On Top of the World

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Trip 4 Journal

Trip Journal entry for Monday, February 16th.

It took 4 trips, but we finally did it!

The Journey to the Summit

After such a long day and late night on Sunday, 2am Monday morning was coming quicker than we were looking forward to. On just over a mere 3 hours of sleep after an exhausting travel day, we bit the bullet and made our way to Haleakala. In the end, it was something we’ll always remember as absolutely amazing.

I’ll get to the sunrise in a moment, but the morning was so much more than just that split second when the sun first started its climb above the clouds. We left the Sheraton a little after 3am, fairly confident we knew where we were headed. The drive itself, up 10,000 feet in only 37 miles, was surreal.

As we started up the volcano, the lights on the sleepy towns below began to feel more distant. At least that’s what Cindy said, because my eyes were glued to the lines on the road. The anticipation was growing with every elevation marker we passed.  2,000 ft, 2,500 ft, 4,000 ft. We made our stop at the park entrance to pay the $10 fee, which also signaled the end of the state highway and the beginning of the park roads.

What does the state highway have that the park roads don’t?  Guardrails, for one. :)

With every turn and climb up the volcano, that feeling in my gut grew larger. This was going to be big. Very big. The only stop on we made on the way up was the visitor center about 2 miles below the summit. It wasn’t open, but it was our last pit stop and a moment to stretch our legs. There were about two tour buses and maybe three other cars there, too. You get a nice view from that area, which we took in on the way back down. At the time, though, we had little knowledge of our surroundings in those dark, early hours.

The Summit Before Dawn

People have heard me go on and on about the stars over Maui. Well, that was before I saw them from the summit of Haleakala.  In this case, a picture is worth a 1,000 stars.

Haleakala before dawn

Stars at the Summit

Had I not spent too much time fumbling with the new tripod I rented for this trip, I would have shot 3x the number of photos before the light of dawn crept in. Regardless, it was truly breathless to be up there, seeing what I was seeing, and hearing absolutely nothing!  It was so very peaceful, and it was about that time when the emotion of it all started to sink in.

Preparing for Sunrise

Everything you read and people tell you about how cold it is on Haleakala for the sunrise is true. Not that we doubted anyone, and we were prepared. Well, sort of. Multiple layers, check. Sweatshirts, check. Gloves, Cindy yes, Kris … no. :(

To my fingers demise, we were halfway to the airport Sunday morning when we realized my gloves were still in my car. It was a little intense, but my freezing, shaking hands managed to distract me from the cold around the rest of my body. I did come away with a little frostbite on my hands, but nothing serious. All I need now is a T-Shirt that says, “I got frostbite on Maui!” Aside from that, I think we handled the cold pretty well. Coming from a bitter cold winter in Chicago, we were more physically prepared then we would have been in July or some other summer month back home.

While there was a mild wind, it wasn’t as oppressive as it could have been for being so high above sea level. Overall, I’d say we have the absolute perfect conditions for such an amazing experience.

The Sunrise

There were so many amazing colors in the sky just above the clouds before sunrise. So many more photos than I’m able to process and upload while we’re hear. After all, I am on vacation you know. :)

Still, the sunrise just by itself was beyond words, and I most certainly had to chose it for our Sunday Photo earlier this week.

More of the Summit

It was a shame to see people getting in the cars and driving back so soon after the sunrise. For what was already such an amazing morning (and by the looks of this, a pretty long journal entry), an entirely new experience was just beginning. With the sun now up, not only did its rays help warm my cold, shaking hands, but it shed it’s golden light on so many different spectacular sights from the summit where we were standing.

I can’t tell you how long I was up there shooting, but it was quite a while. I probably could’ve been up there longer, and might have been had we thought to bring our own breakfast. There’s still so much to write about when I get home, so I’ll leave it up to a few photos to tell this part of the tale for now.

Cindy and I at the Summit

Me On Top of the World

Silversword at Haleakala

The Descent

Although I could have stayed up there for most of the day, it was time to make our way back down the volcano and grab some breakfast. As surreal as the drive up in total darkness was, the ride back down was truly awe inspiring. We made a few stops on the way down, with the first being the visitor center at 9,740 feet. It was from here that we got to see the stunning views of the crater that we flew over on Sunday.

Cindy at the Crater

Haleakala Visitor Center

Just like from the summit, I have quite a few photos from this view of the crater that I hope to share once we get back home. The other two stops we made were at one of the lookout points further down the volcano and at the park headquarters closer to the entrance. After such a great morning, we just had to pick up a few souvenirs at that last stop to bring this experience home with us.


We knew that after spending a total of 3 1/2 hours at the summit would make us hungry for a big breakfast, and had read about a few places that were along the drive back towards Kahului. In the end, we went with a review from Sheila at Go Visit Hawaii that led us to choose the Kula Lodge & Restaurant for breakfast. It was a lovely first meal on Maui this trip, and Sheila’s review was dead on. We made sure to take in the view from behind the restaurant afterwards, and it was a perfect ending to all the amazing things we saw that morning.

All Before Noon?

Another great part about taking in the sunrise at Haleakala was that it was only something like 12pm or 1pm by the time we made it back to our resort. With everything we experienced that morning, we still had the entire afternoon and evening ahead of us. More details on the rest of the day in another journal entry.  And we were both surprised that, with only a few hours of sleep the night before, we still had enough energy to make through the entire day.

The Verdict

Cindy and I were still in awe of the entire morning for most of the drive down the volcano. While it’s taken us four trips to Maui to finally make it to Haleakala, we both agreed that it was absolutely worth it and something we should have done years ago. It was just a few weeks ago when I was writing about how much I was looking forward to this part of our trip. It was then when I spoke about what seeing the sunrise at Haleakala meant to me, and what I hoped it would be.

Well, I certainly can’t put into the words the amounts of emotion that came over me up there on the summit. It was a totally overwhelming experience, and something I have rarely felt before. In fact, if I had to choose, it would be second to only our wedding day. As I wrote in that post a few weeks ago, this moment was not only the start of a new trip to Maui for us, but it had the potential to begin a new journey in our lives. I, for one, truly believe it fulfilled that potential, and then some. 

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About Kris

Kris and his wife Cindy are avid Maui fans, and have visited the island half a dozen times since '06. Over the years, they have made many friends living on Maui or through social media, which keeps them in touch with the island until they can return again.

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