I left our hotel near Hapuna Beach at 7:00am and was hiking by 8:50. The crux is the 17 mi drive on the nicely paved, ONE lane road. I'm convinced that if you are unlucky, you could run into someone, as the roller-coaster goes up and down around blind spots. I hit 30 mph on the straighter sections, but slowed down to 15-20 around some corners/bumps. I only saw a single car less than one mile from the saddle road on my way home near dusk. So statistically, it's probably safe enough.
Lava, lava, and still more lava! The trail stays mainly on the nice pahoehoe (PUH-hoy-hoy) stuff, and is well marked with cairns. It's kind of fun to try to minimize your ups and downs going from cairn to cairn. The grade is moderate, which is nice when you're a sea lover climbing at elevation.
After reaching the crater rim, I considered going down. It looked kind of tedious traversing around the rim 2.5 mi to gain the last 700 ft. But the drive sucks badly, so I doubted I'd be back. The altitude started to get to me a bit as I continued on, reaching the summit at 2:00ish. There were a lot of snow patches, some over 100 ft across. Locals said there was a big storm a couple of months earlier.
After a couple of summit selfies, the clouds turned to light rain, which turned to medium rain as I headed back towards the junction with the cabin trail. There was even a bit of sleet thrown in for good measure. I recalled Ken saying that the cairns could be difficult to follow in the fog, but it never got too thick. And I had my tracks from the ascent--just in case.
I was happy to hit the road and slogged back to my lonely rental car by 5:00. Not wanting to test the limits of my AAA coverage, I was very happy it started, and promptly turned the temp to 80 deg. It was time to head back to the beach and look forward to the next breakfast buffet.
Climbing Mauna Loa was more rewarding that driving to the summit of Mauna Kea the previous year. How many places can you drive to the summit of the world's tallest mountain (measured from its base at the ocean floor), and then climb to the summit of the world's largest mountain (measured by mass) the next day?
Had a fun day hike with Laura & Jerry, leaving our Kona house at 3:30am and moving on the trail by 6:00am. Saw one other party on the trail; otherwise lots of solitude. The Caldera is really impressive below the summit.
A solo overnight trip to the cabin and the next day to the summit. A year earlier I had to give up on the summit due to my wife and a lone hiker with altitude sickness. This is a really big mountain with nobody on it. This is the eeriest place I have ever been in the fog.