Haleakala offers a variety of experiences, challenges
By Richard McMahon
Special to The Advertiser
LOCATION: The Sliding Sands/Kaupo trails begin in Haleakala National Park, near the Visitor Center just below the summit, where there is a parking lot.
DESCRIPTION: This 17-mile trip is one of the premier hikes in the islands. It descends into Haleakala Crater, crosses its entire length from west to east, and then drops out of a huge gap in the crater wall to reach the sea far below. It traverses so many climate and vegetation zones that botanists call it the equivalent of hiking from Alaska to Mexico. It is best done with an overnight stop at the Paliku Campground inside the crater, but strong hikers (with strong knees) can make the trip in one long day.
The transportation arrangements for this trip are difficult.
If there are non-backpacking members of your group, they can drop the hikers at the summit of Haleakala, and pick them up at the exit trailhead about 1.5 miles mauka on the dirt road which begins just east of the Kaupo Store on Maui's south shore.
Otherwise, you can use two vehicles, positioning one at the trailhead at Kaupo, then using the second to drive to the summit of Haleakala.
Enter Haleakala Crater on Sliding Sands Trail, which begins near the road at the right side of the parking lot, as you face the crater. The trail descends into a vast cinder bowl in a series of switchbacks. Watch for silverswords, which should start to appear as you approach the crater floor. Proceed straight on Sliding Sands, ignoring intersecting trails, and passing Kapalaoa Cabin. The walls of the crater soon drop off sharply, revealing a huge expanse of blue, a dramatic meeting of sea and sky. This is the Kaupo Gap, and soon the giant volcanoes of the Big Island Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Hualalai come into view, almost 100 miles away. Watch for the Kaupo Trail, which branches off to the right.
As you approach Paliku the environmental change is dramatic. The almost barren crater floor gives way to green meadows, and tall trees, made possible by heavier rainfall here than anywhere else in the crater. The akala, the native Hawaiian raspberry, grows in abundance here, in the rear of the cabin and along the trail to the pit toilet and the corral. You may see also see n«n«.
If you have spent the night, retrace your steps to the Kaupo Trail, which soon drops steeply in a series of narrow switchbacks. Farther down the mountain, you enter a koa forest and then switch back down to a long, grassy meadow. After descending almost four miles, the trail becomes a rough jeep road, passing through steep brush, then pasture land, which begins near a wooden water tank.
SPECIAL COMMENTS: A permit is necessary to camp at Paliku, and it can be obtained free of charge at Park Headquarters.
A good idea is to combine this hike with a visit to Hana and the nearby 'Ohe'o Gulch (Seven Pools) section of the national park.