Ascent of Mauna Kea on 1993-12-04

Climber: Greg Slayden

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Saturday, December 4, 1993
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mauna Kea
    Elevation:13796 ft / 4205 m

Ascent Trip Report

I woke up at 6 AM, still in pitch blackness, then left my cozy cabin in Mauna Kea State Park and continued driving east on the Saddle Road to the unmarked left turn that led uphill towards the summit of Mauna Kea. Since the 13,796 foot summit of this peak had the world's largest concentration of astronomical observatories on it, a road led all the way to the top, but my information indicated that past a visitor center and museum at 9,220 feet it was a horrible dirt road. Not wanting to abuse my car on an already-restricted road, I parked at the visitor center when I indeed saw the road turn to gravel on a big switchback. I wanted to actually climb the peak, anyway, instead of just driving up.

I got ready for a big hike, and left my car at 7:15 AM and somehow found a faint trail leading uphill through barren volcanic ball-bearing scree. I lost the trail a few times at first, but it soon ascended steadily through utter moonscape--not a single plant of any kind was visible at all anywhere on the whole path, just ugly reddish and black rocks. It was a long way, and I was more tired than I would have thought, perhaps due to the altitude, since the last time I had spent much time above 10,000 feet had been in the Alps in August.

After a while the observatories on the final summit cone of rock came into view, as did the upper end of the road, which, surprisingly, was well-paved, with wide shoulders and a double yellow line and everything. I hiked up the road as it made a last switchback, and soon was up near the observatories, all of which appeared to be closed or under construction right now, since it was daytime. It was incredibly windy up here, and to keep warm I had to put on all the clothes I had brought.

The actual summit point was on a small hill just off the road, not near any observatories. I hiked over, happy to be bagging my 47th U.S. state high point and the highest mountain on an island in the world excluding New Guinea. After some pictures and admiring the view (lots of clouds down low, but up here very clear) I returned to a picnic table in the lee of an observatory and ate lunch. I ate quickly, since I wanted to get out of the wind, and then decided to hike down the road instead of the trail, since I was curious where the pavement began again after ending above the visitor center below.

I hiked down easily, in fierce wind the whole way, and saw several cars on the road going up and down. The pavement ran from the summit to about halfway down to the visitor center, and either they planned to pave the rest or left the gravel section to dissuade tourists from driving up, something any car in the world could do pretty easily. These Hawaiian shield volcanoes were incredibly high but also incredibly gentle-sided.

I returned to my car at the visitor center very tired and footsore after my 4576-foot vertical (up and down) hike, cutting off some of the road's switchbacks through more miserable volcanic barrens near the bottom. I changed my clothes, saw that the visitor center had closed at 3 PM, twenty minutes earlier, and then drove back down to the Saddle Road. Once at the Saddle the weather was foggy and rainy, due to the clouds I had seen form atop Mauna Kea. The drive down to Hilo on the Saddle Road was somewhat more difficult than the western part of the road, but still paved and in good shape. My only problems were the hard rain and thick fog.

The summit area of Mauna Kea is a rocky moonscape of talus and scree, ascended by a road to service the numerous telescopes near the summit (1993-12-04).
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4576 ft / 1394 m
    Total Elevation Loss:4576 ft / 1394 m
    Quality:5 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail
    Weather:Extremely Windy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:4576 ft / 1394 m
    Route:Mauna Kea Tr
    Start Trailhead:Visitor Center/museum  9220 ft / 2810 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:4576 ft / 1394 m
    End Trailhead:Visitor Center/museum  9220 ft / 2810 m

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