Hiking Mt. Haleakala: Adventure in Maui

Mt. Haleakala | Photo credit: Nat'l Park Service

Mt. Haleakala | Photo credit: Nat'l Park Service

While I've been sleeping in snowbanks, I've had a few friends recently fly off to Hawaii. Both fun, just in different kinds of ways.

In Winter 2008, I had the option to attend a mandatory residency session for my master's degree in Hawaii or on the school's beautiful, but likely snow-covered campus outside Philadelphia. Tough choice.  

For the first week of the program, I was in Honolulu and it seemed the joke was on me. While I was picturing a light-hearted Polynesian retreat, the reality was that the small group of us were stuck in a windowless basement room for 10 hours each day, crunching numbers on a Campbell's Soup stock analysis, personal tax planning strategies, and sample financial plans. What really amazed me was when sandwiches were brought in (we were given an hour for lunch each day), most of the other attendees just sat in their chairs in the basement, eating their sandwiches, and talking about work! No, thank you. Each day, I grab my sandwich, hustled upstairs, and squinted into the bright sun as I made my way to a spot with a beach view, so I could watch the waves crash in and enjoy a bit of tropical paradise.  

Well, all was not lost. After I completed my residency time in the basement, I jumped on a short flight to the nearby island of Maui. Despite a monsoon the first day, the next three days were incredible! The beaches were beautifulespecially the black sand beaches—and old lava flow areas were an unforgettable sight. The road to Hana was fantastically scenic and taking the rental Jeep on unauthorized roads up the backside of the island at night really was quite an adventure. But the most memorable experience of the trip for me was a hike into Mt. Haleakala National Park.

Mt. Haleakala | Photo credit: Nat'l Park Service

Mt. Haleakala | Photo credit: Nat'l Park Service

Hiking Haleakala

It's a long, slow, twisty drive to the top of Haleakala and at 10,000 feet, it's an entirely different world than the rest of the island sitting at sea level. I was glad I packed a light rain shell and had two lightweight, long-sleeved tops, a button-up synthetic "fisherman" type shirt, and a thin merino wool base layer. The wind at the top was incredibly powerful, and it was freezing! I would've happily worn long pants, a heavier top, and hat and gloves if I'd had them.  

It didn't take long to warm up though once I got over the rim and was sheltered from the wind in the massive volcanic craters. The experience of descending into the barren, Martian-like landscape was similar to hiking down into the Grand Canyon, but otherwise unlike anything else I'd ever done!

Hiking down into Haleakala, the air is thin, the trail is steep and rocky. It's very cold and windy on top and becomes hot, sunny, and dry inside the mountain. In several hours, I only saw one other hiker. My advice, as always, is to be prepared! This is not a hike for anyone who isn't physically prepared, and you absolutely must have basic essential equipment with you.

Maui vs. Kauai

Mt. Haleakala | Photo credit: Nat'l Park Service

Mt. Haleakala | Photo credit: Nat'l Park Service

Linda and I went to Kauai, Hawaii for our honeymoon a few years ago. We loved both islands, but do think that the experience on each is significantly different. Maui seems to offer more sun and beach life and is busier, while Kauai is rugged, wet, and heavily vegetated. From the bit we were able to sample each, if you want the perfect beach vacation, Maui gets the nod, but if you want to pack in a lot of outdoor adventure, Kauai may be the better island option. 

Always be Prepared

Any chance I can, I add a bit of outdoor adventure onto my business trips. I think there is a danger of going less than adequately equipped though. I really can't say it enough: always be prepared! If you're fixated on packing as little as possible so you can stuff all of your belongings in the overhead bin, yet still plan on completing an outdoor adventure on your trip, my advice is to relax and go ahead and pack everything you need to feel prepared for whatever outdoor adventure you have planned. It usually only takes an extra 15 minutes or so to check and collect a bag at the airport, so carefully think through the clothing and equipment you'll need and don't skimp just to try to get your bag stuffed in the overhead bin. Checking a bag at the airport is a small price to pay for the opportunity to feel comfortable and confident while exploring an incredible wilderness far from home—especially if it means breaking up an otherwise boring business trip!