I'd been planning my Island Adventure for several months and it was finally time to head west. Although the primary purpose of this trip was not to climb Mauna Kea, I set aside a day to do just that. I actually landed in Maui and had to catch a Hawaiian Air flight to the big island by way of Oahu. Talk about a long day. FINALLY got to the cottage at KMC (Kilauea Military Camp)at about 9pm HST. That made it about a 19 hour day from start to finish. Needless to say, I was pooped.
Up & At 'Em
In spite of my fatigue, I awoke at 0300 the next morning. I tried to fall back to sleep but no luck. My body was still on central time. So my climbing partner and I decided to go ahead and start prepping for the days hike up Mauna Kea. We had to kill a little time in order for the McDonald's to be open when we went through town on the way to Mauna Kea visitor's center. We grabbed some fast food and coffee and headed out. The drive was at least 45 minutes to get to the turnoff from saddle road. Everything seems to be a long drive since there are really only a few roads. We had to make a few stops en route for photos and even hunted a geocache. By the time we reached the visitor's center, the sun was coming up.
After reaching the Visitor's Center @ 9200 feet, we bundled up and started hiking to the trail. It starts just up the road on the left hand side. The trail is very clearly marked (even if you can't always see a distinct path/trail)and there's very little chance of getting lost. It starts out steep and gets steeper. It's mainly composed of jagged lava and crushed lava. It was slow going! We really didn't have much time to acclimatize and I felt it. We slept (for those few hours) at 4500 feet so that probably helped a little bit. We took our time and drank plenty of water. The temperature was about 39F when we left the visitor's center and got colder from there.
We finally stopped for a lengthy snack break @ 11,225 feet. We found a huge boulder to shelter us from the wind, so that made it quite comfortable. We even took our jackets off. This was also the snowline. It was sparse at first but soon we were in pretty deep snow. They had a pretty good storm about a week before we got there, so in places, it was over a foot deep. The good thing... the snow was crusted over, so we were able to walk on top of it for a good distance. In other places, we would walk in other people's foot prints. After about 3 miles, the sun began to soften the snow and we were soon post holing. Not fun. Exhausting. We cut the trail short, exiting just before the lake, and walked the road for a bit. Walking on the road wasn't a whole lot of fun so when Ranger Shane asked us if we wanted a ride to the top, we took him up on it.
The summit was surprisingly very crowded with snowboarders and skiers. The weekend before we arrived, they had over 500 vehicles at the top. Wow... I'm glad we went during the week. I was starting to get pretty tired as we made our way across that last little dip to get to the summit. We had it to ourselves for a good 20 minutes. It was pretty windy and must have been about 30F or colder. There is a summit marker/offering to Pele erected at the top. It's crusted over in ice. All the cinder cones have been transformed to snow cones. We had a great day since all the clouds were below us. Mona Loa was so clear, it looked like it was just a few feet away. As we started to hike back to the road, I felt the headache coming on. We began walking down the mountain via the road. After the 3rd vehicle offered a ride, we took it.
Green In The Gills
I don't know if it was altitude sickness or motion sickness or maybe a combination of both, but on the ride down, I began to feel ill. I usually experience a little bit of altitude sickness but nothing too bad. I think it may have been the fact that I was sitting backwards in the bed of a pickup truck, going down winding roads for at least 30 minutes. By the time I got back to the visitor's center, I really wanted to vomit. If there hadn't been so many people there, I just might have. I felt totally fine by the time we got back to the cottage @ 4500 feet. And that's a good thing because this was only day 2 of my 10 day island adventure. I am happy that they had good snowfall right before my arrival. Mauna Kea looked stunning in white.