Going against the American dream of consumerism at its absolute dumbest, we decided to stay away from the doorbuster deals and get outdoors to go for a hike on “Black Friday.” I say we decided to go on a hike, but really, the others decided to go on a hike, whereas I tried desperately to recreate the Bataan Death March.
The route we chose to hike is commonly referred to as Sliding Sands to Switchbacks, which begins towards the top of Haleakala crater (not quite the summit). The hike is 11.2 miles long and descends from 9800 feet elevation down to roughly 7000 feet in the crater, then ascends back up to 8000 feet. Weather is a huge factor on this hike as well as the terrain you hike over. The trail begins with dusty, loose sand underfoot and eventually works its way to baseball-sized lava rocks, and eventually a few hand-placed stone steps.
The hike can be unbelievably beautiful and is well worth the effort if you are prepared and smart about knowing your limitations…which is where my experience comes in.
Being an amateur photographer, I try my best to have my camera with me when I go for an adventure. I knew we would be in the crater, so sweeping vistas and rolling clouds were going to be on the list of things to shoot. I packed my Nikon D610 and my Nikon 24-70mm lens in preparation for some expansive shots. I had heard that the endangered Hawaiian Nene goose occasionally gather around Hōlua cabin (probably because people have fed them at some point), so I decided to bring my 70-200mm lens as well. I packed all this gear, plus one liter of bottled water, a sandwich, and a few snacks into my trusted lowepro all-weather Pro Runner 450 camera backpack. I also wore my Camelbak Rogue hydration pack backwards, so it was on my chest. And in the blink of an eye, I was wearing an extra twenty pounds on my shoulders, chest, and back.
The hike down was nice. We went as a group of five, so if I stopped to take a picture or two, I could always catch up to the last two people. As we descended towards Haleakala’s crater floor, the clouds rolled in and we got a quick rinse from the passing shower. The entire hike was on and off rain, so we took several breaks to put our rain jackets on, then get overheated and remove them, then wash, rinse, and repeat.
As we continued down Sliding Sands, we came upon a beautiful silversword plant in full bloom. The silversword (ʻāhinahina in Hawaiian, which literally means ‘very gray’) is an amazing plant that only grows above 6900 feet in elevation on the slopes of Haleakala on Maui and Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. Silverswords only bloom once in their life cycle, so to see one in all its glory is always an amazing experience.
Seven and one half miles into the hike we came to the Hōlua cabin. Set against the crater wall, the cabin is the perfect spot to take a break and eat some lunch. We were joined by a gaggle of nene geese during our rest period, so I took the opportunity to switch lenses on my camera and snap a few shots.
After our time with the nene was over, I packed up my trash, my lenses, and my camera and we began the final leg of our adventure…the dreaded switchbacks.
Switchbacks has a one thousand foot elevation gain over the course of just under four miles. With all the weight I was carrying, plus the uneven footing of the entire trail, this part just about killed me. The mist and rain continued most of the time we were on the trail, but when the clouds cleared, the sights were out of this world.
All along the trail are these amazing ferns. I was mesmerized by the contrast of greens and bright red. Apparently, the red are the younger arms and eventually turn green once they do not need to protect themselves from the harsh sun.
The hike was amazing, horrible, beautiful, atrocious, peaceful, and torture all at the same time. As soon as I got home, I began looking up mirrorless cameras to cut down the weight of my camera and lenses. I cannot afford to start over with all new camera gear, but it was nice to dream for twenty minutes of so, especially since I was sitting down while dreaming.
I learned a valuable lesson bringing too much camera gear on such a long hike, but it was absolutely worth it for this one picture…