Vacation to Maui • Backpacking Haleakala National Park • Day 1 • January 2, 2018
2018 is here, and we are preparing for the challenges that it will bring with it. Knowing that we are going to have more time apart this year, and are very restricted on our freedom to travel, we realized the importance of taking advantage of what few days we could sneak away, regardless of the cost. Traveling when living on an island is much more difficult than on the mainland: for the last few years, when we found out that we had a long weekend, we’d plan a last-minute trip depending on the weather, and have very budget-friendly adventures. Here, it’s very difficult to escape higher fees, and much harder to get away with planning at the last minute. We figured that out the hard way when we started trying to find a place for Charlotte to stay. We thought that because we were traveling after the holidays were over, good boarding places and sitters wouldn’t be booked, but we were very wrong about that. Once that was sorted out, we had to book the plane tickets…and the rental car…which were definitely not cheap — not like we’re used to. But knowing that we’ll go on significantly less trips this year, we didn’t let this discourage us.
For our first Hawaiian Island hop, we decided to go to Maui! Obviously we’d love to hit them all while we’re living out here, but this was a great place to start. Kauai and Molokai look gorgeous and have the obvious advantage of being much less populated than Oahu, but we were looking for scenery completely different than what we can see hiking on Oahu. We’re very intrigued by the insanely high mountains on Maui and the Big Island, but since Big Isle currently has snow and freezing temperatures on the peaks, we thought Haleakala on Maui would be better for a winter backpacking trip.
We took off from HNL at 5AM on Tuesday morning, and arrived on Maui by 5:30. Flying between the islands was interesting, it feels as though the plane is either going up or down because they are so close together. The flight attendants came around and offered beverages, and were back 2 minutes later to gather trash to prepare for landing. We landed, and went to pick up our rental car.
After paying for care for Charlotte, plane tickets, and the rental car, we actually managed to get away with a very budget-friendly 3 day, 2 night trip. We decided to backpack and camp for free, and carried all we needed in our backpacks, which made for rather large carry-ons. We brought almost all our own food — per airline policy, we couldn’t bring a burner for cooking, so we kept things light and easy by just bringing sandwich supplies, dehydrated apples, cookies, granola, and a few other things we had in our fridge. The only thing that didn’t make it through TSA was the jar of peanut butter, which is apparently a liquid gel. Oh well — we stopped at Walmart to pick up another small container and a bunch of bananas, then made our way out of town and towards Haleakala National Park.
Haleakala National Park is made up of 2 parts: the crater and the rainforest. The first day and a half we focused solely on the crater. We drove up to the visitor’s center to register for back country permits. We got there before it opened at 8, and spent that time repacking our bags with what we needed for the backpacking portion of our trip, and refilled all of our water containers. When it opened, we went in and watched the 12 minute film about backpacking through the crater, learning what to expect and how to minimize our impact on the land while hiking. Obtaining the permit was free and easy, and we were soon on our way to our trailhead.
The rangers recommend that when backpacking or through-hiking the park that you start at the summit at 10,000 ft, but since we enjoy hiking to high points we decided to start at the trailhead at 8,000 feet so that we could say we hiked up to the 10,000 ft summit. There is another trail, the Kaupo Trail, that begins on the other side of the mountain (on the Southeast side of Maui) much closer to sea level and does much more climbing, but for simplicity and the time we had, we were content with starting here. Our plan was to hike 10.2 miles the first day, down into the valley at 6,000 ft and across the crater, and camp at the Paliku campground on the far East side. The second day we would hike back across and up to the summit at 10,000 feet, which would be another 10.3 miles. From there, we would hopefully find a ride back to our car at the first trailhead (hitchhiking is not only legal, it’s actually encouraged within the park). After that, we would have another day to camp and explore the East side of Maui before our flight back home on Thursday night. We knew our plans were rather ambitious, and we hoped that all this would work out smoothly.
We began our hike at the Halemau’u trailhead at 8:30 that morning. There were small patches of frost along the trail, but it was sunny and in the 40’s, and it was predicted to hit the 50’s both days we were there. Much colder than we were accustomed to on Oahu, but perfect weather for hiking in an exposed area. Curtis told me as we were beginning to not let him push us too fast — we had all day to hike 10 miles to the campsite, and most of that would be either downhill or on flat ground. We wanted to make sure we really enjoyed every step of this trip, so I took my job seriously, making sure to stop frequently for pictures or to admire the scenery and different details like the plants and the clouds.
Our first look into the giant valley filled with cinder cones was breathtaking. We knew very little on what to expect, and we certainly weren’t anticipating it to be this grand or beautiful. We were able to see much of what we’d be walking through over the next 2 days. We were also impressed by the dramatic cliffs into the Ko’olau gap. We began our descent down the switchbacks leading us into the valley. Once at the base, we were about another mile away from the Holua cabin and campsite.
Once at the first cabin, we stopped for a snack, and spotted our first pair of nene geese. The ranger had told us to expect to see a lot of them, and maybe even some goslings as it was nesting season! This was our only wildlife spotted on our backpacking trip. We realized how great it was to not be concerned with protecting our food from bears or other creatures we might find on the mainland. We remained on the Halemau’u Trail for the majority of today’s hike, departing briefly to take the Silversword Loop trail and admire these bright silver plants that are only found here.
My favorite part of the trail today came about halfway through, when we reached the cinder cones we had been looking ahead to for so long. The rocks that made up the ground were varying in color and texture and made the trail appear so vibrant. This part was truly unlike anything we had hiked through before — the closest I could compare it to was Sunset Crater National Monument in Arizona, but of course we couldn’t hike to or see the crater up close so this was much more exciting.
Curtis’ favorite part came soon after, when we were finally able to see into the Kaupo gap and got our first look at Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island. It was an incredible sight — we were still around 100 miles away, but we could see them so well, peeking up high above the clouds in their snow-capped glory. It was insane to think of how far they went below the clouds as well, and how they were literally double the elevation of where we were standing at that moment.
We finished our hike for the day at around 2:00, even after all our little breaks. Sunburned and tired from our early morning, we set up our tent and took a nap. I don’t believe there’s anything more relaxing than reaching a campsite after backpacking, setting up your tent and realizing we don’t have anything we have to do. Eventually we emerged from the tent to wander around, admire the cliffs, and see the nene geese (along with 3 little goslings!). We stopped to chat with a guy who was doing research for the park, studying rare and endangered plants in the area along with a few others. He told us that we seriously lucked out with weather — it’s typical for this side of the crater to be cold and filled with clouds.
To wrap up our day, we had a light dinner and snacks by our tent, read together, and went to sleep by the light of a full moon. It may have been under 40º and windy, but we left the cover of the tent off so we could see the stars. There were several others camping here, but everyone spread out and it was a quiet night on the crater.