Ascent of Mauna Kea on 2010-08-22

Climber: Ben Lostracco

Others in Party:supported by Rose
Date:Sunday, August 22, 2010
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Mauna Kea
    Elevation:13796 ft / 4205 m

Ascent Trip Report

My 49th and last State Highpoint, Alaska is not in the plan. More of an educational trip than a climb ....... a drive up followed by a short easy climbs.

The Hawaiian archipelago consists of more than 50 huge volcanoes, most of the summits are entirely below the sea level. The volcanoes that extend above sea level make up the eight main islands of Hawaii (there are a total of 132 Islands in Hawaii).

The base of Mauna Kea is about 15000 feet below sea level, making it the tallest mountain in the world when measured from its base. Mauna Kea, last erupted 4500 years ago, its neighbor Mauna Loa however has been very active, last erupting in 1984. Mauna Kea, still today, is considered a sacred mountain by some Hawaiians, home to the Gods and the Ancestors, one of the reasons for the controversy over further development of the mountain.

The Big Island has Hawaii's two tallest volcanoes, Mauna Kea (13796') and Mauna Loa (13679') about 25 miles apart with a huge saddle in between at about 6540'. An excellent road (yet to be fully upgraded) runs west/east over this saddle, aptly called "The Saddle Road", hwy #200.
From the saddle the Mauna Kea Road climbs 14 miles north to its summit. A very good asphalted road climbs the first 6 miles to elev 9200 feet and the Mauna Kea State Park Visitors Information Center and the dorm complex, followed by 4 miles of a rough/washboard dirt road with numerous switchbacks and the last 4 mile section again being a good asphalted road. The road above the Information Center has Mile Markers, the Center is MM 0.0 and at the summit's University of Hawaii Telescope is MM 8.0 (the short climb to the Mauna Kea summit starts here).

Mauna Kea has almost 100 small cinder cones on its upper slopes, created by small eruptions after the creation of the old original volcano (something like huge pimples on a teenager's face). The surface at the top is basically all ash and cinder as well as having a sparse scattering of bits of lave rock, blasted in the air by the different/numerous small eruption. There is no vegetation and it is a barren cinder desert, moonscape-like.
A number of these cinder cones, referred-to as Pu'u (hill), are in the PB Library and make for short interesting/educational climbs. The top cinder cone "Pu'u Wekiu" has the highpoint of the mountain (13796') on its eastern rim. The Mauna Kea Road climbs/ends at the western rim of this cone at MM 8.0 (this is the TH for the short climb to the highpoint).

The Federal/State Governments have designated the summit of Mauna Kea as a "Mauna Kea Science Reserve" ..... a circular area of about 5 miles, over 11000 acres, above 12000'. All of the Telescopes for the Mauna Kea International Astronomical Observatory Complex are located in this Science Reserve. There are 11 countries involved in this project.
The Mauna Kea Visitor's Information Center, located at 9200' besides/east of Mauna Kea Road, offers information on health/safety issues and on natural/historical/astronomical treasures of the mountain. It has interpretive panels, interactive computers and educational videos. Solar gazing and stargazing can be had at the Center.

Rose and I were originally scheduled to go to Hawaii in 2000 to participate in the "Highpointers Annual Convention" and to climb Mauna Kea, however personal health issues forced us to cancel. Over the years I climbed/completed other State Highpoints, never giving this one the priority that it needed. This year being "our 50th wedding anniversary" we decided to go to Hawaii and of course being a Highpointer/Peakbagger Mauna Kea automaticlly got the priority that it deserved.
The plan was to stay/visit/climb in the Island of O'ahu for 2 weeks with a one day trip to the Big Island to climb Mauna Kea. We had all our reservations (flight/hotel/car) made back in May of this year, and in order to get the most economical flight we had to get on a cattle run, we would fly Continental Montreal/Cleveland/Houston/Honolu. We booked everything else separately, the Waikiki Marina Resort Hotel with a car (nicely located at the west end of Waikiki beach), the one day return flight Honolulu/Hilo with Hawaiian Airlines and a car from from Harper's Car Rental in Hilo. I should note that Harper is to only car rental company on the Big Island that allows their 4x4 vehicles to the summit of Mauna Kea.

The Island of O'ahu offers outstanding climbing/hiking, while there I ended-up climbing 10 mountains, besides Rose and I visiting the regular tourist attractions. You'll need a car if you really want to enjoy the natural offerings/beauty of this Island, the landscape is nothing like that of the main land or that of the Big Island. The knife edge ridges of the main Ko'olau Range are something else .... dangerous. Prior to the trip I picked up Stuart Ball's "The Hikers Guide To O'ahu", an excellent guide with good detail on 50 different trails (not all leading to summits).

