Peak(s):  Mauna Kea - 13,796 feet
Post Date:  03/07/2011
Date Climbed:   02/27/2011
Posted By:  sunny1

 Volcanic Voracity  

Mauna Kea, state high point of Hawaii, 13,796 ft elevation
Total Distance: 13 mi r/t, starting from the Onizuka Visitor Ctr at 9200 ft
Total Elevation Gain: 4500 ft (approx)
Accomplice, Enabler and photographer: Fishdude (Joel)

The allure of winter wanes yearly in February, culminating in a desperate nadir each March for me.
Decided to mix in some variety with a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, an awe-inspiring, active volcanic masterpiece. And why not climb the state high point while there?
Would like to thank Nyker and Nelson for their trip reports on this site as I reviewed them in preparation for the day's exploration.
This report will largely focus on Mauna Kea, although there is plenty to say about the rest of the Island as well!

We arrived on 2/25/11, electing to stay on the east side of the island in Honomu, north of Hilo. It is rural and quiet. There are ranches on the north side of Mauna Kea. The island basically is lush and tropical on the east side, and very dry, sunny and warm (hot) on the west side.
It was typical to start each day with bright, cloudless skies. By 11 a.m., the clouds would build and we'd have gentle, but soaking, rain during the afternoon and evening most days.

(suggest clicking on the view large photos icon above)
Mauna Kea early a.m. from Honomu 2/26/11. You can see the astronomy observation stations on the summit.

Some background info on Mauna Kea:
* It's volcanic, last erupted 3500-4000 years ago. You'll walk on cinders, lava, talus and just plain dust.
* Averages 10 inches of rain yearly, very dry.
* There's snow above 13K, conditions can be hazardous, snowy and icy, with winds up to 100 mph during winter, closing access to the road to the summit.
* Bring winter layers to climb it! It was 30 degrees F when we started at 0700, 48 F on the summit with damp wind and clouds.
* The summit contains the most sophisticated astronomy observation stations in the world, 13 telescopes total, representing 11 different countries.
* The summit is sacred to native Hawai'ians (heiau). It's viewed as a link between earth and sky or heaven.
* It's a class 1 hike, but strenuous. I slept at sea level and really felt it on the climb. It's a great conditioning hike!
* The rangers at the visitor station are very helpful.

We drove up the Saddle Rd from Hilo in a 2WD Dodge Avenger. There were warnings in the paperwork from our rental car company suggesting driving on the Saddle Rd may violate the rental agreement.
The road was in great shape overall. There is ongoing construction and parts are unpaved currently, perhaps improved from the time of the last printing.
A 2 WD can easily handle the road.
It took us 1 hr to drive to the Onizuka Visitor station from Hilo.

Here's the mountain en route:
Mauna Kea from the Saddle Rd. Check out the lava in the foreground! You can see an astronomy observation dome on the summit

And some Hawai'ian mountain goats:
Shy mountain goats anonymous

The Ellison S. Onizuka visitor center at 9200 ft elevation:
The hike starts here

You begin the hike on the road and soon angle left to start climbing an average of 1000 ft per mile for the first few miles. The trail is very well marked. Even with cloud cover later in the day, we did not lose the trail.

The trail is well marked and easy to follow. We later dubbed this the HUMILITY trail :-)

Rare, tough flora emerging from lava and cinder:
Oenothera species

Looking south to the other giant, Mauna Loa, a 13er. Note the chimneys, craters and volcanic pots in the saddle.

It didn't take long to get above tree and vegetation line. I felt like I was on Mars or the Moon, walking on cinders. You can easily see the trail.


It got hot, there wasn't much breeze (yet).
Surrounded by big brown craters, I couldn't see the summit.
How did I get here? Where am I going? Existential crisis 001 (leaves room for 998 more...) en route to Mauna Kea

Still can't see the summit, but there's the road, which we join later to get to the summit:

The clouds, wind and cool arrive at around 13K ft elevation:

The trail joins the road:
There is snow in Hawaii...

Astronomy observation stations:

It would be REALLY cool to star gaze through one of these telescopes...

summit marker

And now, simply for enjoyment:
A huge thanks to fishdude for these pics! (apologies as I did not edit these at all, am not an advanced photographer)

South Point, the southernmost point in the USA. Note the lava beach.

Fishdude in his element:


Green sea turtle

Back to flora, the breathtaking plumeria:

Contemplative gecko:

Thank you for reading!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

  • Comments or Questions

03/21/2011 17:03
Truly, it fans the flames of tropical desire - almost not fair in Colorado winter!

Thanks for sharing incredible images from a wonderful place.


03/12/2011 14:09
For the comments, Britt, Kimo and Gary!

Britt: I like the Hawai'i snow better this time of year, I've been a bit in shock looking at the TR's flanking mine, full on winter conditions! But yes, I'll somehow pull it together and join you soon!

Kimo: oh yes! To the Big Island, you must go! Your comments are poetic, you have a gift.

Gary: Thanks for the comments! Hope you're well! See ya out there, eh?


03/11/2011 06:16
Looks like a great trip. Nice pics from fishdude as well! Thanks for the TR. I agree they are a lot of work.


A view without a horizon
03/10/2011 05:27
It's sometimes hard to believe that such a vast and seemingly endless place ends abruptly at the ocean. It's like the early Greeks were right and the earth just ends. I love the view from the top, where the sky and sea seem like one.

Great TR. I miss Hawai'i, and this just fans the flames of desire. I've been probably thirty times and have not once visited the Big Island. Next time, next time I say, and your TR shows why.


Thanks for the comments
03/08/2011 23:43
and the ”thumbs up”, guys!
I have new, additional respect for the people who pump out TR's regularly.


Way to get it done....
03/09/2011 04:27
both the state highpoint and the trip report! (Yeah, they do take some time.)

Now that you are back, let's go climb some peaks with some real snow on them!

But it was fun seeing all of the flowers in winter and those underwater mountain fish!


Who knew?
03/08/2011 05:37
That there were fish on Mauna Kea's summit?? Just kidding. Nice to get such a far away state's high point, especially from sea level. Thanks for sharing pics of mountains distant! Those fish, turtle, and South Point pics are amazing.


03/08/2011 04:43
Looks like an amazing day! Gorgeous photos! TFS!


Very nice!
03/08/2011 02:46
Must have been a fantastic trip! Quite a change from CO! Beautiful sea life photos! Thanks!


03/07/2011 23:49
looks like it was a blast and a nIce escape from the snow and wind here! Thanks for sharing

   Using your forum id/password. Not registered? Click Here

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

© 2016®, 14ers Inc.