Ascent of Mauna Loa on 2015-02-02

Climber: Marcus Lostracco

Date:Monday, February 2, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Mauna Loa
    Elevation:13679 ft / 4169 m

Ascent Trip Report

Mauna Loa, Hawaiian for "Long Mountain", and yes, this thing is HUGE... it's the largest shield volcano in the world measuring 18,000 cubic MILES! The sheer size of this volcano didn't quite click for me, as I saw that the Observatory Trail hike was only 6.5 miles. I was thinking I'd be able to do it in under 3 hours, and possibly jog some of the trail, but I quickly found out that this was not going to happen.

I arrived at the Mauna Loa Observatory public parking lot at 6:25am in time to watch the sunrise. I came from Hilo, leaving at 5:20am... I may have sped a little bit to make it in that time. I decided I would spend an hour at the Observatory to acclimate myself to the altitude - I had breakfast: macadamia nut granola, banana, and coconut water (potassium overload). I geared up and got going by 8am, thinking that the hour and a half would be adequate for altitude acclimatization. I set off jogging down the gravel road and turning towards the cairn trail, where I quickly realized I was not going to be able to run much of that trail... It's lava rocks the whole way up. The landscape is all lava rock, which is never the same. Some really amazing geological formations here - I wanted to take a couple rocks home with me but I have heard that taking lava rocks is "bad juju". I was not impressed with the cairns at first - they were small and tough to spot, but they actually got better the deeper into the hike I went. They say that you should not leave one cairn before you see the next one. As I was walking up at the start of the hike I would add a rock to every cairn.. but I realized I was wasting my time and energy with that exercise.

I take pictures as I go, but the altitude is already affecting me badly only 3km into the hike... I have to take a lot of breaks, and I also realize that I'm going through water like crazy. I brought 2 litres but I was already halfway done. I think it has to do with the volcano hike how there is no shade, and the wind is constant... that just dehydrates you. I had a minor headache going on until I reached the caldera at 13,000 ft - a huge crater, Mauna Loa's mouth. The summit is on the eastern side of the caldera, and is another 2.5 miles from this spot. My headache has increased at this point and I am pretty low on water, the thought of turning back enters my mind, but I pressed on, taking it really slow. Then, altitude sickness settled in - lethargic movements, stumbling... I was not in good form. Even feeling nauseous at times. I was taking many breaks, which I normally don't ever do. I found that yogic breathing and meditation really help with regaining strength at high altitude. I was never scared for my situation - but I was well aware that I was up there on my own and I hadn't seen another soul all day. The reality of it gave me focus.

With only a mile to the summit, I had to complete the hike. I gave myself a 1PM turn-around time... I managed to make it to the summit at 12:54. I wrote in the register, took a couple photos, then decided I needed to get the heck down so this altitude sickness would go away. They say the only way to cure it is to descend... I was able to move consistently during the descent - the only difficulty was staying balanced. It basically felt like I was drunk stumbling down this volcano... It's normally up my apartment staircase, this is a totally other level. I decided I would save a water break at the merge of the Mauna Loa trail and the Observatory trail - right at the base of the caldera. There was the temptation to drink prior to this but I really only had one good drink left. I was happy with my choice to hold out until then - the following descent went a lot better.

I was finally below 13,000 feet and starting to walk with more stability. This descent seemed to take forever, and I started questioning had I started following the wrong cairns? I was much more appreciative of the cairns on the descent as the day got older, the shadows longer, they were easy to spot and a pleasure to navigate through. I finally saw the Observatory come into view around 4pm and was back at my car at 4:30, and just totally exhausted. I downed as much water as I could, my lips were so dry. I wasn't feeling great, but I was happy to have made it back. I decided I needed to treat myself to a bath and a cup of tea... so I booked the Marriott resort for the night... sometimes in life you have to splurge and indulge and tell yourself you deserve it.

lessons learned on this hike:
- pack more water when hiking volcanoes
- pack ibuprofen
- Manua Loa is not to be underestimated
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2538 ft / 773 m
    Round-Trip Distance:13 mi / 20.9 km
    Route:Observatory Trail
    Trailhead:Mauna Loa Observatory  11141 ft / 3395 m
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Snow on Ground
    Weather:Cool, Very Windy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time:5 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 30 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Marcus Lostracco
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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