Mauna Loa Summit Day Hike
Hike Level: Difficult
Distance: 13 miles RT – 6.4 miles up
Start Time: 8a
End Time: 6:20p
Total time: 10 hours and 20 minutes
Our Fitness Levels:
- Jen – age 31 – runs 6 times a week, 4-8 mile runs. Eats Raw Till 4 Vegan
- Mike – age 35 – runs 1-2 times a week and plays basketball on the weekends, but in the week and a half leading up to the hike has been going on long walks and short runs. Eats whatever he damn well pleases.
The ground is craggy and you must walk over hard, metallic-sounding volcanic rock. I was comfortable in my low-rise, thin-soled Nike Air cross trainers, but I’m unsure others would be.
I would have preferred hiking sneakers, but these shoes were fine as long as I kept on eye on the ground.
Mike wore sturdy boots, which were a good choice for him as they helped support his ankles. I would not have worn boots because I think they are too heavy to step up and down in for 15 miles and 2000+ feet elevation climb at a high altitude.
Food and Water
About Mauna Loa
Mauna Loa is the largest volcano in the world, and its mass is equivalent to 85% of the Hawiian islands combined. Meaning “Long Mountain” in Hawaiian, Mauna Loa takes up half of the Island of Hawaii. Rising 4 kilometers above sea level, it continues another 13 kilometers below. In addition to its height, its breadth is quite large, with just its surface area continuring from the southern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii, up 120 km.
Not only is it huge, it is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, with 33 recroded eruptions since it first became documented in 1843. Just take a look at this video of its eruptions between 1940-1984. As the Big Island Keep an eye on current activity and long term activity.
That’s how high we will be traveling today.
Hike Log – Tuesday, April 4, 2017
I am awake. I can’t sleep. Between the excitement and anxiety of climbing much 1,000 feet higher than I have ever climbed before and the blow I was dealt in not being offered the salary I was hoping for from one of my job offers, and feeling insult as well as a crush of the future I had seen with an exciting startup, I am restless.
I head downstairs to the Business Center of the Marriott to write a thanks, but no thanks letter to Synocate, and then Facetime with Sandy.
Time to wake up Mike. I let him sleep in an extra 20 minutes.
We hit the road. I drive as he eats a sandwich and DJs some bad 90s West Coast rap, teaching me all about Tupac and Suge Knight, who, from his accounts, seem to have let their egos and greed lead them down a road of incarceration and death. How disheartening.
Mauna Loa Weather Observatory Trail.
We hit the 17-mile scenic, but winding, makes-me-motion-sick drive, off of Saddle Road. The road is smooth, but the frequent dips and turns off the road make me so sick I’m paralyzed with nausea by the time we hit the parking lot.
A regular sedan can maneuver this paved road easily. It is treacherous, but a car with 4-wheel drive can make it further up the mountain from this point, but it is not advisable.
Small Visitor’s Parking Lot at Mauna Loa Weather Observatory.
What a view! We are well above the clouds and although I cannot move my crumpled, nausea-riddled body from the passenger seat of the car for 15 minutes, when I do get out, the view is clear.
The Visitor’s Parking Lot has room for about 7 cars to park, although online reading informs me that it never fills. Generally only 1-2 cars are ever parked here as so few embark on the Summit Day Hike up Mauna Loa. One other car is parked. We wonder who they are.
I am relieved when my nausea subsides to the point that I can eat two papayas and start to feel better.
We are out of the car and on our way.
The trail is marked by “ahu,” more commonly referred to as cairns. The next Ahu should always be in your sight before heading in a direction. The are not always easy to see, but there will always be one visible if you look carefully.
Warning: Bring your eyeglasses and your sunglasses.
The ahu can be extremely hard to see, especially as you head down and the sub begins to set.
In the first 1/2 mile along a dirt road we ascend 500 feet.
The increased elevation is felt with every step initially. It drags you down. 15 minutes in my body assists to the elevation ,and although I walk with greater ease, every time I stop and turn around to look for Mike trailing slightly behind me, I get that feeling of a rush of blood to the head that occurs when one takes an afternoon nap and suddenly stands up, all the blood rushing to one’s head and sending her back down with a blind stroke of dizziness.
I try not to turn my whole body suddenly to look for Mike when I stop. As the elevation is a greater hamper to Mike, I warn him not to turn around.
1.6 miles. 11,900 feet
I keep ahead of Mike, as my eyesight (thanks Manhattan Lasik) is keener, and although I need breaks to catch my breath while Mike catches up with me, I am in better shape to scout the steps between ahu.
Why? I think that sleeping a couple nights above sea level – 1000 feet – even if in a car – has helped my body, used to Manhattan sea level elevation – to function here. That and the hiking at Volcano National Park (4,000 feet) and Mauna Kea (11,000 feet).
2 miles. 12,065 feet
A couple miles in, the trail turns to smooth rock.
I’m grateful to be feeling no headache or nausea at the same point of altitude where I had to keel over on Fuji to take a nap. I am grateful for the altitude pills and aspirin I took in the morning.
