Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Haleakala Plummet

On Sunday, Steve and I cashed in some of my vertical credits. The five of us left in two cars, leaving one in Kahului at the Muai Marketplace. We then all piled into my Subaru Impreza with pair of Giant full suspension mountain bikes on back for the drive up to the Haleakala summit. There was a very high overcast this morning, a thin layer at maybe 30,000ft. But Haleakala was visible base to summit, the first time since arriving on Maui. This was really cool, as the women were planning to do a little hiking in the crater area, and neither Steve nor Gina has seen the summit yet. When Steve and I rode to the summit a few days ago, visibility was about 100ft.

The Haleakala Crater

The summit views didn’t disappoint. Visibility was over 100 miles, as you could see the 14,000ft Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa peaks on the big island. Low clouds were just starting to build on the windward side of the crater thousands of feet below us. It was cold up here though. We brought our warmest gear, and I don’t think any of us were able to stay warm. Before we left the hotel, the summit temperature was 39F with a 29F windchill. Not exactly what most people think of Maui. A local told us they get about two feet of snow on Haleakala per year.

Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa about 100mi away on the big island

Leaving the women, Steve and I embarked on the Haleakala plummet. This about the only legal place to ride dirt on Maui. There were three singletrack trails we were linking up on the way down. The first is Skyline Trail, which follows an old 4WD route along the cinder cone strewn spine of Haleakala. Mamane Trail (pronounced mah-mah-nay) singletrack was taken for the next thousand feet or so of descent. Then before plummeting the rest of the way back to Kahului on pavement, we did a three mile loop trail called Waiakoa (why-ah-ko-ah). Waiakoa had contained the only climbing of the entire 35 mile ride, and it was dig real deep granny ring stuff.

Part way down Skyline Trail looking back towards summit

I’ve ridden Skyline four years ago when last visiting the islands. I recalled loose marbly spots, but much of it was this way today. Steve didn’t hesitate to bomb down it. I have aversion to cinder rash. Many places our wide 2.3” tires would plow inches deep in fist sized pumice. Uber squirrelly stuff. We both managed to stay upright through this section. The Mars rovers could very well have captured the Martian imagery up here - horizon to horizon red cinder rock. That is what makes this ride so cool. With clouds not yet filling in below us, Haleakala just disappeared into the Pacific. I’ve read that no other place in the world can you be at 10,000ft so close to the ocean.

West Maui and the Molokini crescent island

I was running my Aiptek HD video recorder for this ride. I recorded over 1GB of video, about 30 minutes worth. Unfortunately, the one time I paused it, Steve decided to pitch himself over the edge into a gully. More on that in a minute.

A few years ago, a fire had swept though portions of Polipoli State Park where the Mamane trail runs through. It is starting to re-grow and is no longer like riding in deep talcum powder. Mamane is quite steep and technical in spots, similar to New England riding minus the brown mix coating. We paused on Mamane to remove long layers. We had dropped about 3000ft so far and were out of the wind.

A lava tube opening most of the way down Mamane Trail

Next we traversed on Polipoli Access Rd a few miles with very little elevation change. I could really tell we were still at altitude, having to pedal for the first time in about 10 miles. This road eventual becomes paved for a ruckus descent back to civilaztion. But first, I wanted to try a short loop I didn’t get to try the last time I was here.

The Waiakoa Loop ridden counter-clockwise first gains a few hundred feet, then plummets about 1000ft on very steep, switchbacked singletrack. On the upper part of the loop, the trail dips into several washes or gullies. I dabbed on many of these or wussed out altogether on a couple. On one such crossing, I thought prospects were slim that I’d clean it, and the consequences of falling to the outside were severe. I walked it and waited for Steve to come through on the other side. When I heard him coming, I asked if I should turn the camera on. He thought something really good was coming. I was surprised he tried it. He didn’t make it, and he fell to the outside, disappearing out of my field of view.

Waipoli Rd as it switchbacks down a vast pasture at 12% grade

Hopping down to him, I could see he was alright. There was about a 4” diameter tree laying across the wash. He managed to snag it with arms and one leg and was hanging upside down like a monkey in a tree. His other leg was somehow through his bike frame and completely locked down with a tree branch. In other words, he was stuck hanging there with bare rock about four feet below him that sloped away at a very vicious angle. We mountain bikers are a sick lot. I was laughing so hard I think I peed a little. I asked if I could take a picture first before helping him get untangled. He said he wasn’t going anywhere. Anyway, no pictures and really no damage to bike or body. Good thing the tree was there. Could have been much uglier. Steve completely reinforced why I’m a wuss.

GPS track of full descent

After bombing down many switchbacks, it was time to earn that vertical back, as Waiakoa is a loop. I think the climb back out was just as steep. There was only one switchback that forced me off my bike, the last one actually. I got a solid 20 minutes of 50rpm threshold intensity effort in. I don’t think Steve shared my sentiments that the climb back out was a bonus for the ride that otherwise would have been a pure descent.

Back on Waipoli Road, which Polipoli Access Rd becomes, it was all pavement back to the car we left in Kahului. This road has over 20 switchbacks, averages 12% grade, and is only one lane wide. Disk brakes are pretty much mandatory. I think we lose another 3000ft on this road alone. Despite riding 35 lb big travel MTBs, we could really lean those bikes over around the hairpins.

Dirt portion of ride

There was only one more significant road to take back, Pulehu Road. This starts out residential but eventually runs through sugarcane fields on the lower flanks of Haleakala. Views were great all the way down. Seemed to take forever before Kahului took up much of our field of view. I did not go all the way down last time I rode Skyline. Instead, I met my wife and mom in Kula at around 3500ft. Pulehu Rd was a nice way to end the ride with some moderate effort to hold 20+ mph as we rolled into town.

We only had the trail bikes for the day, so this will be our only trail ride on Maui. The summit didn’t cloud over until later in the day, so we really lucked out with the views. The views are what this ride is all about. Video will have to come later when I figure out how to edit it. We finished with 35.5 miles in 2:24hrs riding time. My Garmin logged 1185ft of climbing, but 10,783ft of descending. Not exactly a Hill Junkie ride, but with 80,000ft of vertical credit in the bank, I can shuttle a ride once in a while guilt free.

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