The Sliding Sands Trail passes through a large expanse of cinder desert which has a very colorful volcanic landscape and numerous giant cinder cones in Haleakala National Park. Difficulties encountered on the hike include hiking at high altitudes which may cause difficulty breathing, being prepared for severe weather and temperature shifts (the NPS warns of hot temperatures, wind, rain, cold temperatures, and hypothermia dangers), bringing adequate sunscreen to deal with the intense UV rays, and having good enough fitness for the climb back out. Google Earth maps of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the buttons above. GPS coordinates for the parking area for the Sliding Sands Trail are 20° 42.886'N, 156° 15.032'W. GPS coordinates for the parking area for the Halemauu Trail are 20° 45.149'N, 156° 13.716'W.
"I venture to state that for natural beauty and wonder the nature-lover may see dissimilar things as great as Haleakala, but not greater, while he will never see elsewhere anything more beautiful or wonderful." These words written by Jack London in his 1911 book The Cruise of the Snark (Chapter 8: The House of the Sun) provide a fitting introduction to Haleakala National Park located on the island of Maui. For our main hiking destination within the park, we decided upon doing the well-established major loop hike of the Sliding Sands Trail and the Halemauu Trail. Combining these two trails on a long day hike allows you to see much of the great variety of scenery which is on display within Haleakala National Park's summit area. There are a couple of complications involved before starting this hike. First, getting to the summit area of the park requires a significant amount of driving time. We were staying in Kihei, which was about 1 1/2 hours away. However, the NPS recommends allowing for up to 3 hours of driving time when factoring in heavy traffic and the steep, winding roads. On our drive up, we noted that there were groups of bicyclists zooming down the steep roads just outside of the park which required even slower driving to watch out for them. Second, when doing the loop hike, the starting and ending points are at two different parking lots. Thus, a vehicle shuttle is required. After dropping off a vehicle at the Halemauu Trail parking lot, it is necessary to get to the Sliding Sands Trail parking lot (at the Haleakala Visitor Center) where the hike begins. This can be done by bringing two vehicles up the mountain or by using the park's established hiker pickup spot (if you are comfortable with that) across the street from the Halemauu Trail parking lot. Upon driving a second vehicle or catching a ride to the Sliding Sands Trail parking lot, there are incredible views looking down into the area where the first half of the hike takes place. It was this view which inspired Jack London to write later in the chapter referenced earlier: "It was a scene of vast bleakness and desolation, stern, forbidding, fascinating. We gazed down upon a place of fire and earthquake. The tie-ribs of earth lay bare before us. It was a workshop of nature still cluttered with the raw beginnings of world-making." Indeed this is a colorful volcanic landscape like none other in the United States. The two places which it slightly reminded me of were Iceland and Death Valley. Iceland due to the vast volcanic landscape and Death Valley due to the wide open spaces with visibility for miles. The starting point is located at an elevation of 9,740 feet, which can put you right around cloud level. It is vital to carry out this hike on a clear day if at all possible. The hike we were doing can be broken up into several sections -- Sliding Sands Trail to first major junction (3.9 miles), left to Halalii cinder cone junction area (1.6 miles), left to Holua cabin (2.0 miles), continue along meadow and up switchbacks to crater rim (2.6 miles), and left to Halemauu Trail parking lot (1.1 miles). In addition, we did the 1/2 mile loop of Halalii cinder cone and also the Silversword Loop spur trail. For our hike, the total mileage was around 11.8 miles with a cumulative elevation loss of about 3,300 feet and elevation gain of about 1,550 feet.
The Sliding Sands Trail begins with long, gradual switchbacks on soft cinder, which resembles the feeling of walking on sand. The colorful valley below has vivid red, green, grey, brown, yellow, and orange colors spread out like on a masterpiece painting. The mostly flat landscape is punctuated by large cinder cones rising up which have bowl-shaped craters on their summits. Off to the northeast, green-colored Hanakauhi Peak rises up in dramatic fashion to a height of 8,907 feet. Along the first portion of the trail, there is an optional spur trail leading to the Ka Luu o ka Oo cinder rim with views of the volcanic vent. Due to lack of time, we skipped this and continued hiking downhill. It takes time to drop several thousand feet in elevation, so the views continue to be far-reaching for the first few hours of the hike while descending. Upon reaching the first junction, we turned left and hiked through the flatlands of various lava flows. The trail then wraps around bright red Ka Moa o Pele cinder cone to the base of Halalii cinder cone, where a four-way junction is reached. This is where we took a detour from the official route and circled around Halalii cinder cone. There were two interesting features which we wanted to check out there. The first was Kawilinau, otherwise known as the Bottomless Pit. This narrow, cylindrical volcanic pit is 65 feet deep and 10 feet in diameter. The rim shows colored lava spatter that is several feet high. Kawilinau is a vent through which superheated gases were emitted in an eruption of long ago. Just beyond to the west is Pele's Paint Pot, the second feature we wanted to check out. The Paint Pot contains a variety of colors on hillsides near a small pass area. We soon rejoined the main trail (which is now the Halemauu Trail) and headed toward Holua cabin. On the way, we did the Silversword Loop. Haleakala Silverswords are unique endangered plants which can live up to 90 years while only blooming once in their lifetime just prior to their death. The loop trail allows you to pass by quite a few Silverswords and enjoy them close-up without trampling soil and damaging their roots. Past Holua cabin and campsite, the trail enters into an area of meadows. The Halemauu Trail then climbs up a series of steep switchbacks with breathtaking views of the valley that you just crossed through and over into the Pacific Ocean (weather permitting). I really enjoyed this portion of the hike because the landscape was so different from what it was earlier in the day. By doing the huge loop hike of the two major trails, it allows you to experience so much variety and see the best of the summit area of the park. Upon reaching the Halemauu Trail parking lot a couple of hours later, our hike was completed. Now that I am back home, writing this hiking report a mere few miles away from where Jack London lived at what is now known as Jack London State Historic Park, I can't help but feel a connection with the famous author. I have come to appreciate the great beauty of Haleakala National Park just as he did. Our hike took place on April 26, 2016.
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