2.5 miles. 12,485 feet.
We have taken a couple 5-minute breaks
At this point I have eaten 6 rainbow papayas and 1 fig bar, as well as drank a cup of coffee. Mike has eaten a sandwich, drank a Red Bull, and eaten a Clif Bar.
Halfway up the summit we reach the multicolored, shimmering rocks – green, iridescent, and red – I had read about it other posts about this hike! It is rejuvenating and sparks our enthusiasm for the trail, seeing something new.
We also reach the split in the road (go right) and the snow drifts. It’s above freezing, so they are melting and rarely lie in the middle of the trail. I’m relieved as my shoes are not waterproof.
The trail also gets much easier to walk on. Amazingly, it has turned into a dirt path, rather than the hard, molten rock we have walked on for miles.
We see the hikers whose car is parked next to ours at the Observatory Visitor’s Parking Lot.
It is exciting to watch them descend, knowing we will soon have people to talk to, who can tell us about what is ahead.
We are told that they have spent the night at the cabin, situated a couple miles from the summit.
They don’t have much to say. No comment on the difficulty or how they felt at any point along the trail.
4.1 miles. 3047 feet.
We find a path lined with rocks.
Snacking on 2 more papaya, and a 15 break make me feel much more myself. I will have eaten 11 rainbow papaya by the time I reach the summit.
10 minutes back into walking I can easily walk while typing notes on the hike, and my breath is less clipped. I am moving at a faster pace.
The temperature sinks to the 30s. I have to put my coat back on, but the cap, scarf, and gloves remain off.
Back to hard, molten rock.
The closer ahu unexplainably lead us to the left, when I can see the trail clearly continues straight ahead.
Then I see why…
The view is breathtaking, and the summit is in sight, but we are so tired and have the impending sunset to consider.
We ask ourselves, “Should we keep going of turn back ?”
We think we see the summit to the left of our view straight ahead down the path. I am worried that if it took us 6 hours to reach this point that we need to turn around soon to reach the car well sunset. Mike looks exhausted and I need to pop another aspirin to keep the headaches at bay.
Lucky for us, Mike is Very stubborn! He looks whooped, but days we ought to continue for 15 more minutes before turning around.
I am fueled by frustration as I nearly run up the last 1/2 mile towards Mauna Loa’s summit. I am determined that if we are going to continue another 15 minutes, that I am going to make those 15 minutes count.
It finally happens. Despite repeatedly thinking we were at the summit, we finally hit the true summit.
A bunch of trinkets and the logbook demarcate our end goal.
Mike’s GPS records us even higher than what I’ve read online is the summit point of 13,678 feet.
The view is remarkable, overlooking the black, molten crater we walked across earlier.
Mike is barely coherent. He needs 10 minutes before he speaks, but then gladly takes the logbook from to write a message that he wants to keep private.
Maybe too honest?
After enjoying the thrill of reaching the summit we begin the long descent…
And Get lost!
It is hard to see the ahu while heading down.
They don’t reign high the way they did earlier when we were looking up at them.
We veer off trail 15 minutes, thinking that Mike’s Garvin GPS, which has recorded our trail up can direct us back down. However, the recorded line that marks our route is not precise enough and tells us very little, leading us in a direction that does not set us back on the trail.
We make it back. It’s now 3p, and we have 6.5 miles and thousands of feet to descend over rough terrain before sunset at 6:30p.
The pressure is on. I’m a bit frightened we may not make it down before sunset as the last 1.5 miles of the trail require keen sight to avoid any dangerous steps on the rocky terrain. Despite my fear, I remain stalwart and commanding of the situation assuring Mike that we will be ok and that we must keep on at a good place.
I pledge to devote all my water and food to Mike, as he has run out of both at this point and I only have a bottle, 1.5 bagels, and a couple Fig Bars left. I may get hungry or thirsty, but I know I’ll make it down without consuming more – I’m less sure if Mike will make it down without this sustenance.
I’m worried about Mike.
He’s blanched. The altitude and high intensity exercise have taken so much of him. He’s stumbling and very weak. I keep insisting that he let me hold his bag, but he refuses, saying, “It’s not the weight. It feels like nothing.” Remembering the relief of Sandy carrying my bag for a bit on Fuji when I felt ill, I am worried he is being foolhardy not allowing me to take the weight of his bag off of him. He at least takes me up on my offers of water and food, and keeps up with my pace as I race ahead to spot and direct us along the ahu.
Reminder: Wear sunblock and bring tissues to blow your nose.
Despite applying SPF 30 Derma E facial sunblock every two hours, my nose is further sunburnt and the area under my nose is rubbed raw from blowing my nose along the hike.
Saying goodbye to Mauna Loa.
Was a relief to get off the mountain before the sun set, despite the paralyzing 2 hours of car sickness I experienced on the drive back to Kona.
Goodbye Mauna Loa. I will only ever climb you again if my husband is inclined to wrangle with you.