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Mauna Kea is an inactive volcano that is part of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and is the highest mountain in Hawaii (4,205m / 13,796ft). Because it reaches 6,000m / 19,600ft below the seabed, it is the highest mountain in the world (measured from base to summit). Considered the White Mountain, Mauna Kea recorded the lowest temperature of all time in Hawaii (-11°C / 12°F).
By Frank Ravizza – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
Hiking to the top of Mauna Kea was one of the most spectacular experiences in Hawaii. The route itself is not technical, but the fact that the altitude goes above 3,000m / 10,000ft makes the hike a real challenge. It is advisable to spend at least half an hour at Hale Pōhaku to acclimatize before climbing to the top. Hale Pōhaku (situated at an altitude of 2,800m / 9,200ft) is the headquarters of Onizuka Center for International Astronomy.
You can also reach the Mauna Kea summit by using an 4×4 car, but because the road between Hale Pōhaku and the summit is quite rugged and we didn’t have a FWD we had to park there. After we spent around an hour in the area for acclimatization, we started the hike on the Mauna Kea Trail aka Humu’ula Trail. Before you start the hike, it is advised to go to the Visitor Center in the area and announce the intention to do the hike. This way, there is a record of the number of tourists who frequent the area.
The Humu’ula Trail is about 10km / 6.2miles to the top of the mountain, passing through arid areas, occupied only by dwarf vegetation. The beginning of the climb seemed easy. We hiked slowly in order to get used to the effort at high altitude, although if it were for Robert we would have gone faster. I had a steady rhythm, which is why I was pleased with myself. Soon 2 other older hikes (past 60 years old) passed by us quite easily. I admired them for their agility, but I kept my steady pace and did not try to race after them.
We each carried 2L of water, energy bars, fruits, crackers. Even though I carried all the photographic gear, I used it very little because I wasn’t in the mood to take pictures. I felt very drowsy and sometimes I just wanted to sit down on the path to take a quick nap. 🙂
Along the route we had been constantly under heat of the sun without any shadow, which made the climb even more difficult. The rarefied air above 3,000m / 10,000ft gave us continuous headaches and we soon started to feel the fatigue, which is why we started to take short breaks quite often.
Atentie! We underestimated a little bit the hike in the heat so be careful if you would like to do it! Along the trail Humu’ula Trail it is recommended to have a hat, sunglasses, enough drinking water, snacks for energy and thick clothes because the temperature drops fast after sunset.
The route passes through the Mauna Kea Ice Age reservation which includes the Mauna Kea Adz Quarry. An adz / adze (tesla) is an ancient type of instrument, similar in shape to an ax, dating back to the stone age, being used for carving wood and other materials. Adz quarry is the largest quarry of primitive rocks in the world, the place being considered sacred by Hawaiians.
We passed by the Lake Waiau (3,970 m / 13,020 ft), the highest alpine lake in Hawaii and among the highest lakes in the United States. Another 3.3km / 2.1miles of tough hike followed because the altitude had exceeded 4,000m / 13,000ft.
Up on the plateau a solemn silence prevailed. We were above a layer of white clouds that began to change their color after dusk. The temperature was getting lower and if I didn’t move, I began to shiver in the cold. I envied those who came by car to the top because they had enough energy to take pictures.
The place is truly spectacular and unique and worth spending more time on the set. The pictures cannot fully reproduce the beauty and energy of the place. Hawaiians consider it a sacred place and have opposed its transformation into a scientific / recreational space.
Due to the high altitude, low humidity, lack of light pollution and good weather, Mauna Kea is an almost ideal place for astronomical observations. After a car access road was built in 1964, 13 telescopes, Mauna Kea Observatories, were financed by 11 countries. One of them belongs to NASA and is used for infrared astronomy.
Upon our return we walked to the Lake Waiau Parking Lot where luckily enough an American couple picked us up with their car and dropped us off at Hale Pōhaku. We were very grateful to them for their help, because otherwise we had to hike back the ~ 8km / 5miles left in the night.
Mauna Kea is the main reason I would return to Big Island.
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