Guest Blog by Courtenay H.
I am not a morning person.
The times in my life that I’ve seen what 3 a.m. looks like, it’s been an “up ill-advisedly late” and not an “up unbelievably early” situation.
So 3 a.m. came surprisingly quickly the “morning” (evening?) we woke up for our Haleakalā Sunrise Tour.
We were picked up by the Skyline tour guide and quite grateful that none of us had to drive bleary-eyed to get to the Skyline office. There, we were greeted by a surprisingly peppy staff for that time of morning and a spread of delicious sweets, coffee and juice to help perk us up a little. (I’m always awake enough to eat.)
At the office, we got to choose a bright blue Skyline jacket to keep us warm up on the summit. Mount Haleakalā, in the heart of Haleakalā National Park, is the world’s largest dormant volcano and stands at an amazing 10,023 feet. And even though it’s often quite tropical in Hawaii in May, temperatures can get into the 30s and 40s at the top at 4:30 a.m. (temps at the summit of Haleakalā are always at least 20 degrees below sea level.).
We arrived at the sunrise viewpoint around 4:45 and the sun was supposed to rise at 5:30.
I am not a patient person, and also not generally “outdoorsy.” I have come to love hiking, but only because of the surrounding beauty, not the stupid walking part. So I was pleased that the viewpoint was just a quick stroll from the parking lot.
At this point, it was still pitch black, and we were all using the flashlights on our phones to navigate the terrain. With more people arriving, the bright blue Skyline jackets were actually quite helpful in finding your trip mates, although I did have an embarrassing interaction with a Danish woman I thought was my friend Lacey in which I asked her if I looked cool with my hood pulled tightly around my face. She, understandably, didn’t know how to respond. Pro Tip: All blonde women are not interchangeable.
Once we got to the viewpoint, I heard one of my traveling partners, Miguel, say that he was going to “see what’s going on up there,” as he moved toward what looked in the dark like a pathway to walk up even further on the summit. I stayed down below and watched as the first light of the sun started giving shape to the landscape. A band of light started to highlight what looked like a black, craggy mountaintop.
There were probably 40 people starting to gather along the railing, but I couldn’t see Miguel or Lacey anywhere. I decided to go up the trail (which I now know was Pā Ka’oao Trail) and find them.
As I pointed my flashlight at the ground and started hiking up, I had no idea where the path led. Large stones acted as awkward steps, and after a couple minutes I started to get a little out of breath. When you’re at that elevation, it’s a lot easier to get winded. Also I’d eaten a lot of fried food on the trip. That might’ve had even more to do with it.
Once I got to the top, I found a small viewing platform about 20 feet wide with rock walls surrounding it. There were three couples up there, which made me feel a bit intrusive until I noticed that one couple’s mother was with them. Then I didn’t feel so bad.
The view from here was 360 degrees. I could see the observatory behind us, but more importantly, the sun was now close enough to illuminate the giant crater in front of us and the clouds we were standing above. It was as if we were all having our morning coffee in heaven.
I stood in the quiet and waited for the sun to arrive on the horizon. The closer it came, the more light shone on the deep valley below us. The earth was revealing itself to us slowly, as the craggy blackness was replaced with the warm browns and greys of the craters built by thousands of years of erosion and lava flow. It felt like we were at the birthplace of the earth
Just as I’m not a morning person, I’m not easily moved.
But the magic of the quiet at the top of Haleakalā got me. In our “always connected” culture, we see solitude as a problem that needs to be solved instead of an opportunity for reflection and, if you’re in the right place, wonder. I’d made the right choice to hike up and be alone with my thoughts and a few strangers trying to be romantic. And one of their moms.
As the sun finally showed itself on the horizon, I could hear a faint chanting below. Hawaiians consider the sun sacred and “chant the sunrise” as both a prayer and a reminder to start each day with purpose. It’s a prayer that makes sense no matter your religion.
That being said, you don’t have to be religious to have a transcendent moment at the top of Haleakalā. You just have to open your eyes.
Interested in seeing Haleakalā Sunrise Tour for yourself? Click here to find out more.
About the author: Courtenay Hameister is a writer in Portland, Oregon.