Peak(s):  Mauna Kea - 13,796 feet
Mauna Loa - 13,677 feet
Date Posted:  04/28/2010
Date Climbed:   04/19/2010
Author:  Nelson
 The Hawaiian Volcanoes  

Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa trip report

On the big island of Hawaii are two volcanoes which offer excellent opportunities for non technical climbing. I doubt if many people come here just to climb these volcanoes but once you are here they offer excellent opportunities to maintain or develop conditioning and to acclimatize.

My wife and I arrived on the Island on April 17th. It was a time when the Utah skiing was being constantly interrupted by a stream of storms which provide a day of powder skiing at the most while ruining the corn skiing for several days. These same storms would then head to Colorado and elevate the avalanche conditions high enough to prevent me finishing my 14ers. I hoped these mountains would let me acclimatize and develop my climbing muscles while waiting for Colorado to settle down.

Mauna Kea, (13,796)
On Monday the 19th I got up at 5am in our hotel, The Hilton Waikoloa, got my gear together and headed for Mauna Kea. I was concerned about driving on the Saddle Road as it has quite a reputation. For a long time Car rental Companies forbade customers from driving their vehicles on it. It has since been improved and I found it not to be a problem but a little tricky. It took less than an hour to get to the Mauna Kea road and I drove the last 6 miles on the paved access road to the Onizuki Visitor Center and arrived at about 7 am. Image
Onozuki Visitor Center and Ranger Station
There is a Ranger Station here and I checked in and talked to the very helpful Rangers who updated me on conditions and got me started in the right direction on the Humu'ula trail to the summit. Image
Humu"ula Trail

The trailhead is at 9,200 feet and begins a very good, well marked trail. Image
Hawaiian Cairn
I had a beautiful day which I would call warm but windy. I started walking at 7:20 and had a very straight forward climb, topping out at 10:50. Image
Geodectic Marker
I had great views of the Island the whole way on this class I climb. Image At about 13,200 the trail joins the summit road for the last 600 feet to the top.Image At the top are several observatories where you leave the road for the final push to the summit. Image

The climb is mentioned in the guide books but not well described. The best map was given to me by the rangers at the Visitor center. The trail is so good and well marked that navigation is not an issue. The total vertical climb was 4,800 feet (there are a few "ups and downs") which is a very healthy day at that altitude. The round trip distance was exactly 13 miles according to my GPS. As this was my first big downhill of the season my legs were duly "fried" and I rested the next day. I was back at the car in just over 6 hours. I only saw one other climber on the whole day but I ran into a ranger near the top and I saw several workers and tourists near the top. My SPOT Beacon did not function on this trip. I presume it was because of satellite reception as it worked both before and after the trip.

This climb was exactly what I was looking for, a good work out in a beautiful environment ands a good start to the climbing season.

Mauna Loa, (13,677)
Mauna Loa as seen from Mauna Kea

After a couple of days rest I got my camping things together and headed for the Mauna Loa observatory where I would camp at 11,055 feet and start early for the climb to Mauna Loa. The access road from the Saddle Road to the observatory is 17 miles and, although paved, is in pretty rough shape. Image
Mauna Loa Observatory
My rental PT Cruiser had absolutely no problem negotiating it in 50 minutes with horse power to spare. When I arrived the weather was so good that I elected to sleep "al fresco" and not bother with the tent. This decision proved to be the best of the trip and provided one of my best camping nights ever. After dinner I watched the sunset on one of the clearest nights ever and was treated to the best view of the heavens I have ever had. After the sun had set I felt more like I was in the middle of the firmament than staring up at it. There is a reason that all these observatories are here. It has far more than it's share of good weather and almost no ambient light. It was a truly magnificent night.

I got up at 4:30 am to a chilly 30 degrees and packed up and started walking about 5:30. Because the distance was almost exactly the same as Mauna Kea (according to my GPS) and the vertical much less (2,770) I thought I would be faster than I had been on Mauna Kea. This was wrong. Although the route is very well marked and navigation was again, not an issue, there is really no trail to speak of. Image I traveled on a number of different kinds of old lava flow and volcanic ash and the footing was very unsure most of the time. I felt like I was moving slowly and summitted after 3 hours and 45 minutes. When I came to the rim of the Mokuaweoweo Caldera Image
Mokuaweoweo Caldera
at 13,000 (the end of the 1st climb described in the books) I was very impressed with the view. From there I hiked the rim of the Caldera to the summit (another 2.6 miles) and enjoyed the views of the caldera from the summit. Image
Summit Cairn
The guide books describe this climb as two separate climbs and say that, if done together, make for a "grueling day". I do not agree. It took me almost as long to get down as to go up because of the unsure footing. My round trip time was just over 7 hours. It was a big day and a lot of fun but hardly grueling.

I returned to the Hilton Waikoloa Image
Hilton Waikoloa
and Cindy and I spent the next few day enjoying the beautiful Island of Hawaii and it's great food, hidden beaches and Waterfalls and Luau's. Image
Waipio Beach
Waipio Beach
Waipio Valley Waterfall
As I said, you might not come here just to climb these mountains but, as an overall package this is a tough vacation to beat.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

04/29/2010 15:53
Great report. I hiked Mauna Kea and Waipio on my trip to the Big Island back in January. Didn‘t do Mauna Loa, but did spend a couple days lower down in Hawaii Volcanoes NP. The Big Island certainly has a lot a variety.


Vacation in Hawaii
04/30/2010 00:57
I haven‘t been to Hawaii. But if I ever go, I‘d want to hike at least one of those. Thanks for sharing!

Wish I lived in CO

Fun Trip Report
04/30/2010 12:16
I haven‘t read any Hawaiian Volcano TR‘s. The hikes looked like a lot of fun - and great weather in a beautiful setting. As TJohh says, if I ever go there I‘d make a point of hiking one of them.


Thanks for the Trip Report
04/30/2010 21:55
I have been thinking about taking my wife to Hawaii and climbing a couple of the volcanoes on the trip so the info is useful.


A vacation of variety...
04/06/2015 03:25
Looks like a great getaway when the snow ain’t working for ya in Utah and Colorado! I am hoping to get over there and climbs these two peaks. Looks like a very unique climbing experience.
Thanks for your trip report.

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