Monday, October 30, 2017


Last weekend, Google hosted a retreat for Beat's work team on Ka'anapali Beach in Maui. It was a quick trip — less than 72 hours on the island. A mechanical in Denver caused us to miss our connection in Seattle, and we missed all of the festivities on Wednesday while we languished at SeaTac, an airport where I have wasted *many* hours thanks to long layovers to and from Alaska. This led to some grumpiness about traveling to a place as far away as Hawaii for just a weekend, but one can't complain about any opportunity to visit such a beautiful and unique spot in the world. 

 On Thursday we set out for a quick run on Waihe'e Ridge. The trail is only two miles long, and took us nearly two hours to reach when our scenic drive along the coast hit a dead end (it was a scenic spot to end up, though.)

 Most of this outing was driving, but it was fun to spend an hour in one of the more lush spots on Mauna Kahalawai, running through the kukui and fern forest, and listening to a cacophony of bird calls. Recently I've slipped back into a physical slump, marked by many of the same symptoms I complained about in June and July. In the past two weeks I've had similar trouble breathing at 12,000 feet in cold winds on the Indian Peaks, at 5,000 feet in dry 80-degree air in Boulder, and here at sea level in Maui. The humidity made me feel like I was breathing through a wet dishrag, and I sputtered my way through this short effort.

Even though I didn't feel great, I was sad when the trail ended so soon. The sign warns to stay off the "Unsafe Natural Terrain."

That night we joined Beat's friends for a round of delicious nigiri, the best I've had since I moved away from California. This photo is the view from our hotel room, looking toward the island of Molokai at sunset. Our time on the island was short, so we never actually ventured out to the beach — I didn't put on my swim suit once — but there was enough proximity to feel like a typical Hawaii vacation while doing what we enjoy most, which is playing in the mountains.

On Friday we made our way over to Haleakalā, the 10,000-foot volcano that fills the eastern side of the island. Haleakalā is legendary among road cyclists because a well-maintained paved road winds from sea to summit, one of the longest sustained road climbs in the world. On the other side of the mountain is a foot trail with the same vertical gain, which we hoped to hike one-way. However, our shuttle fell through, and we didn't have time or adequate planning for the round trip, which would have taken 16 hours or more with limited water resupply. It's just as well, as my stamina is low right now, and I undoubtedly would have sputtered badly, even on the one-way climb. Instead we planned a 20-mile out-and-back from the summit.

Descending into the crater. I had stomach distress in the morning and was not the happiest of runners for the first couple of hours.

The otherworldly landscape more than made up for my poor physical state. The kaleidoscope of mineral colors and rare plants was stunning.

Along the route were a couple of backcountry cabins where Beat befriended habituated nēnē (Hawaiian geese.) They have adorable voices that sound like nasally humans grumbling under their breath. The nēnē is exclusive to the Hawaiian islands, believed to have evolved from Canadian geese who drifted off their migration course hundreds of thousands of years ago. They can both fly and swim but don't do much of either, instead opting to scramble along the rocky surfaces of volcanoes.

We descended into the marine cloud layer along a series of lava fields. I'm grateful the National Park built a crushed-gravel trail down here, as running shoes and shin skin would not last long on these rocks.

We reached our turn-around in a valley at 6,000 feet, where we met a group of backpackers at a cabin. They offered us coffee and suggestions for a number of routes and hitchhikes to avoid climbing out of the crater. "You don't want to climb Sliding Sands, believe me," one lady said, and assured us she had lived on Maui for 35 years and knew what she was talking about. Fun crowd, mostly locals who were impressed we'd made it as far as we had.

The valley itself was a spectacular place, with steep, fern-coated cliffs and waterfalls disappearing into the fog. It had a primordial aura that beckoned us further, and Beat was intent on finding a route up the cliffs based on vague, possibly wrong information from one of his co-workers. I was intent on not bushwhacking through a tangle of ferns and thorny brush with the possibility of a terrifying scramble, and my insistence won out. Still, we were both sad to turn around, and already are scheming our return with hard-to-get reservations for these cabins.

The local backpackers did recommend an alternative trail that would return us to Sliding Sands, skirting around the calderas. This route proved to be even more spectacular than the valley.

Lava fields with a smattering of hardy plants.

As one might guess from my tundra fascination, I love a good moonscape. I was in heaven here.

Happy, but sputtering. Under normal circumstances I can usually keep up with Beat's casual pace, but here I was far behind all day, to the point where Beat occasionally hiked back to make sure I was okay. If I was alone I probably wouldn't believe I was doing so badly, but the shallow breathing does slow me down considerably.

More moonscape. I do the best I can, and am grateful for any ability that allows me to visit such places.

Starting the climb out of Sliding Sands. I didn't feel great, but it wasn't nearly so bad as the local made it out to be. Clouds socked in for the remainder of our climb out.

Even with my sputtering, we were still out of the crater an hour earlier than planned. We had timed our hike to return to the summit at sunset, but it was still an hour away. Beat was tired and hungry and seemed not too stoked on waiting around, but I talked him into it. The summit parking lot was full, so we parked at the visitor center and hiked to another nearby peak.

Sunset was at 5:54 p.m. At 5:30 it still looked far away, but I forget that the sun sinks straight into the horizon at these latitudes.

Looking out toward Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island, with the Sliding Sands trail in the foreground.

Beautiful light to the east.

The mountain's shadow on the horizon.

