Mauna Kea, My Final State Highpoint
Someone once asked me, “Why do people climb the 50 state highpoints?” to which I replied, “Is that a trick question?” The answer is; to get to the top of them ALL, of course.
It took me a little over 10 years to reach the highest point in each of the 50 states. At one point I thought I would finish with Britton Hill in Florida. I reckoned that if I was 90 years old when I completed my goal, I could roll up to Florida’s highpoint in a wheelchair if necessary, since it’s only 345ft above sea level. Ultimately, I decided that I would finish on Mauna Kea. After all, what better place to celebrate the completion of a life goal than in Hawaii?! As a bonus, Mauna Kea has an elevation of nearly 14,000ft and the hike to the top is very scenic.
My good friends Mark Zborowski and John Ephraim accompanied me on this journey. Our trip began on March 4th, 2012. We rented a cabin at the Mauna Kea State Park (6,700’) to help us acclimatize before the hike. We drove up to the observatories the day before our hike to further acclimate but we did not hike up to the actual summit. In fact, the fog was so thick we didn't even see the summit ridge for the 45 minutes that we were up there.
We went back down to the cabin, made dinner, and then drove back to the Visitor’s Center after sunset for some star gazing. Mauna Kea actually has some of the very best star viewing in the world, as evidenced by the 11 observatories at the top. Fortunately, the clouds had cleared and we enjoyed some amazing views through the high powered telescopes set up by the park rangers. It was very cool!
Mauna Loa from the Humuula Trail. Puu Keonehehee, one of several cinder cones on Mauna Kea.
The change of time zone was in our favor. So the next morning we got an early start, had breakfast, packed up our stuff, drove back to the Visitor’s Center and hit the trail by 7:00am. The standard route, called the Humuula Trail, starts at the Visitor’s Center at 9,000ft. It is approximately 6 miles long and gains 4,800ft of elevation.
We had a very enjoyable hike. The route starts as a dirt road but turns into a trail after the first half mile. From there the trail is well defined and ascends the mountain over lava rock until it rejoins the paved road at 13,200ft. It’s quite like what I imagine walking on the moon must be like except for the light ground snow that we encountered at around 11,000ft. The landscape is very barren but for the many cinder cones that give stark evidence to the ancient eruptions that formed this beautiful island.
The weather was cool but pleasant until we reached the final mile, at which point the wind picked up considerably. Several of my family members had planned to drive up and meet us at the top for photos. As it turned out, the winds were blowing 50-60MPH at the summit and only my father was brave enough to drive up to meet us. The 4 of us hiked up the final summit ridge but we didn’t stay very long due to the wind. We snapped a few quick photos before scurrying down to the shelter of the car.
I spent the remainder of the week in Kona celebrating Hawaiian style with 9 of my close friends and family members. We attended a luau, visited Volcanos National Park, did some paddle boarding and kayaking, explored some beaches, and drank plenty of Mai Tai’s! I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the occasion than that!
Initial view of the observatories on Mauna Kea WooHoo!!!