Adventures in a Dormant Volcano

On a nice summer weekend, I presumably lost my wits, thereby consenting to a 20-mile backpacking trip with a group of friends through a dormant volcano on the tropical island of Maui. Haleakalā crater has been dormant since the late 1700’s. For those of you who may not know, a “dormant” volcano is one that is sleeping, but not dead. Yes, that means it can awaken at any moment. Thank God it decided to continue sleeping while I was hiking through it.

Our adventure started with a treacherous descent from an elevation of 10,000 feet through loose cinder and sharp lava rocks, through an area referred to as “Sliding Sands.” It’s not typically what people envision when they think of Maui, as it is more reminiscent of another planet entirely. We weren’t wearing Sharon Stone-like bikinis and sipping mai tais on the beach (sorry to disappoint you Paul Turney at Woggins Writings): we were wearing incredibly un-sexy G.I. Jane-like hiking gear and sucking liters of water down, while focusing on not spraining an ankle. All I had in my emergency kit was baby wipes, a tweezer, and some band-aids, so a rolled ankle would have constituted a major disaster, considering I am no MacGyver.


Above the clouds, hiking into Haleakalā crater through Sliding Sands.


Hiking the trail into Haleakalā crater through Sliding Sands.


Hiking through lava rocks at Sliding Sands.

After Sliding Sands leveled off, we enjoyed the unique terrain and started to see quite a few amazing, native silversword plants. To our surprise, many of them were in bloom, which is a rare sight to see. I know this is one of the favorite places of Liza Pierce at A Maui Blog, so I’m sure she’ll enjoy these photos.


Gorgeous silversword plant in bloom.

Being about 5 miles into our adventure at that point, it was time to stop for lunch. I unwrapped my sandwich and peeled a banana. As I began devouring my meal, a huge wasp started doing laps around me like a shark circling a wounded seal. I froze and watched in horror as the gigantic bee got closer and closer. At one point, it looked like it was going to land on my arm, and I screamed and started flailing my arms around like a back up dancer for Justin Bieber.

One of my fellow hikers shouted to me “They are attracted to moisture! Drop your banana and stay still!”

Since I’m so good at following instructions while panicking, I chucked my sunglasses, sandwich and the banana into the cinder and started running in the opposite direction as the bee. Hey, at least it worked. The bee began to hover over the banana peel, and I was able to get away. Phew. FYI- the crater was full of wasps, so although I dodged a bullet that time, bee mania was pretty much an ongoing theme. I know Michelle Gillies at Silk Purse Productions would completely empathize.

The journey continued. We made the rest of the trek down to the Palikū cabin, where we were greeted by lush mountain ranges and a nene goose (a friendly, native bird that inhabits the crater).


The rugged ranges at Palikū.


Palikū, where the clouds come up Kaupo Gap and meet the steep cliffs.


Beautiful sunset at Palikū.


Greetings from a nene goose.

We were just so excited to finally arrive at the cabin. Our legs and feet were ready to give out, and muscles were hurting in areas we didn’t even know existed and could feel pain. Unfortunately, there were no hot showers or mineral baths awaiting us. The cabin had fresh running water and bunk beds, but that was about it with regard to amenities. The Ritz Carlton it wasn’t, but after hiking for 10 miles, we were just thankful we had a place to sit down and stretch out.

If you look closely at the picture below, you can see our tiny Palikū cabin toward the middle left of the photo. It’s that miniscule white dot at the edge of the open meadow at the base of the mountain range. Yeah, that thing. That was home sweet home for a few days. And the lovely outhouse next to it that smelled like a freshly baked manure cake was ours to call home for a few days too.


Looking down on Palikū and Kaupo Gap.

Our luxurious Palikū cabin.

Our luxurious Palikū cabin.

The nights in the wilderness at Palikū were definitely an interesting experience, where being the city slicker that I am, the others had a good laugh at my expense. I used at least 30 antibacterial towelettes and baby wipes to scour the outhouse toilet seat, my mattress cover, and parts of my body which inevitably got coated in cinder dust. I also found myself highly skilled in holding my bladder for hours at a time. There was no way I was going to get up at 2 o’clock in the morning in the pitch black for a long haul to that dreadful outhouse.

