Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Mauna Loa Summit: 13,679 ft
Miles hiked: 43
Elevation gained: 9,699 ft
Standing on top of the world's most massive mountain: Priceless.

Here's a few more summit shots for good measure:

Now, as to how we got to here...

Jenny and I began packing Thursday night. Since we didn't have access to a stove, we had to bring all dry food, and consequently we had a TON of food.

We woke up at 4:30 Friday morning, planning to catch the bus to the Volcano National Park visitor center that departs Hilo at ten after 5, only to discover that the buses weren't running because it was a state holiday (I bet you can't name it): Statehood Day. What a bummer. We gave up and decided to try again Saturday morning, and instead went to work for the day. After another night of packing and carbo-loading, Saturday began much better. We caught the bus and arrived at the visitor at about 6:45, where a sympathetic Park Ranger let us in before opening to get a permit. After he wrote us a permit for one night at Red Hill Cabin at 10,000 ft and then one night at the Summit Cabin at 13,200 ft, I made a nearly tragic mistake: I asked, "Why is there a road closed arrow on the map next to the Mauna Loa Trailhead Road?" To which he responded, "Oh! Actually that road is closed because of the potential for visitors to start fires. You can't do this hike at all."

Two weaker (or perhaps more law-abiding) souls would have packed it in right there, but not Jenny and I. In addition to having no way to get to the other trailhead to hike Mauna Loa, we also had no way to return to Hilo until 6 PM, so we did the best (and most legal) option we had: we decided to play dumb. "Wait, you mean this road is closed?" "Oh! You mean this isn't the road to the beach?" and my personal favorite, "The ranger just said the road was closed. We're actually on the shoulder." Fortunately we didn't run into anyone, so we didn't have any need for our [bad] acting skills. At noon we got to the trailhead, where we also ran into the last people we would see for 48 hours.

Saturday afternoon we trekked 8 miles from the trailhead to Pu'u'ula'ula, also known as Red Hill, at 10,035 feet. About 9,000 feet or so we passed the last living creature we would see till Devin and Tad picked us up Monday morning:

No, not me. The tree.

Red Hill was how I imagine the surface of Mars- exceedingly red. We got to see a really spectacular sunset from the top of the hill before retreating into the cabin to escape the freezing temperatures.

Sunday morning Jenny and I shivered out of bed, ate a cold breakfast, thawed the spigot on the water tank, and then began our 16 miles for the day. The ranger warned us that the water tank at the summit was empty, so Jenny and I chugged a quart at breakfast and then filled everything we possibly could with water. The highlight of the first 8 miles to the caldera was the variety of lava types we saw. We saw Pele's Tears, glassy hunks of lava blasted out of the caldera, oxidized red lava, and "golden frothy pahoehoe" (I'm quoting from our guide here).

We also got to see the start of a forest fire on the slopes of Mauna Kea, which created a huge plume and is still burning.

At about 2 o'clock we arrived at the summit junction, where we ditched our packs and made for the summit at 13,679 feet. The summit was an exhausting 2.5 miles from the junction, on the far side of the caldera. The size of the caldera was staggering- the cliffs in this picture are several hundred feet tall.

After resting on the summit for a bit, we began the 2.5 mile hike back to the junction and then the final arduous 2 miles to the summit cabin, all the way around the caldera at 13,250 feet. After arriving at the cabin, Jenny and I unpacked, ate as much trail food as we could handle (not very much at this point), and settled in for a night at 13,000 feet.

It turns out breathing at 13,250 feet requires breathing through your mouth to get enough air, so Jenny and consequently woke up very thirsty with chapped lips. After a quick breakfast, Jenny and I walked back to the trail junction and then scampered down the 3.5 miles to the Mauna Loa Observatory at 11,150 ft, where Devin and Tad came to our rescue.

What a trip. Everything worked out like we had hoped, and the only major damage was done to my boots...

Only two more weeks of work left in Hilo! I'll write that post about work soon. I promise.

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