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Mauna Loa and Manta Ray(s)

June 5 2002

22 Panoramas 2 1869 words, 10.0kB




After a bad night (I wake up at 1:30am!) I almost wake up before my alarm(s) go off at 4am. I'm awake pretty soon, and even have a shower. Anita does not wake up, and she indeed decides to stay at home - not an easy decision. I have some cereal with joghurt for breakfast, and at 4:20 I'm off, after a tearful good-bye. I, too, hope that everything is going well - since I'm hiking alone, and there might be problems with altitude sickness.

Though the sun officially rises not before 5:45am, it's getting noticable bright in the east as I turn onto Saddle Road, and it's maybe 4:30. The night is perfectly clear, and I think it's gonna be a good day for this. A couple of speed daemons are active at even this time of the night to my surprise.

Observatory road, Mauna Loa Observatory road, Mauna Loa

At 5am I reach the turn-off at Pu'u Huluhulu, and I'm on the observatory road. Only the flatter part at the beginning has a number of blind turns; after that it gets better, and there are less potholes as well.

Meanwhile it's relatively bright, but still dark enough to see the lights of oncoming cars - I hope. The first 8mi the road first goes straight, then north-east up the mountain. At 8mi the road reaches a repeater station and a turn-off to a gravel road. This must be the connection to Stainback highway!

Sunrise from observatory road, Mauna Loa Sunrise from observatory road, Mauna Loa

I stop for a while to take a photo of the rising sun which now made it above the clouds that linger right of Mauna Kea. Back driving, the road now heads in a south-west direction. The road is mostly straight now, but a number of dips create more blind spots. This is not too bad, though, because I can see a number of crests ahead.

At the Weather Observatory

Mauna Loa weather observatory Mauna Loa weather observatory

At 6am I reach the observatory. I saw the light of a car when I was at Pu'u Huluhulu (I think), and indeed there is another, red car here. I begin to think I maybe should have come even earlier?!

I pack my stuff and start my track to the summit of Mauna Loa. Actually, at the moment I only have plans for Mokuaweoweo, the caldera. Let's see how it goes... Another factor is time; I told Annie I'm gonna be back at 5am the latest.

Trail head Mauna Loa trail Trail head Mauna Loa trail

At the beginning I only wear the fleece, but after 5min I wear the goretex parka as well since a light wind chills me too much. The first 500m or so are on a gravel road (the 4x4 road that leads to the summit), and the gravel is quite deep. I feel winded even before I reach the turn-off to the track!

I tell myself again and again to walk slowly. Small, regular steps; not too fast. Breath deep in and out with every two steps. I concentrate on my footwork and have my arms dangling on the side. This seems to work, and I feel quite well.

Mauna Loa trail, part 1 Mauna Loa trail, part 1

The first part is, as I realize later, the steepest part of the trail. I have to say, though, that this is not "steep" as in "steep as a staircase". I don't know what the hiking books talk about - sure, it's uphill, but it's not "steep".

The observatory stays in view for a long time, and I have the feeling I don't really get anywhere. My GPS tells me I'm progressing nicely though, and after 1h I made well more than the first mile.

Hualalai from observatory, Mauna Loa Hualalai from observatory, Mauna Loa

I often stop for photos, mostly of the track ahead. Everytime a new view opens I take a picture. At the end I will have 20 images or so which more or less cover the whole trail.

Jeep Road

Cone along Mauna Loa Trail Cone along Mauna Loa Trail

The first crossing of the jeep road is hardly noticable. At the second crossing (the road makes a "U" to the left) I'm confused. The map says I pass the bend on the right and head straight uphill, but I can see no cones in this direction. I see one far up through the binoculars though, but this doesn't seem right.

Lava tube shelter, Mauna Loa Trail Lava tube shelter, Mauna Loa Trail

I spot a cone marked with pink tape further up the road and decide to follow this hint, after walking back and forth and checking for about 10 min.

Olivine crystals, Mauna Loa Trail Olivine crystals, Mauna Loa Trail

As I walk along the road I notice it is covered with rocks rich in olivine. Some pieces are fairly big, and I take a sample - for Anita.

Morning frost, Mauna Loa Trail Morning frost, Mauna Loa Trail

After 300m or so I'm at the cairn I spottet from my point of indicision, and indeed the trail continues here. Curse the map! Right at the cairn is a spot covered with a white material. To my surprise it is frost - it didn't seem that cold!

Mauna Loa trail, part 10 Mauna Loa trail, part 10

From the road on, the trail is covered with very pumicy lava. A rift and cones are framed with very red lava, which is in stark contrast to the black surroundings and the green/yellow pumice cover.

Cinder cone, Mauna Loa Trail Cinder cone, Mauna Loa Trail

My GPS tells me I covered 3.5km as the nene flies, but since I walked and didn't fly that means I must be close to the top. And indeed, after a few more meters I reach Mokuaweoweo, and, boy, it is big.


Mokuaweoweo from North Pit

To say the caldera is big is like saying the ocean is wet. Yes, and very much so. This hole in the mountain is enormous. The surrounding walls form a 200-300m high cliff that runs to the horizon, where a "narrow" gate leads to the South Pit.

I enjoy the view for a while, have some water (I drank lots on the way), and have some snacks. Cool, I did it! Since I feel quite well, only 2.5h have passed, and my energy is still up, I decide to go for the summit.

Jaggar's Cave, Mauna Loa Trail Jaggar's Cave, Mauna Loa Trail

Close to the point where I rested is a customized caved-in lava tube: Jaggar's cave. Thomas A. Jaggar, founder and longtime director of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, used this place as a base to explore Mauna Loa.

