With an elevation of more than 10,000 feet, Haleakala National Park is the highest point on Maui. The crater rim is seven miles long, three miles wide and 2,000 feet deep. Millions of years ago, Haleakala began its push 20,000 feet below the surface of the crushing sea, dead in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and forced its way upward. Today, it is the tallest stand-alone mountain on Earth.
Begin at the Summit
Relatively speaking, Haleakala’s ascent ended only recently. You’re walking, so to speak, into the full and final expression of this mountain’s intent. And consider the rockscape that folds in around you as you descend, once an ancient lakebed but now heaped and sculpted by purposes you can’t comprehend. Horizons plunge and tilt everywhere you look—ochre and rust and sometimes a metallic green.
After a while, you don’t have anything to say. You’re just listening to the crunch of your beat-up old running shoes in the dry trail. And all around you, the wind is whistling over the stones. If you see something offensive on the trail, like a chewing gum wrapper, you pick it up and shove it in your back pocket.
At one point you’re walking the broad summit of a cinder dome, surrounded by a landscape of absolutely nothing, and you’re tempted to wander everywhere just because you’ve got nothing to negotiate but a layer of volcanic popcorn. But stay on the trail. Things get even better.
The Crater Floor
If you were cold at the summit, now a t-shirt is plenty. You’ve reached the crater floor, and you’re walking along the base of the escarpment. If you continue going straight, you’d hike the full length of the Crater. But the shorter route will work you hard enough for the day, so you fork to the left. You go staggering for hours through a landscape of mists and distances, bottomless pits and bubble caves and lava tubes, weird shining plants called silverswords, and a few of our state birds, the nene goose.
Then you start back up the two-mile vertical Halemauu Trail. About nine levels up, you pause to look back. Clouds come shoving through the crater’s other crack, the Ko’olau Gap, and begin to pile up around and blow you.
As the clouds surge toward you, the universe below disappears completely from sight, dropping you out of reality and into the Haleakala Crater dreamscape.