunch of public trails because we don't want shits like you running amok on our land. Try running on the beach for a change! Btw you say that some of the names of the places here are a bit ridiculous. Realize that the ancient Hawaiian language almost died because of white fucks like you and that it really is amazing that so much thought and meaning exists in those 'ridiculous' names. This post would be awesome if you'd just leave your two-cents out. Go back to Colorado and shove Pikes Peak up your ass.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. It was a poor choice of words to say the names are ridiculous. I should have said they're hard to pronounce. No disrespect was intended. I've gone and removed that from this post. I can't change my desire though to see those beautiful West Maui mountains and want to explore them. You have some amazing land to enjoy there and I'm glad much of it is preserved by restricting access.

    2. Anonymous, Hawaii is not "your land". And nothing justifies the corrupt, hateful bile you spewed on a nice person.

      Woody, nothing you said justified Anonymous' rant. Chin up.

  11. Woody, thank you for your reponse. I apologize for any racist comments and negativity. There were just a few things that I found offensive, so I guess I was projecting those feelings x10 onto you. Thank you for removing those things from the post. I have lived in CO, the trails are beautiful and my interest in running started there. Maui is just a different and unique place. Maybe that's what makes it even more special--that it's not entirely accessible to everyone. Maui is a small island and there are places that can never be touched nor humans. There's a mystery and spirit that is within the island that is carried on through generations with it's host culture and language.

    Running here is amazing...even the 'boring' road runs...especially when you get the gorgeous views of the ocean, mountain, sunrises, sunsets, and rainbows. The best part about it is that after your run, no matter if your at the beach or on the road, theres always an opportunity to cool down by jumping into the ocean.

    You're an accomplished runner, inspiring many others...I did say that your post is awesome minus a few things. Again, thanks for your response and best of luck on your running adventures.

    P.S. @Mtnrunner2, I'm sure Woody is a nice person and I should have taken a step back to choose my words more wisely to get my message across appropriately the first time.

    --Crystal aka "Anonymous"

    1. Hey Crystal, your reply made my day. If I ever need an accurate description of what running on Maui is like, I'll come back and copy/paste your words.

      My road runs were along the Lower Honoapiilani Road in Kaanapali. I spent most of the time jumping on/off the sidewalk dodging all the tourists. I'd take your road runs any day, any time, if I could slip away from the crowded spots. You forgot to mention the smells of flowers - especially the plumeria.

      It's funny because most mountains give me that sense of mystery. Maui takes that to a whole deeper level. I kept thinking about that during my time in Haleakala as I just knew my soul was stirred.

      Keep enjoying that slice of heaven you get to call home and I'll keep dreaming about the next time I get to visit.

  12. I havent any word to appreciate this post.....Really i am impressed from this post....the person who create this post it was a great human..thanks for shared this with us.