Hiking down a few minutes before sunset. Temperatures had plummeted and we were both still drenched in humidity/sweat and shivering. Also, we watched a steady stream of cars working their way up to the summit before sunset, and wanted to beat the traffic jam down the mountain. We're like those baseball fans who make all of this effort to attend a World Series game, and walk out of the stadium before the final pitch.

I took this photo from the passengers side window during the drive down. Something tells me we didn't actually miss anything.

We flew out on Saturday, and wanted to find a final hike on western side of the island, closer to the hotel. Outside the national park, public trail options were quite limited. Even on Strava — my go-to site for local insider knowledge — I didn't find much. But there was a route that seemed to lead to 4,000 feet — the highest shown up Mauna Kahalawai — so we set out. The temperature at the start was 89 degrees with 90 percent humidity. We were both drenched after five minutes. The trail was a pile of large lava rocks, with tricky footing and full exposure to the harsh sun. The black rock outcroppings and dry grass looked like a hillside in eastern Idaho ... with the exception of that big blue body of water in the background.

We skirted around a line of wind mills and ended up on an overgrown fireroad that continued to climb along a steep ridge. This area definitely had a "locals only" feel, and we saw no one for most of the outing.

Again we climbed into a thick bank of fog, but the clouds opened up oh-so-briefly near the top of the climb. The views were stunning. We're not in eastern Idaho anymore.

The overgrown road ended at a barely-there trail, which we followed for a short distance. Beat has a much higher tolerance for leg-shredding routes than I do, but luckily we found good views before too long.

The long, hot descent over lava rocks. We were stoked on this outing. It felt like a unique find, and a nice adventure to wrap up a short exploration of Maui.

Back at Ka'anapali Beach, we finally took the opportunity to sit on beach chairs and watch the sunset while waiting for our turn to take a complementary shower — which we badly needed after the day's sweat bath, coated in dust and drowned gnats, before boarding a red-eye flight. We chatted with some of Beat's co-workers about their weekend adventures, snorkeling and surfing. Although I'm terrified of moving water and was secretly glad I didn't have to subject myself to anything as difficult as that, I vowed to return someday and enjoy more of what Maui has to offer. Of course, the mountains themselves are more than enough. 


  1. You're funny. I love snorkeling and swimmimg. Long lava slogs not so much. We set out up the mountain when we were there but my husband rebelled.

  2. Wow, you guys packed a lot into 3 days, it looks like a much longer trip. Gorgeous pictures!

  3. We usually do a hike or two when we go on tropical vacations, but I figure I do those at home all the time - if I'm on a tropical island, I want to do what I can't do at home, like snorkel with turtles and octopuses all the livelong day. It's underwater hiking!

    1. I really do have a terrible phobia of water that I haven't learned to control. However I would have taken an opportunity to snorkel if it arose. I mentioned it offhand in this post, but actually no one snorkeled during our three days in Maui because of high winds and recent rains causing opague water.

  4. Hawaii is AWESOME! Every island has something different to offer. Maybe you can get over your water-phobia a bit to go INTO the water next's wicked-cool! (I lived on Oahu for 10 years...learned to Scuba dive early on and can't imagine NOT doing that). Glad you were able to get out and see some of the sights...Haleakala is fantastic! (I rode a bike down it, next time I hope to climb it first, THEN go back down).

    1. Beat has done quite a bit of scuba diving. He described the incredible otherworldly experience, and believe me, I'd love to have the same experience. Can I keep myself from panicking? So far, evidence points to no. Although I enjoy swimming, I do so while keeping my face out of the water at all times, because putting my face under water ignites the panic response. I haven't attempted whitewater rafting or sea kayaking in a decade, because I was so stressed out that I couldn't enjoy the experience. My point is ... I need real therapy, so as to not put myself or others in a possible dangerous situation because I've frozen up or panicked. Telling myself to just "get over it" is like telling a person who's deathly afraid of heights to dangle their legs over a precipice, because it's not actually dangerous.

  5. One (of many) of my fantasies is to move to Kauai for a year. I know...Island fever, boring weather, no 4 doesn't make sense for a "mountain man." But I am attracted to and have a fascination for "opposites," it probably explains my love for deserts in Utah and Southern Arizona. Kauai has tremendous amounts of public forest lands and mountains, as well as fewer people and roads. Tho I think I'd be ready to leave after a year, it's an oppositional experience I can't get out of my head. Your post reminded me of this crazy I don't know whether to thank you or curse you. :)
    I was sad to see your thyroid issues rise up again, and heartened by your attitude of "gratitude" that at least you can still go "outside" and do the thing that brings you the most pleasure. Sometimes it takes a while for things to level out. Hang in there, and thank you/damn you for rekindling my fantasy with this post...
    Box Canyon Mark

  6. If I'd known, perhaps I could have gotten you in touch with a cyclist friend who visited there a long time ago and never came back - Donnie runs a bike shop on the island (Maui Cyclery) and runs bicycle tours. If you return, look him up.

  7. First, sorry to hear you're dealing with the same physical symptoms as before.

    Secondly, wonderful timing -- we're heading to Maui for 3.5 days next week. Waihe'e Ridge was on my list for a run as well; you said something about your scenic drive along the coast coming to a dead end and I was wondering where/when on the drive that happened (or how to avoid it). Also, your lava slog sounds kinda lovely.

    1. Originally we drove north on Highway 30, but apparently the road is closed near Honokohau. We stopped shortly after a sign warning of the closure, but another friend went all the way to the closure and said it's definitely not passable.

      I highly recommend a visit to Halaeakala. I would not characterize the hike as a slog, even at my current level of fitness. The trail is in good shape there's fast access to some beautiful places.

      Have a great time in Maui!


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