Maui winter training: Day 6, Mt Haleakala

On the top of Mt Haleakala

Yesterday we took another “rest day” (40 miles, 2000 feet climbing) riding down to the beach to watch some kite boarding, then heading east along the coast to see the infamous big wave break known as “Jaws”. After riding a few miles down a dirt and gravel road we found that Jaws lacked the bite we had hoped for, and only had a flat tire, and an ejected stainless water bottle to show for it.
Today we rode up Mt Haleakalah, a volcano and the highest point on the island at 10,023 feet. The climb is world famous for huge elevation gain in a single paved climb. Traditionally the ride starts in the town of Paia for a 70 mile ride, but our hostel is in Wailuku, adding another 12 miles and 500 feet of climbing. We woke up early to attack the hill so we would make it back in time to pack up and make our flight that later that evening.

The climb for us started about 5 miles in and kept an average gradient of around 5% the entire way up. Adam and I started off at a good warm-up pace, planning to give it more of an effort when the main switchback section of the climb starts on Crater road. We briefly stopped off at the Kula Market at the base of crater road to fill our bottles before starting into it. Crater road is 20 miles with about 7000 feet of continuous even climbing. The road is in very good shape being recently paved, and has long and gentle sweeping switchbacks. We tried to estimate a pace we could hold for the 20 miles, and used our power meters to pace ourselves. My early season legs couldn’t quite live up to my optimistic estimation, and I was yo-yoing off of Adam, and the pace by the time we hit the park entrance at half way (10 miles, 7000 ft). We slowed just long enough to hand money to the ranger for the entrance fee before continuing on. Adam wanted to keep up the pace, and I let him go, while I settled for something that would be more sustainable for my current fitness level. Taking it down a few notches felt great, and I continued up without struggling to breath like I had expected for the high elevation.

Before we ascended into the clouds, the views were pretty spectacular. We could look down upon the steep West Maui Mountains we had ridden several days before, and see out to the other Hawaiian islands. The gain in altitude brought with it a decidedly Mars-like change to the landscape. Trees became bushes and bushes became small scrub, until virtually all vegetation had disappeared. Being on the bike allowed us to also take in the sounds of the mountain. There was virtually no wind, and everything was creepily quiet, save some chirping of birds. It would have been impossible for us to experience that if we had driven to the top.

A few miles later, and well out of site, Adam flatted, and decided to continue on up as opposed to waiting for me and the pump. Despite the flat, he still ended up just beating me to the top, but suffered for it. On the summit he was pretty dizzy and nauseous from the effort and altitude. Fortuitously, we happened to run into some Davis-ites on the summit that Adam knew through personal training he used to do. They offered him a ride part way down the mountain and he happily accepted.

The view from the top was still pretty fantastic despite mostly looking out on an ocean of clouds. We were really too tired and cold to enjoy it though, and quickly made ready to descend. The 10,000 feet in elevation makes for high temperatures in the 50’s, which is quite chilly once one is acclimated to 80 degrees at sea level. As recommended, we brought our warmers, wind vests, and gloves, which were all very much needed for descending through the cold, cloudy sections. As Adam got a  ride down, I decided to see how quickly I could make the descent, mostly just to create enough heat to stay warm. I almost completely overcooked the first corner, and had to remind myself how much less aerodynamic drag there was at altitude to help slow me down. About 30 minutes later and 7000 feet lower I met up with Adam again. We grabbed some soup at the local market to warm up and fuel up before continuing the descent. I must have been cold, as I ended up wearing the warmers all the way back down to sea level.

Strava link
We had been doing some hard rides over the last several days, but something about this one made it much harder. It was probably a combination of the previous day’s rides, the hard effort, and the altitude that put us over the top; the type of fatigue where you’re too drained to eat, and just pick at your food. On the up side, being drained makes it a little easier to leave the paradise we called home for the last 6 days. We packed up our bags, said our goodbyes to our hostel mates, and jumped on the red-eye to take us back to California.