And truthfully, we wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything. We felt fortunate to get the opportunity to go on this trip. The experience forced us to get out of our comfort zones and abandon modern conveniences like technology and electricity. After spending a few relaxing days gaining appreciation for the natural world, and being able to bond and socialize with others without interruption, we mentally prepared ourselves for what lay ahead: the 10-mile hike out of Haleakalā crater… uphill. We had to go 7 miles steadily uphill, and then finish with another strenuous 3 miles up a steep and narrow trail called the “Switchbacks.”


Lava fields that made us feel like we were on Mars.


Our friends making their way up the Switchbacks.

Surprisingly, we made it, and all in good time. We survived our adventure in a dormant volcano, despite not having pack mules, internet access, or hot tubs. Shoot, my friend didn’t even have soles on her shoes, as they separated and fell off before she even made it to the Switchbacks.

All things considered, we hiked like champs out of that crater, setting our minds on the frosty beers that awaited us in the cooler in the car. Nothing motivates parched and exhausted hikers like ice cold beers. I motored out of that crater like a Clydesdale going after a dangling carrot. As if I was Wyle E. Coyote chasing The Road Runner with my newest ACME gadget. When I got to the car, I slumped into an Eddie Bauer camping chair and popped open a brewski. And that was all, folks! Until next time, Haleakalā!



Filed under Best Things We Learned, We Learned from..., Uncategorized

12 responses to “Adventures in a Dormant Volcano

  1. This was quite the adventure! This is probably a part of Maui I will never see for myself and I appreciate you making the sacrifice for me so that I could see it through your eyes. I’m very much like you as far as the bees, MacGyver and the outhouse go. Thank goodness you didn’t run into any spiders!
    Look at that Silver Sword. It is spectacular. All the photos are wonderful.
    So where are you taking me next? 😉

    • “I appreciate you making the sacrifice for me so that I could see it through your eyes.” Yes, I get that, and you’re welcome! I wish I could see your fry trucks through my own eyes… or mouth! Your posts always make me want to take a new adventure… or eat something fried! And FYI- thank God there were no spiders. It would have been like hell if there had been spiders! And, I’m not sure what humorous adventure I have planned next… maybe onto another island! 🙂

  2. The hike into (and out of) the Haleakalā crater sounds like something my brother would do. I just can’t get past the lanai. Looking at your photos, I can imagine how the scenery would make you think you were on Mars, Desolate, but beautiful. What a view from the Switchbacks. Awesome. Great imagery! I love Clydesdales, especially the ones pulling the beer wagons on Superbowl Sunday. And is the silversword plant a type of cactus? I think I’ll have to come for a visit and find out for myself. Thank you for the link, by the way. And if you ever decide to come our way, (Niagara Falls is close by), we’d love to see you. Although you might find the hiking trails boring after your sleeping volcano.

    • Mahalo! Yes, I would guess those silverswords are a type of cacti or succulent, but amazingly, they come from the daisy or sunflower family. I never would have guessed that! I guess they are like the sibling that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the family at Thanksgiving. 😉

      • My brother says they only bloom once every 60 years?? He was amazed when he saw one. He did the Haleakala hike but not all the way. Said he saw guys doing it on bikes, which completely blew him away. I guess that would be like surfing with sharks…hoping you returned safe and sound. I would probably be one of those siblings you speak of.

  3. Dang Wasps! They ruined a perfectly good lunch! Thank god there was beer at the end of your trek. It looked beautiful! I dream of going to Hawaii some day…

  4. I don’t do outhouses…or bees…or hikes that require a backpack. Good for you!

    • I didn’t think I did outhouses, bees or backpacks either. Amazing what you end up being capable of if you just put your mind to it. And when I say “put your mind to it,” I really mean you get suckered into doing something against your will by your hubby and friends.

  5. What stunning photos. I particularly liked the one of the magnificent plant in bloom. As you look back at that adventurous trip, what thoughts come up for you?


  6. simplyellegance

    Aloha Traci! This is such a great story! The pictures are fantastic and you have such a fun style of writing! I was wondering if you’d like to see it printed in our magazine, Spotlight on Maui. I’m sure visitors to Maui would love to have a taste of what an adventure in Haleakala is like before starting their trek.

    Please let me know if you’d be interested! Mahalo!


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