New Dawn on the Pacific

Up at 2:15 am.  Dress up warm, good thing I started in a cold place or I might be using the hotel robes for extra layers like one guy on the bus. But wait! Laura, you are in Hawaii. Known for the fun, sun, and warm Pacific waters. What could you possibly need with a jacket?

This morning we are on a special adventure we are trekking around to the middle of the island. Here climbing 10,000ft into the sky is the second largest peak in Hawaii, Haleakala. As it turns out that high up, in the early hours of the morning it doesn’t matter if you’re in Hawaii it is f*ING cold. I know what you’re thinking, you should have known better Laura,  you hiked Kili and that was freezing dead in the center of Africa.

So after picking up a few more people, we are off. There isn’t much to see because is pitch black outside the bus, with the exception of a few towns we drive few the island doesn’t have a lot of street lighting. So I take a nap. Next time I open my eyes we have reached the viewing area for Haleakala.

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Quick volcanology lesson!

This is NOT a crater. No its an erosional depression on a shield Volcano. Which means this volcano never exploded. No that’s not this volcano’s thing. This guy prefers a long slow release. Millions of years ago magma (it’s a fun word go ahead and say it again) worked its way from below the earth’s plates, looking for that weak spot,  some crack,  a vulnerability in the solid ocean floor and then, it just oozed.Yup millions of years oozing on and off building a mountain!

It’s a testament to nature’s persistence. Remember when I said just the tip of the volcano? Yeah because this thing is actually over 30000 ft tall measured from its base at the bottom of the ocean. That’s right, two-thirds of it can’t even be seen. Making it the 3rd largest volcano in the world! Taller than Mt. Everest although apparently, that doesn’t count still awesome.

So yeah this thing has slowly built itself up using the slow and steady method and here far above the ocean floor the elements work against it. Weather cuts the island down leaving a big hole filled with little cinder cones, scree (see Day 6: Going Up) and red rock that I imagine is a pretty good substitute for Mars.

None of that is evident from where I’m standing now. The pathway is dark, why didn’t I bring my flashlight I mean I packed a flashlight for exactly these occasions and here I am stumbling in the dark toward a railing without one. My phone lights the way and I make it to the railing, remaining upright almost all the way there.

There is just darkness. The horizon is only recognizable because as you stare into the abyss there is a line drawn across the vista; On one side blackness on the other a milky blanket. The sky is crystal clear and you can’t help but stare deep into the universe. Fun fact, Mt. Haleakala is home to one of the world’s largest telescopes.

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Shiny brightly directly overhead is Jupiter and just above the horizon in front of me Mercury. Up here in the dark, you are surrounded by a million stars. Then it begins; on the horizon, the light of countless stars has begun to recede. A line of light begins to bring definition to what lies below us. It is amazing on a number of levels.

First, although you can’t feel it our planet, this massive rock in space is rotating into position. Its Hawaii’s turn for the life-giving power of our own star. Then that leads you to consider that while you are enjoying this sunrise somewhere in the world there is a group of people watching it fade away in the same action. If you are not into the science or the human connection it also just looks awesome.

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The light spreads out and soon the neighboring island of Hawaii is visible, down below the rim of the crater is outlined and inside there appear to be rolling hills but as the light strengthens it becomes evident that we are standing on the edge here above an ocean of clouds rolling out in front of us. The light plays on the clouds as the sky’s colors shift: blues, greens, purples, oranges & red before the big moment. Then as the last of space has been obscured by a blue shield there it is.

The sun breaks the horizon, burning brightly it ascends into the sky. After waiting over an hour it wastes no time charging into our time zone and it is spectacular.

 

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Silver sword

We enjoy a few minutes of this new morning with warm cocoa before continuing to the very top of the rim. From this final peak at 10,033ft, we can enjoy views around the island and beyond. The baron rocky land is not very hospitable but at least one plant is rocking it. The silver sword grows up here and here alone. It grows for years only to bloom once then dry up and die. It is one of the more accessible examples of nature persevering at the extreme ends of the spectrum.

The air is dry and the ground is mostly baron. At this altitude, the oxygen is also about 25% less than that of sea level so take it easy.  After exploring this dormant volcano we head back down toward the sea. Making our way through the countryside we drive through farmland. What’s left of Maui’s sugar industry, now reduced to a single mill. The crop no longer profitable. The same goes for pineapple which was once farmed all over the islands so it could be canned and shipped across the globe now just a shadow of the previous industry.

The volcanic soil still fuels what’s left of the fields, while the colossus they grow on traps the moist air from trade winds to bring fresh water to the Island. Well, one side of the island. It was the Hawaiians who, long ago, created complex irrigation systems to spread the water across the land. In fact, if you drive the Hana Highway you can see irrigation streams over a century old still funneling water down Haleakala.

The sun is well above us as we descend through cattle ranches, pineapple plantations, and sprawling cane fields. The cold of the mountaintop is only a memory as the Hawaii I expect comes to life early in the morning. Warm, beautiful, and full of life.

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