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.