Hanakauhi Peak


By: Bob Sumner


Standing tall on the far side of a vast volcanic wasteland, Hanakauhi is a fine "desert" peak rising high above the tropic beauties of Maui. It provides peak seekers with a reasonable objective within Haleakala National Park, and takes one well away from the tourist-filled confines of the West Rim. Most people start their visit to Haleakala in the dark pre-dawn hours with a common objective: viewing sunrise from the rim. If one doesn't mind sharing the spectacular morning sun with hundreds of others, then its well worth getting up for. And fits right in with an early start for the peak.

Getting to Haleakala is easy: from Maui's largest town, Kahului, follow Hwy 37 southeast, then 377 and 378 the rest of the way up. This route is well signed. You'll drive from sea level to just over 10,000' in less than two hours from Kahului. The 10,023' highpoint of the island, Red Hill, is a driveup and a popular sunrise viewing location.

The hike to Hanakauhi begins just below this, at the Sliding Sands trailhead and Visitor Center. The Sliding Sands Trail curves around behind White Hill (a short hike from the parking lot) to the edge of the crater rim. Here the innards of Haleakala are revealed: the remains of a massive crater ten miles across, with its rim blown out on the northwestern and southeastern sides.

The trail plunges down into a seemingly brushless desert, but soon the silversword plants are found, clinging to life in the rubbly soil. After two miles and 1200' loss, a half-mile trail spurs off to the left to an old cinder cone. Ignore this and continue down for another 1.8 miles to elevation 7400'. Here fork left across some very jagged lava flows, rising upward around a tall cinder cone to conic to another junction in 1.3 miles. Go straight and in 0.4 you'll arrive at the Bottomless Pit, a popular hiking destination even though it's only 65 feet deep and not really bottomless.

At the Pit you intersect the Halemau'u Trail and head east. Shortly you see an "unmaintained trail" sign on the left. Ignore this and go another 0.3 to a second "unmaintained trail" sign just before a signed intersection. Take this rocky trail and quickly veer right to go uphill. This starts you up the south ridge of the peak but fades away as you get higher.

From here on up its classic desert cross-country: rubble, sand, and dirt with some low scrub brush. While some class 3 can be found on the ridge, it can all be avoided. Hanakauhi's 8907' summit offers superb views: shining ocean in several directions, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa looming to the south on the Big Island, and near at hand a unique perspective of Haleakala's lunar landscape. Return the way you came. Be aware that you've done eight miles and 1700' gain getting to the top - now you have another 2500+ feet to get back to the parking lot. This can be quite warm on a sunny day. And you'll find out why its called the Sliding Sands trail. Another option would be to approach Hanakauhi via the Halemau'u Trail, which is more miles but probably less gain.

This is but one Haleakala adventure. There are several other trails available that can be used to make nice loops in the crater. There are 3 cabins in the crater that can be reserved for overnight use. Recommended: the Trails Illustrated topo map of Haleakala National Park, available at the Visitor Center.

Statistics: Hanakauhi, 16 miles rt, 4500'gain, class 2

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