Peak(s):  Mauna Kea (13,976')
Date Posted:  12/29/2021
Modified:  12/30/2021
Date Climbed:   12/18/2021
Author:  BirdMan
 Mauna Kea - The Moon, Mars or Bust!   

Estimated Round Trip: 12 Miles, Estimated Elevation Gain: 4,600'

I was lucky enough to be able to spend a fair portion of the Holidays on the Big Island of Hawaii this year. I thought my climbing for the year was done, but wait? Hawaii has a 13er? With snow and everything? Sign me up! Just a note: I thought on this TR I thought I'd try something different and combine two of my biggest loves - music and hiking. Please feel free to sample as much or as little of the music as you like.

In order to maintain some of my Colorado blood oxygen level we picked the 2nd day we were in Hawaii to go for the peak. As fate would have it my wife's alma mater was playing a semi-final college football game (Go Jacks!) so she opted out of the hike leaving me to have a solo adventure. So I was lucky enough just to be in Hawaii, to be fit enough to go for a peak like this, to get the pass to do it and to even get the rental car to drive myself to the TH. I have to admit, it seemed like the universe was aligning here.

So, when to get started on a hike like this? I'd seen reports of some who started hiking early enough to be able to watch the sunrise from the summit. That sounded great but also I wanted to see the trail, I was on vacation and am able to enjoy "every minute of the day".

Breakfast around 5 am at the hotel, getting my body and soul prepared.


Drove the Saddle Road, which is in excellent condition, reached the Visitors Center, signed in and began the hike around 7 am. A reflection in the window of the rental car.


You see some strange signs when you leave the mainland.

The Visitor Center sign with holes drilled in it to let strong winds pass through.

The route itself is very well marked at the beginning of the trail. Once on the route there are no trees or other side trails so getting lost or off route really isn't much of a concern.

A quarter mile or so (?) you come to this split. I veered right but I believe the left route would just re-join the right anyway.

Hawaii is such a special place they are understandably concerned about keeping it pristine. My first time seeing a request to clean my gear before starting a hike but when in Rome...


There was frost on the trail in shaded spots, a reminder that this is a mountain environment.


Hiking up, the fine lava dirt and rocks gave the impression of being on another world, like I was "walking on the moon".


Mauna Loa (13,679') was always just over my shoulder to the south.


We bought reef-safe sun screen for the trip which proved good to be an excellent sun screen though it didn't rub in as well as other sunscreens I've used. Made me look a bit like a "Starman".


I think it was around 11,400' that I got my first look at snow for the day.


Again, Mauna Loa. A constant companion.


When you reach Lake Waiau at 13,080' you're roughly 3/4 of the way to the summit. I won't lie, at this point I was pretty fatigued. I had trained for the hike but I believe coming from sea level that morning (we stayed in Hilo) had an impact on me.

This lake has special significance to the Hawaiians. Here is an offering site.

At last you start to see the famous telescopes on the Mauna Kea summit. It is other worldly to say the least.


After all that time alone you start to look for friends where you can find them. I suppose even if you have to make them!


At last I was nearing the top. I found most people drove to the summit as I only saw one other hiker that day. As I neared the road signs I knew I was oxygen deprived but c'mon, this can't be right...

Actually abbreviations for the many telescopes on the summit!

As you near the summit there are many signs of intelligent life!


With my wife's football game going on I couldn't help but wonder, if I popped in to one of the many scientific installations, could I get the score on one of these things ?


I lucked out weather-wise that day. I had taken all kinds of winter weather gear, down coat, mittens, ski pants, balaclava, etc. but it turned out to be a fairly mild day up top. Still, here's how much snow Hawaii can get at elevation.


I saw one telescope that was open and rotating into place. I guess those NASA folks are always working.


The trek around the telescopes and all that "Big Science" never got old.


Nearing the summit. It was actually cloudy at lower elevations so this was the best picture with the vast Pacific Ocean as a background.


Just remember everyone, there's no need to feel alone on the Holidays. They're already among us!


At last, at the summit! Truth be told however, I didn't actually step foot on the summit. Again, Hawaii has many culturally sensitive areas and the true summit of Mauna Kea is no exception. I learned from a ranger later that their advice is typically if you've hiked Mauna Kea you've earned the 'right' to the actual summit. So I suppose it's up to the individual. I felt this was close enough for me.


As has been my custom this year, I've carried a memento of father to each summit I've reached. Mauna Kea was no exception.

Rest in peace Dad. Larry Baker 11/30/1933 - 12/15/2020.

I started my descent but continued to marvel at all the snow in Hawaii!

A cinder cone covered in snow. Not something you see everyday.

As I started to descend the clouds that had been on the coast started to move inland and up Mauna Kea. Uh oh, seems like a good idea to get down.

A trail marker that I understand from a ranger in future years will have numbered signs on them.

Some romantics before me laid out lava rock in the shape of a heart. Aww...


I'm always amazed how life sprouts up in what seems to be the most unforgiving circumstances.


Getting close to the Vistor's Center but not out of the woods yet!


When all was said and done it was time to rest and re-fuel, Hawaii style!


Mahalo for Reading, Happy Holidays and Aloha!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Let it snow, let it snow
12/29/2021 10:44
Wonderful report, what an awesome day. Snowy summit and the beach all in one day. Very nicely done.

Nice report!
12/29/2021 13:51
Hoping to do this trip and hike in the spring!

12/31/2021 14:20
Cinder cones covered in snow, with a small crater, how delightful.
Thanks for posting this.

01/25/2022 16:24
all, it was a certainly wonderful day.

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