Friday, April 3, 2009

Haleakala Hillclimb

Hawaii trip Mission #1 accomplished. Today Steve G and I hit one of the biggest hillclimbs in the world, Haleakala. The weather here in the Hawaiian islands has been in a bit of a funk the last several days. A little cloudier than usually, and unusually fierce wind. It is always very windy here, especially in the afternoon, but when the locals talk about how windy it is, it is off the charts for folks from most other parts of the country.

I did a 1.9hr solo ride late Wednesday, wrapping part way around the north side of West Maui. I had my first ever wind induced dab. Fortunately I was blown mountain side, not sea side (cliff drop). Barely got a foot out in time to stay upright. Fortunately I was climbing and not going too fast. The wind was easily 40mph steady with gusts much higher. Throw in steep, twisty cliff hugging road that meanders every which way relative to the wind with a little traffic, I had my hands full making sure I made it back alive.

Thursday the wind started innocuous enough, but slowly ramps up through the morning. By the time Steve and I started riding, we were struggling to hold 10mph up a modest grade with 36 miles of pure climbing ahead of us. Steve seemed to set a pretty brisk pace starting out. I wondered if the numerous interval efforts I did Wednesday took me down a notch. I was actually surprised Steve was interested in climbing Haleakala, as he is a track specialist. This was going to be the hillclimb acid test. Haleakala takes about as many kilojoules to climb as three Mt Washington’s, with no rest in between.

A few miles into the climb, I was no longer wondering if Steve would make it, I was worried about myself. I was sweating profusely in the muggy 80F conditions. Sweat was steadily dripping off my drops.

At cloud deck around 5000ft. West Maui in distance.

We hit our first of two planned stops on the climb at Sunrise Market in Kula at about 3500ft elevation. My shorts were already turning white with salt. I thought I was going to suffer certain electrolyte depletion defeat before reaching the summit. Steve was going strong. The clouds look quite ominous above us. We had hit bits of rain already.

Resuming the climb after taking on fluids and fuel, we get into the first batch of switchbacks. These started in eucalyptus forest. The scent was quite pungent. Once breaking out of the trees, you could count six or more switchbacks above before the serpentine road disappeared into the clouds. We stopped briefly just before disappearing into the clouds for a crow’s view of West Maui.

Red pumice from summit house.

Once in the clouds around 5000ft, it got cold, then it started to rain again. Working hard, the body core stayed warm. We got to the park entrance at 6800ft much later than planned, mostly due to high winds at the lower elevations of the climb. Higher up was mostly in the wind shadow of the volcano. Temp was probably in the 50’s with rain going sideways paying the $5 entry fee for cyclists. The lower visitor center was at 7000ft, our final planned stop before the summit.

We put all our long layers on at the visitor center, something we hadn’t planned to do until the descent. We were already that cold. The ranger there warned us about hypothermia. Yeah, whatever. We’re from New Hampshire and ride when it’s 0F out. But driving rain at altitude when you are tired is a different beast. We managed to stay warm climbing for the next 90 minutes, just barely. I could not feel my exposed fingers or feet. Each switchback we took that went more northerly would go into high winds and rain. Then switching back a mile or two the other way would bring back barely tolerable conditions. The Haleakala highway is right on the boundary between the wet side and dry side of the mountain.

Steve disappeared behind me around 7500ft. I was going to stay warm and wait for him up top where there was shelter. I reached the 10,023ft summit in about 4:45hrs riding time, or 4:10hrs from when the climb actually began. This is almost identical when I rode this volcano 4yrs ago in much nicer conditions. There was no view from the top. Occasionally the sun would momentarily poke through. But the clouds probably went up to 12,000ft. I was soaking wet and struggled to stay warm.

Steve pointing up to summit house with less than 200ft vertical to go.

I waited 20+ minutes for Steve, asked a few tourists that just came up if they saw him, and nobody did. Hmmm, did he abandon? I dropped down 300ft from the summit house to the upper visitor center. Nobody there saw him either. I head back out to the road and there he was coming up, slowly but surely. Now I had to go back to summit with Steve for a “team” shot. Steve’s pace was about 1rpm away from linked track stands. The last half mile is at least 10% grade in thin air with legs that have been climbing non-stop for 4hrs.

I’ve been telling Steve for several years now that I’ll make a hillclimber out of him some day. Well, today was the day. 10,000ft net gain in 36 miles! For somebody that spends more time lugging kettlebells around than riding up hills, checking off a 10,000 footer is no minor miracle.

Obligatory summit photo. Started at sea level. Fleating instant of sun happened to be available for this shot.

By now the upper visitor center was closed (they close at 3pm). There was no where to get warm. We were already shivering and had to descend about 6000ft through rain at temps that were surely below 50F starting out. I only had knee and arm warmers on with light wind shell. No gloves, head gear or booties. This was the second coldest I ever got. I was shivering so badly I could barely control the bike at 40mph between switchback after switchback. To top this off, both our Mavic rear hubs would nearly seize up and howl repeatedly. The first time it happened scared the shit out of me. Any time I went over 30mph, I risked this happening. I’d have to pedal to get it to stop. Seemed to be temperature related, as when we got near the bottom where it was much warmer, we could go nearly 50mph without it happening. It didn’t happen the day before either when I went much faster when it was warm.

I was cramping on the descent. That’s right, no pedaling, yet still cramping. I was that depleted. Even my jaw muscles were spasming. We dropped nearly 7000ft in less than an hour and finally got out from under the rain. We stopped at a store in Kula to get replenishments and heat if they had any. When I asked where we could find some heat, she pointed “down there,” at Kahului at sea level. You could see it 3000ft below us through the open doors of the market. Steve and I could barely count money, we were shivering so badly. A few moments later, the woman came out with two piping hot cups or water to warm our hands on. She couldn’t stand to see us shivering like that. Very sweet gesture.

We finished down Rt 37 this time, a highway with paved shoulder that went mostly with the wind. It was wicked dicy bombing this at nearly 50mph with random gust of wind buffeting you around and cars just feet away. You really had to lean hard into the wind to stay balanced.

With the Garmin 705, I logged 82.5 miles, 10,800ft of climbing, in 6:18hrs total riding time. Definitely more hours in the saddle than I was planning for today. Two-day total is now about 110 miles, 8+ hours and over 13,000ft vertical. Friday will likely be a more spousal centric day before Steve and I head back to Haleakala with mountain bikes to plummet down the crater strewn back side.


solobreak said...

Wet, miserable, and freezing your nuts off. Must have made you guys feel right at home.

jason_ssc1 said...

I'll never forget the first time one of my Mavic wheels made that squeal. It scared the crap out of me too. I've also found that I've had more problems in cold weather with that brand.