Snow in fissure, Mauna Loa Trail Snow in fissure, Mauna Loa Trail

The trail is not as steep from here, but the air is thinner. So it feels the same: go slow, but get exhausted though. I come across a seismometer station, and there is another one further to the south west.

Multicolored lava, Mauna Loa Trail Multicolored lava, Mauna Loa Trail

I have to cross some fissures. Deep down on the bottom snow is visible. I notice, too, that my concentration is not 100% anymore, but if feel my thinking is clear and I don't stumble or anything like that.

Snow in Hawai'i! (Mauna Loa summit) Snow in Hawai'i! (Mauna Loa summit)

Shortly before the summit I come across this tiny patch of snow - now I can say I stood on snow in the summer in Hawai'i!

The Summit

Mauna Loa trail, part 21 Mauna Loa trail, part 21

I still enjoy the hike, but I'm glad as the summit comes into view. The trail had moved quite far away from the caldera, and only at one point, shortly before the summit, I get a view of the big pit.

Mauna Loa summmit

Then it's done: I'm on the top of one of the highest mountains on earth (measured from the sea floor, that is). Yes!!! The panorama is quite incredible, though it was already good from the rim. The summit cairn is pretty close to the edge, and the edge looks crumbly. Deep crevisses outline the future edge of the cliff.

Christian and Mokuaweoweo Christian and Mokuaweoweo

I try a bit of self-photography, and get this image of me with a reflection of the caldera in my sunglasses by holding the camera at my outstretched arm. I sit and enjoy the view and eat all the bread I brought (forgot the meats in the car...).

1940 cone, Mokuaweoweo 1940 cone, Mokuaweoweo

The biggest feature on the caldera floor is the cone of the 1940 eruption, a veritable by itself. Suddenly I hear choppers, and two Blackhawks appear on the opposite side of the rim. One flies straight over me; the other descends into the caldera and exits through the north pit. Your tax money at work!

High Altitude Sickness

I now feel that the altitude is affecting me quite a bit. I've got a dull headache, feel nauseated, and my coordination is partly gone. Though I never severely stumble or fall, my walking style (which I consider to be good!) suffers. I leave the summit at about 11:10.

At the seismometer station I take a Ibuprofen, but that either kicks in quite late, or maybe it's just the lower altitude that helps (though it's only 300m lower at the caldera floor, and I'm not there yet). I have one of these "Carbooms", synthetic high-carbohydrate food in a squeeze pack. It tastes better than I would have hoped, but it indeed needs to be consumed with lots of water: it's quite sweet and sticky.

What does altitude sickness feel like? Like waking up too early after heavy drinking and having to work. There is a dull headache to make things generally unpleasant. Nausea makes physical activity a constant struggle against unloading the last meal. And like with residual alcohol, motoric functions are impaired.

I didn't like this at all! After only 1h (12:15) I'm back to the intersection at Mokuaweoweo, and I feel a bit better. But not much (as to be expected by loosing only 300m). I try to absorb the view once more but don't stick around for long.

My theory is that by body was quite happy while I was active and pumping oxygen, but once I sat down at the summit for almost one hour my metabolism slowed too much for the height, and I became oxygen deprived.

Tending the tools, Mauna Loa Trail Tending the tools, Mauna Loa Trail

I keep a pretty fast pace, and by the time I reach the jeep road my head clears up a bit. I look for some more olivine (and find some nice pieces), and then my feet require attention. I got some nice blisters on my small toes, and the left blister already has ripped open. Yikes, that hurt the moment it happened! I put some bandaid on, and continue downhill.

Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa observatory Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa observatory

After 2h I'm back at the car (3220m). So it took me 5h to go up and 3h to get down! Not too bad. But then there's the long way home. Before that I enjoy hot salami and canadian bacon that I had forgotten to bring with me. While I eat a car leaves the observatory and heads down.

The long way home

It's 2:15pm meanwhile, and after an uneventfull drive I pull into the parking lot of the Kamuela Inn at 4:15pm. I see Annie already waiting for me. She is very relieved, and I am actually as well. All that driving, and the altitude, plus doing that all on my own, certainly was not a piece of cake. It actually will take me until the next morning before the headache completely disappears...

To put things into perspective I'd like to quote from Kathy Morey's "Hawaii Trails":

"This trip can be done as an extremely strenuous 11 3/4 mile day hike if you are physically able to meet the demands of the high altitude [...]."

And in Andrew Doughty and Harriett Friedman's "Hawaii The Big Island Revealed":

"Getting to the top of Mauna Loa is tough, no matter which way you slice it. [... It is] a tough 8mi round-trip day hike [...]. You can do it in a day if you're into punishment [...]. Altitude sickness is common, even among the fittest."

No shit! Some people screwed up so badly hiking up Mauna Loa that you won't believe it... I say "screwed up" instead of "had bad luck" since they really made one bad decision after another (story).

Manta Ray(s)

Cane toad, Mauna Kea Hotel lawns Cane toad, Mauna Kea Hotel lawns

I have a shower, relax a bit, and then we head out for some food (though I can't remeber where we went - maybe just the KTA?). Then Anita wants to get her plan implemented, and that is go to the Mauna Kea Resort and spot some Mantas.

We had tried before to spot manta rays at Kona, but found the hotel closed (and guarded). No operation, no lights, no mantas. Bummer. But Anita had heard the come to the Mauna Kea as well, and sceptically I drive us down to the coast.

The guard is friendly enough to not shoe us out, and we just park the car in the regular lot. We sneak through some tennis courts to the shore, and follow the path towards the main building. Passing a wedding party, we find a platform which juts out a little, and there is a big light shining on the water as well. This must be it!

[Anita, please?!]

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