Ascent of Mauna Loa on 2015-03-23

Climber: William Musser

Others in Party:Karen Musser
Date:Monday, March 23, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Mauna Loa
    Elevation:13679 ft / 4169 m

Ascent Trip Report

We followed the obvious most highly marked cairn route which matched most of the GPS tracks others have posted. If you do the straight shot Observatory trail it is probably 12 mile RT but the more circuitous route that the signs and cairns take you is 13.2 miles. We did this trip in late March and there was a lot of snow on the ground and eve though the weather report said it would be 32F when we left FL we actually got sunny 40F weather which made late day snow tougher to hike on with those occasional post holes you end up making along the way.

I was not sure whether Karen was in shape for this hike, since she does not get many tough trips with me typically until summer. But this is only about 2,500 feet of gain so we decided to try it. At 54, 12 miles pushes her endurance at altitude and of course, the trip is actually 13.2 so needless to say, I was not real popular with her on the way down. There are 3 distinct different terrain challenges. Snow, A'A lava and Pa'hoehoe lava. Several things make this a difficult trip:

1) altitude - it is hard to acclimate coming from sea level and at 13,600 the air is about 1/3 that at sea level
2) Snow - on the way up it slows your movement when mushy and on the way down there is some post holing on a warm day so you burn more energy than you would expect.
3) A'a lava flows. Yuck Twisted gnarly glassy sharp beautiful but wicked terrain. Would be credulous to try to walk through if someone had not moved most of the worst out of the way and provided some trails. Ankle rolling is a high risk in these narrow paths
4) distance - 13.2 miles RT is a long day
5) sun - there is complete exposure no shade. When in the snow the reflective glare burns your eyes and skin. Wear lots of sun block and good sun glasses. Drink tons of water.
6) false summits - the shield cone is so gradual that every pinnacle near the top appears to be the summit. At the end of the day it can be demoralizing how many times you think you reached the summit.

On the positive end, you are hiking over very young lava flows of the most massive mountain (total volume) in the world. The volcano is still active and erupted twice at least in my life time. The shear cliffs of the caldera at the last three BMs on the USGS map are spectacular! Like suddenly walking up on this massive pit. It is hard to describe how large and how deep the caldera is and how vertical the walls are. Very interesting climax to a very unique terrain.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2859 ft / 870 m
    Extra Gain:140 ft / 42 m
    Round-Trip Distance:13.2 mi / 21.2 km
    Route:Observatory Trail with some Jeep bypass
    Trailhead:Public parking area  11100 ft / 3383 m
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Snow on Ground
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Clear
varied from 40 to 50F
Ascent Statistics
    Time:5 Hours 20 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 

This page has been served 1110 times since 2005-01-15.

Copyright © 1987-2021 by All Rights Reserved. Questions/Comments/Corrections? See the Contact Page Terms of Service