Ascent of Mauna Kea on 2015-03-21

Climber: William Musser

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Saturday, March 21, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Mauna Kea
    Elevation:13796 ft / 4205 m

Ascent Trip Report

First things first! Trip update. All this fuss about rental cars and roads is often outdated on the web and in previous reports. First, Saddle Road is totally paved now and a major highway with wide shoulders and the rental agencies know that and will rent you a non-4 wheel drive to drive that road so disregard those sites and reports that say Saddle Road is off-limits. Secondly, most of the Mauna Kea Summit road is also paved now (all but one brief section). But it is steep and nearly everyone uses a 4 wheel drive to go to the top. The tour groups from the visitor require you to have 4 wheel. Most of the driving down requires 4 wheel and downshifting to protect brakes. We saw a few people that tried it with 2 wheel and rode their brakes to smoking hot. Not advisable at all. A safe easy drive but should have 4 wheel from the Visitor Center at bout 9200 feet upward. We used Harper out of Hilo.

Harper Truck Rental 1-800-852-9993. They were wonderful to work with and we had a nice Toyota 4Runner. mauna Loa can be accessed the observatory at 11,000 feet by a 2 wheel drive car on a paved road. That road is quite a white knuckle ride of winding roller coaster drive but it is not steep. Loa is a very gradual shield cone ascent unlike Kea which is much steeper.Also, of all the places we stayed on the big island, the best deal for the money was in Hilo. The Inn at Kulaniapia has room over looking a private waterfall, has a bamboo garden, and an amazing breakfast and the hosts are great. Price was better than most places we stayed. Up in the hills of Hilo.

Now the hike...

I chose to do a warm up hike at the junction of Saddle Road and Mauna Kea Summit Road (see TR for Pu'u HuluHulu); then Karen drove me to the Visitor Center. She stayed there and took the tours and I left from there. The trail is well marked but very steep in the first 2 miles. Snow began at around 11,400 feet. Nobody was on the trail. It was cold and windy around 40F with a wind chill probably near 30F. There are many minor cinder cones along the way and back in the back country it is nice to keep track on an aerial which one you are next to gauge the ascent. This 6 mile hike up covers 4,500 feet of vertical with no proper acclimation time. I was hoping to make it under 4 hours but it took me 4 hours and 20 minutes.

The summit was crowded with people but I was the only person on the trail this day that I saw. Most earned the state HP by 4 wheel drive. There were plenty of tracks in the snow to follow on the way up. Karen was at the W.M. Keck Observatory. I hiked up over to it (see separate report) and back and Karen finished her tour whit the group and we both submitted the last part of the hike together. At the summit, there was an Asian man paying his respect to Pele and was going through some very elaborate religious ceremony that involved fire, incense, kata moves, yelling, singing, and some sort of musical pipe. We made sure we did not disturb him.

I had the advantage of driving down now!

Still in total, since I added 3 side trip hikes, I did more than just the 6 miles up and 4500 feet. My total for the day was 8.8 miles and 5600 feet. If I had not done the side trips and hiked back down it would have been a 4500 feet vertical with 12 mile RT.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:4596 ft / 1401 m
    Grade/Class:1 and 1+
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Cool, Breezy, Clear
40F and bright
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:4596 ft / 1401 m
    Distance:6 mi / 9.7 km
    Route:Humu'ula Trail
    Trailhead:Visitor Center  9200 ft / 2804 m
    Time Up:4 Hours 20 Minutes
Descent Statistics
Ascent Part of Trip: Mauna Kea

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Puu Huluhulu2015-03-21 a
2Mauna Kea2015-03-21 b
3Kilohana2015-03-21 c
4Puu Kea2015-03-21 d

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