The Big 5-0

All quests have an end-game and George's was to finish the high points in each state with the final in Hawaii on Mauna Kea, translated as the " White Mountain" from the Hawaiian dialect. We were all set to go this past March, George, John and myself found ourselves driving the many miles from Kona to the 'rustic' cabin we would call home for a night to stage and ready for the climb. These hunting cabins were the only place to rent close to Mauna Kea, as you are not allowed to camp overnight in the park. Whether it is out of respect for the scared grounds or an issue of water supply, it seems to be a good idea as the trail we encountered was pristine.

Acclimatizing is the key and we did our best with the limited time. Driving from sea level to 6k to the cabins @ Mauna Kea State Recreation Area was the first leg. We settled in and then drove up to the Onizuka Visitor Center at about 9k and hung around for an hour or so. Once we felt okay, we then drove to the top into heavy misting, cold winds and limited visibility. Our stay was 20 minutes at most. Back down to the cabin @ 6k, dinner and then back to the Visitor Center to do some stargazing that night. It seemed to do the trick as we felt good the following morning. Point of note on the cabins. The only running water is for the toilet, so bring plenty for washing and cooking. They are also only available on the weekends and you will be sharing the park with a lot of hunters going after wild pig and pheasants.

The Climb

Up early, what else! We drove to the visitor center, parked the car, took care of early morning bio-needs and headed out to start a 4.5k+ elevation gain and see what it looks like from the top of the tallest mountain in the world. Yes, the tallest! Measured from the base, Mauna Kea stands at 33,500 ft, significantly higher than the 13,615 ft that Everest rises. And you do not need supplemental oxygen. The trail follows the road for a very short section and then heads to the left and upwards. For the majority of hike you are away from the summit road, but always within striking distance if anything was to occur

The trail climbed steadily within the volcanic landscape as the sun rose bringing light to the shadows while warming us up. What really amazed me was seeing Mauna Loa cloud free and in her glory. One of the five hotspot volcanoes that make up the big island (Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Kilauea), Mauna Loa is the largest volcano in the world in terms of volume and area covered. As a shield volcano, the translation to " Long Mountain" from native Hawaiian fits, since her lava is extremely fluid and is showing mid-age spread as the weight of the mountain bears down on the fluid layers beneath.

After spending the majority of the up climb in rocky volcanic surroundings, the last mile brings you back to civilization as the access road becomes the final leg, with a short over earth section to finish. You could go cross-country at this point, but in respect for the sanctity of Mauna Kea you follow the road (also, path of least resistance). The winds I mentioned earlier were at their peak when we hit this section and did it slow us down. Weather was still cooperating, but the wind was doing its best to keep us away, must have been a test from the mountain gods to ensure our worthiness. As you crest the road there is turnout to the left, hop the chain rail and the summit is in sight. A short walk up to the tallest rise and you are there! George and John made it first and I followed. We stayed for a short time as the winds, which were gusting to 55 mph, were enough to keep us on our butts to take pictures.

The geology of this area is fascinating. As you look over at Mauna Loa and its low sleek shape and mass, Mauna Kea contrasts with a steep smooth profile that was formed during its last eruptive stages that brought a more viscous lava producing thicker and steeper outflows. Yet they sit side-by-side and together they depress the ocean crust below by 4 miles. Now in a post-shield era, Mauna Kea is classified as 'Normal" on the Volcano-Alert system and the USGS rates the chance of eruption at 7, on a scale where 9 indicates dormant. Mauna Kea is also home to Lake Waiau, the highest lake in the Pacific Basin @ 13,022 feet, a good trivia question.

So ends the 50 state trek to climb each high point at the southern most point of the United States. Eleven years of criss-crossing America also ends at our newest state. I had the privilege to join George on several climbs (AZ, KS, OK, CO) and we celebrated at the end of the week with family and friends. Congratulations!

May our paths and errands meet...