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Mauna Kea

Background information:

Altitude: 13,631'

Tidbits:  Highest mountain in Hawaii.

Highest Mountain in the world, when measured from base to summit (Mauna Kea's base begins about 26,000' below sea level). Lake Waiau, located at 13,000' is the highest lake in the United States.

Summitted, November 6, 2002


Time Zone: GMT -10 hours

Maps:     Mauna Kea 7 minute topographic map 


When to go:

Anytime, although snow can be several feet deep in January and February.  When I climbed in November there was no snow, but the temperature at the summit was in the upper 30's.  There were no bugs and it was impossible to get lost if you stay on the well-marked trail.  The Mauna Kea area of Hawaii is known for its exceptionally fine dry weather, so odds are that you will have favorable conditions almost any time of year.


Route Selection:

I decided to drive Saddle Road to Lake Waiau, and walk to the summit.


Hotel and Climb Reservation:

No guide, permit, or trail reservations are required.  There are numerous hotels located throughout the Big Island of Hawaii that are within a 2 hour drive of the summit road.


Packing List:

Standard light hiking gear and water for a day hike.  Cold weather gear as required.


Getting There:

Go to Route 200, which bisects the Island between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.  The turnoff for the paved summit road, which leads up the mountain is UNMARKED (this was a surprising mystery to me, since there is a visitors center and the University  of Hawaii Observatory located on this road (the road is the only paved road leading up the mountain, so it is not too difficult to spot).  The visitor's center is located about 6 miles up the road at an elevation of 9,240'.  The visitors center is usually open from mornings until about 10:00pm.  They sell some provisions, water, etc. here, and during my trip had telescopes setup to see the sun (during the day) and stars (at night).  There is also a rest room located here.  The summit is approximately 9 miles from this spot, up an unpaved, steep, gravel road.  4 wheel drive vehicles are strongly suggested.    There is a pull-off parking area about 3 miles up the road with parking available for a few cars, and another smaller area located another 3 miles further up the road by Lake Waiau, the highest lake in the United States.  


Trip Description:

I started in morning on  November 6, 2002 driving from Waikaloa.  It took me nearly 2 hours to reach the visitors center, and another 30 minutes to drive the next 6 miles on the gravel access road.  The 4-wheel drive GMC truck, floored and in low gear, could BARELY make it up the road.  I passed only 2 other cars during my trip up the road.  There is a very impressive radio telescope that is located at about 12,000'.  I parked at a small pull-off by Lake Waiau and walked the remaining 3 miles to the summit in about an hour. 


The majority of the walk was along the road, and while the trail itself was not very scenic, the views were spectacular.  At the top of the road, there is a large complex of telescopes and observatories (many were opened for visitors).  There was a steep path across a scree field that led to the true summit called Puu Poliahu.  The summit was marked with a USGS marker and many gifts were laid by travelers at the summit (Hawaiians consider this place to be sacred).  Nice views in all directions, including the remnants of the ancient volcanic caldera, which had a red hue, and was quite striking against the deep blue sky.

The Lake Waiau, the highest elevation lake in the United States, about 600 vertical feet below the summit

Sign at the entrance to the final rock trail to the actual summit

Summit view above the clouds. It is not uncommon to play in the snow and then go swimming later!


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