Sleep When You’re Dead: Sunrise on a Volcano

The alarm went off at 2:15am. It wasn’t a mistake. It was our second morning on Maui, and we had a plan. Watching the sunrise from the frigid 10,000-foot summit of Haleakala, a volcanic crater and the island’s highest peak, means losing some sleep.

We rustled together some caffeine, bagels, and every blanket we could find for the hour and forty-five minute drive from our Kihei condo to the entrance of Haleakala National Park.

After flat highways through sea-level sugarcane, we ascended 10,000-feet in just 37 miles, zigzagging up the side of the volcano on one of the fastest-climbing roads in the world. On a map, the road looks like a mouthful of cartoon shark teeth.

Arriving before sunrise means navigating the shark teeth in complete darkness. No streetlights. No ambient light from a distant city’s glow. It was the darkest place I had ever been, lit only intermittently by the headlights of other sunrise seekers that seemed to hover directly above us on the switchbacking road.

At the entrance to the park we paid the $10 entrance fee and paused briefly to take in the moon and a zillion or so stars. It was approaching 5am and and we still had a ways to go before reaching the look out.

The temperature at the summit before dawn can hover near freezing. The wind chill makes it feel like 10 or 20 degrees. Wrapped in a duvet and extra blankets, we huddled together at the lookout with a smattering of other visitors, every bone rattling from the cold. Just hours ago we had stepped out into a balmy 70-degree night on the south shore, surrounded by palm trees and white sandy beaches. Now we looked out over a stunningly desolate and inhospitable volcanic crater as the sun climbed toward our spot above the clouds.

We braced the chill to snap some frosty post-dawn photos, asking a European couple to take our picture on the summit. The man nodded and paused before pointing out in a heavy Nordic accent John’s attire: “You are in shorts… oh my.”

The sunrise was socked in by clouds, and I think we were supposed to be disappointed by that, according to the wisedom of the Internet. But even on a cloudy morning it was a sight to behold.

Here are some good links if you’re planning a trip to the summit:


3 thoughts on “Sleep When You’re Dead: Sunrise on a Volcano

  1. I agree it’s beautiful, and biking down the volcano was awesome. But it’s not right to feel freezing in Hawaii, and I did not like getting up at 2 AM. I recommend watching the sunrise from your hotel lanai, then doing the bike ride later in the day.

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