Mountaintops and Starry Nights

There is something about being on top of a mountain that is like nothing else I have ever experienced. At sea level, it was an average day. To most, Haleakalā looked unimpressively shrouded in clouds—the big, puffy, gray kind that signal impending rain. But we weren’t fooled. Equipped with pizza, camp stove, and hot chocolate, the three of us started the winding journey up the old volcano.

From the freshly scented forest and into the clouds we ascended. Light rain coated my windshield as we wound through the fog, occasionally greeted by the brief headlights of oncoming vehicles. Up and up and up. And then, without any notice at all, the sky was the brightest blue and the clouds were below us like blankets of fresh snow.


Ten thousand, twenty three feet. That is where we stood at the summit of the sleeping Haleakalā Volcano. At that elevation, it is a very different Hawai’i from what most would imagine. The air is cold and thin, and the sun is strong. Saturated blues and greens have given way to an otherworldly landscape, and the sounds of the ocean are memories from thousands of feet below. Up there, my mind can shift away from the things that tend to weigh so heavily on it. It is a place that I have come to love.


As we watched the sun set, the thick crowd slowly dissipated, leaving trails of red light as they made their way down the mountain. The colors shifted and faded until soon there was only a vibrant orange streak to meet the darkness of night. Apart from the lights at sea level, the stars slowly made themselves visible, shining with an intensity that I have seen in few other places. It was an evening filled with some of the best things in life: good company, the great outdoors, and hot chocolate.


As the world continued on, we seemed to stand still as the stars made their way across the sky above us. Just for a moment. And that was long enough.


Maddie Buresh is a writer and photographer with an unquenchable desire to explore the great outdoors, from the ocean to the mountains. She finds joy in trying new things, living in community, and crafting stories that encourage people to go outside, have adventures, and enjoy this big, beautiful world.