Friday, December 11, 2009

Haleakala

Haleakala. The summit at 10,023 feet above sea level. Land of the Sun in the native language. The fourth-clearest air in the world (there is a Science area not open to the public, where Dept. of Defense and academics can view an object as small as a basketball 20,000 miles into space.) Also, the drive up to the summit: one of the two quickest rises in vertical elevation within the shortest amount of time, also in the world. At this level, the air is thin, and you are warned to walk slowly up flights of stairs to the viewing platform. There are no guard rails, and I had a sense that one could walk slowly off the edge, into the clouds, which are below you because you have driven above their level to get here. The ground looks brown and gravel-like: the lava is very lightweight and crumbles when you rub it between thumb and finger.To get here, you drive up. And up. And up. We decided to take a pass on the sunrise viewing, which brings many tourists to the park. And I was glad for several reasons: no 3:30 am rising on my vacation, no lines of cars inching along as everyone stressed about reaching the summit before the sun, and that we wanted to do some hiking while in the park. Currently, the park has discontinued the practice of allowing tourists to ride down from the summit en-masse: too man accidents. Still, we passed several bikers going up on their own steam, including a woman from Utah and her companion, who were having absolutely no trouble peddling up the mountain. No puffing. No straining. No visible exertion as they rode up, and up, and up, and these are steep inclines and a gradual decrease in altitude, and thus, available oxygen. I once rode my bike in Switzerland, through the mountains, and that was nothing compared to the steepness and twisting of the road. We saw them again at the summit, and still, not even winded. Unbelievable.

I did all of the driving, except for a short span when I asked my husband to take over. I immediately saw that without the distraction of focusing on the road and the speed and the bikers, I was not a happy passenger. Car sickness and a sudden sense of being afraid of heights can come on very quickly when you are ascending an extinct volcano by automobile. Nor were reassurances such as a reminder that the driver had never before sent us off the edge of the road and over a cliff, or that it looked like even if one did go over, accidentally, that it was not a sheer drop but more of a gentle descent, of any consolation. Next turnoff, I was back to driving.
We stopped partway up to hike the Halemau'u Trail. Here's the path.
Very rocky, but nice big rounded rocks that you could step from one to the next on. I had sturdy running shoes on, but could see why wearing hiking boots and carrying trekking poles was a more common approach. At this point, you are at 8000 feet above sea level and weather conditions can change rapidly. We hiked with a pack full of water, rain gear, camera, extra batteries, and I wore my fleece, which came on and off depending upon where we were walking.

The plan was to hike down for about 30 minutes, then turn around and head back up, which the tour book warned would take twice as long. We went a little further, just to be able to see the crater, which has been used to train astronauts for doing moon walks, I read somewhere.

The foliage reminded me of Arizona. Lots of succulent-type plants with thick, fleshy leaves or sharp, spiky branches. And the ferns are much thicker than those in Illinois. Must be drier here than I'd expected; we speculated that the rain in the 'Iao Valley gets stopped by mountains in the way between there and Haleakala.

A view of the crater, from this trail. You can go all the way down to the cinder trails and then back up. We met a couple back at the trailhead who'd done the whole path in about 4 hours, and if I'd had boots and more time in Hawaii, I'd definitely do it.

Back up to the summit, in the next pictures. To the left, in the picture below, is the gap where lava poured and broke through the edge of the crater.
Another view. Toward the right, not quite visible, is a second gap where lava broke through. One of the gaps occurred only 200-400 years ago, which is nothing, compared to, say, the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Hawaii is over one million years old.
And the clouds. To the right, a view of the Big Island as well as a second island, over 100 miles away. Up this high, it is silent. No birds. A bit of wind, but no trees to rustle. Tourists speak quietly, and there is a sense of having made an effort and seen something not quite of this world.
It reminded me of the Grand Canyon: nature, and at the same time, not of this world.


































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