Mark woke up a few minutes after me. Our bodies were still recovering from Ka'aha the day before. It was this day, though, that we had planned to hike to the summit of Mauna Loa, but because we were using Mark's dad's car, he didn't want us driving on Saddle Road, a dangerous winding road that climbs Mauna Loa, so we had to pick another trail. I suggested Maka'opuhi Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Mark agreed, but he reminded me that the weather would decide the course of our day. We grabbed our hiking gear in our winter attire and headed for the trailhead. To our surprise the trailhead was a lot nicer than it had been back at Mark's dad's house. It was windy, cloudy, and still a bit misty, but we set out to hike the trail anyway.
The Maka'opuhi Crater trail starts at an elevation of a little over 3,000 feet. A jacket is recommended because it does get a bit nippy initially, especially during the morning hours. The trail is also very hard to follow for a novice hiker. Ahu (cairns) mark the route, but it is still very easy to go astray because the ahu sometimes blends in with the dark, lava landscape.
It takes about four miles to reach Maka'opuhi Crater. Along the four miles is an eerie walk through barren lava fields. Vegetation does thrive along the route, but it is mostly desolate and lonely. You seriously feel like you're in the middle of nowhere.
The first mile in we climbed Pu'u Huluhulu, a small, heavily forested peak that offers a great vantage point of the surrounding landscape. A couple miles in and we passed Mauna Ulu, a shield volcano that is responsible for filling Maka'opuhi Crater in its heyday. Past Mauna Ulu are several steam vents, a pit crater, and nothing but square miles of barren lava. It truly is a breathtaking sight. The crater is also awesome. Maka'opuhi Crater is the largest pit crater on Kilauea. It is about 360 feet deep and 1.6 kilometers by 1 kilometer. At the highest point of the crater lies a lush rainforest. It is possible to hike to the rainforest via the crater rim trail, but it will add a fair amount of mileage and time to the hike.
Throughout our hike, the wind was constantly cool. Resting for just five minutes can make the body feel colder as it did for us, even with the clearing weather. On the way back, the sun was out the whole time, but the temperature was still very cool. However, keeping a steady pace will keep the body warm. There are no ups or downs, except for a small, gradual ascent alongside Mauna Ulu. Other than that, it's a very easy hike. It's just always important to keep the ahu's in sight.
Looking towards Mauna Ulu from the the lookout atop Pu'u Huluhulu.
Walking back. Sulfur dioxide bellowing from Hale'ma'uma'u Crater in the distance with Mauna Loa behind.