Lata Mountain is located on Ta'u island in American Samoa, an unincorporated territory of the United States. At 3,159 feet, it is the highest point in the territory. The upper mountain is a part of National Park of American Samoa.
The first step is to get to Tutuila, the principal island in American Samoa. Flights arrive here at Pago Pago International Airport from Apia, Western/Independent Samoa on Samoa Airways. However, Hawaiian Airlines is the only major carrier servicing the territory. Flights on HA arrive via Honolulu on Monday and Thursday late in the evening, with Sunday flights during high season. Return is those same evenings, arriving Honolulu the next morning. Flights are roughly six hours in duration. It is strongly suggested that you pay the small premium for the "extra comfort" seats.
The next step is to get to Ta'u. Currently there is ferry service via the MV Sili, although a definite schedule is hard to ascertain. Also, there is a charter boat company, Pago Pago Marine Charters, but cost may be prohibitive (and reservations were ignored despite previously arranging a group fishing trip). Likely the optimal method is to book a seat with Samoa Airways to the Ta'u airport, located in the village of Fitiuta. The Pago office can be reached at 684-699-9126 or email@example.com. Reservations are strongly recommended. However, advanced booking is a challenge since seats do not open up until the end of the month for the subsequent month. When traveling, take note that the terms Ta'u, Fitiuta, and even Manu'a may be used interchangeably. As of January 2019, there are outbound flights at 0845 on Mon/Tues/Wed/Fri (returning at 0945), with a round-trip cost of $165. Baggage allowance is listed as 20kg per passenger with 5kg carry-on. The Thursday morning flight goes to Ofu (5kg total baggage) and theoretically a boat could be hired to travel to Ta'u. Be aware that all of these flights are VFR, so bad weather may cause delay or cancellation. Locals state that if a flight is cancelled, passengers are rescheduled the following day, taking priority over those with existing reservations. On flights to Ta'u, it is recommended to ask for an "A" seat for the best sight-seeing (and comfort).
The signed trailhead is just up the road from the airport turnoff. The National Park Service (NPS) ostensibly maintains the trail, but locals could not recall the last time anyone from NPS had visited the island. It generally runs SW straight to the summit ridge. Total one-way distance is roughly 2.5 miles with approximately 3100' of elevation gain.
The trail begins under palm trees, the fallen leaves of which can hide the trail. However, the trail is soon obvious and makes steep switchbacks up the mountain. There is a brief respite along an abandoned road (from an old coconut plantation) at about 600 feet before it starts climbing again. The first notable feature is a short spur trail that leads to an overlook of Judd's Crater, an old caldera, at around 1200 feet. The trail then makes its way around the west side of the crater, slowly but surely gaining elevation. It passes by some old stone walls built by ancient Polynesians. From here, the trail condition worsens somewhat due to less traffic. There are a few flat areas, but again the progress is primarily upwards.
At around 2500 feet, the trail makes its way up a moss covered stream/lava flow, requiring some minimal scrambling.
Then once again through the bushes until you pop onto the summit ridge at an NPS radio tower. It took us 4 hours to get here from the trailhead at a moderate pace, aided immensely by the fact that a party had hacked up here the prior month. (Thank you, David Darby!) In the distance to the west you can see the true high point.
From this point, most of the elevation has been gained, but it requires a small drop from the tower and then across the ridgeline through heavy, dense vegetation. There was no trail here in January 2019 and it required around 4 hours of sustained, continuous machete work (30 minutes on return). We flagged extensively with pink ribbon and left a register at the summit.
It is not clear how long the trail will be passable until being reclaimed by the jungle. Clearly, the time commitment for the route is directly proportional to how much machete work is required. For this reason, some climbers plan a bivy and make the hike an overnight excursion. Reasonably flat areas may be found along the trail just above Judd's Crater as well as around 2300', before the lava flow.
Take more water (and electrolytes) than you think you need. In a pinch, you could harvest water from the moss that coats the trees up high, wringing it out like a sponge. Less appetizing, one could probably filter puddles of rancid water in the lava flow.
For the hike, consider long sleeves and pants to protect the arms and legs from the sharp edges of chopped vegetation. Gloves will also be useful to protect the hands since the jungle vegetation will likely be used to assist with upward (and downward) progress.
Travel logistics as noted above. A valid passport is required even if travelling via Hawaii. Do not bring any fresh fruits, vegetables or meat. I had no problem with packaged beef jerky and freeze-dried fruit when passing through agricultural inspection.
Consider bringing trail food and drink mix as this is not available in Ta'u. Similarly with insect repellent, sunscreen, and obviously all gear that you might need.
Guiding rates are $100/guide per day.
There are no fees associated with NPS in American Samoa.
Be aware that Sundays are meant for church and quiet time at home. Staying inside and laying low is expected of travelers as well.
It is warm/hot and humid all year. The summer season (Oct-May) is wetter and more likely to have tropical storms. The winter season (Jun-Sep) is marginally cooler with less precipitation. Remember that aside from the coldest days, the heat index will be well over 100 F on the lower mountain. However, at the top it can feel downright chilly when shrouded by mist and/or rain combined with a breeze.
There are no formal camping opportunities. There are no hotels nor restaurants. The best (only?) option for food and lodging is to arrange a homestay. Persistence with the staff at NPS in Pago should lead to a recommendation. However, I stayed with Eseta Kese firstname.lastname@example.org and fully endorse using her services directly.
For $100/night, she provides essentially continuous food and has rooms that each have two queens, an air conditioner and a ceiling fan. Her internet is quite good, although it is squirrelly with Samsung devices. (Under advanced options, you need to change DHCP from automatic to static; 192.168.1.129 worked for us.) I suspect most of the homestay hosts are well-connected in the community, and Eseta is no exception. Having grown up on the island, living abroad, and then returning, she is a wealth of information and resources. Further, as of Jan 2019, she can put you in touch with the only locals who have been to the true summit.