Our 6h00 hour Hawaiian flight left on time after a long wait at the airport. We left much too early and could easily have had 45 minutes of more sleep, the roads over were empty and quick.
We called for Harper's shuttle at the Hilo airport after the non-eventful/cloudy-no-views flight and in no time had our rental car, a white Subaru 4x4. We stopped for breakfast at Ken's House of Pancakes, a Hilo institution, before setting off for the mountain, a super friendly/neat local place open 24 hours a day. It was super busy (had to wait a few minutes before being seated), even though it was early Sunday morning with hardly any traffic in the streets.

From Ken's we drove south on hwy #11 to a right turn on Pu'ainako Street, at its very end we made a very short jog right-then-left and the start of the new Saddle Road Extension. The excellent road climbs 6000 plus feet to the wide saddle described above(a mix of green vegetation at the bottom to stunted-spotty-barren-vegetation and lava rock fields at the saddle). On the way up you go through a windy section of the old road presently being upgraded.
At the saddle (elev 6578') we made a right turn and climbed to the Visitors Information Center (elev. 9200'), arriving around 9h30 hours. It was very quiet as we went into the Center and sat in with 2 other couples already watching an Information Video on the Mountain.
We spent over an hour at the Center (a recommended stay before moving on to higher altitudes) during which time we watched a few other videos, checked out the facility, purchased/studied USGS Topographic maps of the mountain, drank as much water possible and stocked up on water for the day. We came out with a plan for the rest of the day ..... we would drive to the top to check out the Observatories, climb the Mauna Kea summit and on the descent climb the following Pu'u (hills) ...... Pu'u Poli'ahu, Pu'u Keonehehe'e, Kilohana, Pu'u Kalepeamoa, Pu'u Huluhulu (time allowing).

We slowly made our way up the rough dirt/washboard-type road as we drank/snacked on energy bars and once on the western rim (MM 8.0) of the summit's top cinder cone "Pu'u Wekiu" we stopped for a good while, absorbing the awesome Observatory Complex. We then drove counter-clockwise around the different International Telescpoes, checking-out the very impressive installations. It was sort of cool to see our country Canada involved in this International mix. Unfortunately the Canada/France/ Hawaii Telescope was closed, in fact everything seemed to be closed. There was no one around except for a military jeep with 3 soldiers and a lone Ranger on his rounds, whom we chatted with for a few minutes after we got back to MM 8.0, the western rim of "Pu'u Wekiu".
He told us that there was a forest fire on the western side of the Mountain (we could see the smoke in the distance) and that the saddle road had been closed off. This summit is apparently full of visitors, especially on weekends like today, tourists come up by busloads on escorted excursions. We were the only ones to come up today, luckily we drove up early this morning before they closed the roads (we saw smoke to the west when we got to the saddle but we didn't think much of it).
To the southwest of where we were standing there is the beautiful perfectly-round cinder cone "Pu'u Haukea" (elev 13441') so I asked the Ranger if it could be climbed. He didn't say that it couldn't be climbed, he answered with,
"The cider surface is exceptionally soft there and it would be difficult to climb, causing a lot of erosion." I got the message.
He wished us a good stay as he continued with his rounds.

After eating/enjoying our packed lunch that we brought with us I left for the highpoint while Rose stayed back. From MM 8.0 the trail heads east over the roads guardrail, enters the crater and traverses on a slight descent, on the inside/north side of crater "Pu'u Wekiu" to the low point of the eastern rim (elev 13640'), then climbs the rim south to the highpoint (elev 13796'), an easy round trip of about half a mile. After the usual photos I returned the same way. Both Rose and I were feeling the altitude with a slight headache.

From the highpoint we drove down/over to the "Pu'u Poli'ahu" due west of where we were standing, for our next climb on the schedule. After which we continued with our short climbs on the descent in the order noted above, stopping in once again at the Information Center for a snack.

We descended to the Saddle Road after the climb to Pu'u Kalepeamoa, where we found Saddle Road to be still closed to traffic towards the west (a policeman stood guard at the road junction), it was open to the east (Hilo). I had plenty of time to climb Pu'u Huluhulu before our return flight later in the evening.
On our drive out of the rest area we noticed that the policeman was no longer there , the Saddle Road to the west was finally opened after being closed all day. Clouds of smoke to the west could still be seen in the sky.
I should note that we were the only ones on the mountain today except for the two couples at this morning Video Presentation.
I completed all of today's Pu'u as listed above, see their respective TR for the details of each climb.

We arrived back down to Hilo with plenty of time to have a nice dinner at a local restaurant, we were at the airport with time to spare for our 20h45 hour return flight to Honolulu. We left the car at the airport parking as prearranged with Harper. All went well/on-time, we were back to our Hotel in Waikiki by 23h00 Hours.

A great educational/enjoyable day, in retrospect we should have perhaps spent 3-4 days on this The Big Island, lots to see and do. Perhaps another time.


Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:156 ft / 48 m
    Distance:1.2 mi / 2 km
    Route:cinder trail from the road at west side rim
    Trailhead:road at west side rim before UKIRT  13640 ft / 4157 m
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail

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