Windsurfing, surfing, Maui, The Gorge, and random rants.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Night At The Crater

The crater of Haleakala, the large volcano that dominates Maui, is an amazing wonder of the world. It's definitely a "no place else like it" kind of place. Haleakala is a massive peak reaching over 10,000 feet into the Maui sky. The crater within is not exactly a crater in the classic volcanic sense. Many thousands of years ago the mountain developed a deep erosional rift that essentially split it from north to south. More thousands of years later a new eruptive phase occurred which partly filled this rift with fresh lava. This lava, flowing from hundreds of smaller vents, spilled into the gaps created by the rift, extending into the Keanae valley to the north, and the Kaupo gap to the south, eventually reaching the sea.

The lava created a fairly level floor between 7000 and 8000ft that slopes gently into the gaps. This floor, comprising of the lava flows, their parent vents, and the unique plants and animals that exist in this harsh sub-alpine environment, is what we consider the crater. The total area of this crater is about the same size as Manhattan, though from an environmental perspective it is almost the exact opposite of that urban island. It is essentially an island within the island of Maui.

The entire crater is situated within the Haleakala National Park, which manages three small cabins where hikers can overnight. These cabins must be reserved well in advance and only hold a small number of guests. Julia and I were lucky to be invited by Marge and Rob to join them on an overnight trip to the Holua cabin, a very rugged 3.9 mile hike from the nearest parking lot. We were extra lucky to be there on a brilliant full moon night.

If you are overnighting, you must bring all your food and sleeping bags, plus extra clothes and water for the hike.  The trail we took is called "Switch Backs" (there are 15 of them) and it is rough, with plenty of loose rocks and large drops offs to keep you on your toes. You descend 2000 knee pounding feet in the first three miles before rising 500 feet in the last mile to the cabin. My pack weighed about 20 lbs and though I am generally in decent shape, I was feeling it by the time we reached our destination. There is water at the cabin but you must bring a filtration or sanitizing system.  The cabin has heat, bunk beds for 12, cooking  utensils, and a stove.

The following pictures were taken on the hike to the cabin. The descent to the crater floor is steep and the viewing is spectacular. Note the almost perfect pyramid that pokes through the middle of the crater. Once in the crater we passed several lava tubes and caves - one of the tubes spat out an ancient flow that somehow still looked fresh, almost like it could have formed just last week.  At the cabin we spotted a nearby cave in the hill above that must have served as a shelter for early explorers and native Hawaiians.

Once at the cabin we were visited by a pair of Nenes, the Hawaiian goose.  The Nene is related to the Canadian geese - about 500K years ago a pair of lost or perhaps storm blown geese must have landed on the islands and started a colony, which gradual evolved into the Nene.  These are the rarest geese on the planet and were almost extinct just fifty years ago when only 30 birds were left.  Now there are about 800.  It's very important that the remaining population breeds well and often as their survival is still at risk.

Perhaps inspired by seeing other joyful couples around them, our Nenes started dancing before us, and soon were busy making more Nenes!  Afterwards they were crooning and I half expected to see them lighting up some smokes.

That night the moon came up in full glory.  I took about fifty pictures trying to capture the amazing light.  I must admit that I'm still learning the nuts and bolts of my little Panasonic P&S.  Plus I have no tripod so I was balancing the camera on a wet table using my hands and a cold Frisbee as a mount.  Probably not professional standard.  However I finally managed a decent shot (note to myself, ISO 400, F5.6 @ 1/25).  Seeing this makes me want to howl...

After this we took off for a moon lit hike to see the Silverswords of Haleakala.  This rare and beautiful plant exists only on the crater floor here. It lives up to fifty years, then sends up a tall spike with flowers that resemble its very distant cousin, the sunflower.  This is pollinated by flying insects also unique to Haleakala.  And then, having shot it's proverbial once in a lifetime load, the Silversword is done, and new ones soon take it place on the dry cinder stones. We hiked the "Silversword Loop", where under the bright full moon hundreds of these  plants were practically glowing.  It was a surreal scene that I can best describe as "very trippy".  And cool!

Unfortunately I didn't bring my camera because I hadn't yet figured out that the long exposure trick you will see below (next time I promise) so I am including shots from a hike taken several years ago, which includes a view of the upper crater, a new Silversword plant, and a spent one.

After that I started experimenting with long exposures of the landscape and the sky.  All the following pictures were taken with either 30 or 60 second exposures with only the full moon as a light.  Note the stars in the sky (in the first picture the Big Dipper points to Polaris).  You will see most of Orion including the Orion Nebula (the middle "star" in the sword of Orion).  I'm amazed how clear and bright the landscape appears in these pictures - keep in mind these were taken well after the sun set.  In one you can see a horizontal streak from a distant jet. I used rocks as my tripod for most of these shots...

The next morning we lingered over coffee and scones while I took more shots of the surrounding crater rim. We returned by the same trail. The view was equally amazing. We stopped at one switchback to gaze back at the Holua cabin in the distance. Looking up at the ridge Julia and I thought we saw a lighter rock out cropping which resembled a grazing cow (2nd picture from last, can you see it?). At the top a colorful pheasant checked us out. By the time we got to the car, my legs were well beat, but it was so worth it!

Copyright © 2011 Jamin Jones, All rights reserved.