Hawaii Volcanoes National Park High Point Trip Report
Mauna Loa (13,667 ft)
Date: December 26, 1992
Author: Bob Sumner
To get to the Mauna Loa dayhike trailhead from Kona, go
northeast on State 190 about 35 miles to the Saddle Road,
which is State 200. The Saddle Road is the most direct route
from Kona to Hilo, but it is very narrow and winding.
Accidents are common, so the rental car companies don't permit
their vehicles on it. (Of course, no one checks this.)
Go southeast on the Saddle Road for about 25 miles to Humuula
Saddle at 6600'. To the left (north) is the road to Mauna Kea;
one hundred yards further on the right is the unsigned road to
Mauna Loa. Follow this poor paved road for about 17 miles to
the U.S. Weather Observatory and the signed Mauna Loa
trailhead. The elevation here is about 11,150'.
At 13,667', Mauna Loa is Hawaii's second highest mountain.
It is a gigantic shield volcano, which means that lava doesn't
shoot out in huge explosions (a la Mt. St. Helens), but rather
flows out less violently creating a very wide enormous mountain.
Mauna Loa is an active volcano and still has occasional
eruptions, though most of the lava activity is on the south
side, down in or near the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
From the weather station, one can hike the long dirt road to
the top, or the fairly direct hiking trail. The trail is about
13 miles round trip and 2600' gain. It is marked with cairns
and ducks every 50 to 100 yards, and ascends gently sloping
lava fields. Both kinds of lava are present: pahoehoe, which
is black and has a smooth fluidic appearance; and a'a, which
looks like glued jumbles of small very rough rock. There are
actually two trails ascending the north slopes of Mauna Loa:
they are parallel and are about 1/4 mile apart. Both are
marked with ducks.
As I ascended there were large billowy storm clouds creeping
up the slopes from Hilo. The wind increased steadily and by
the time I reached the crater rim it was apparent things were
going to get ugly. There was still more than a mile and
several hundred feet to go. I was starting to slow down though;
the altitude change from sea level to over 13,000' was
catching up with me. Soon the clouds caught me and I continued
through pea soup fog by following the ducks. Minutes later the
wind gusted and the snow began. By the time I reached the
summit it was a full-blown white-out. Signed the register and
bailed - no views this time.
After descending 1000' or so, the weather lightened up.
I discovered I was on the alternate trail in the lava fields,
and that it rejoined the main trail a couple of miles from the
trailhead. By 5:00 PM I was back in Kona sipping a mai-tai.
It was warm and sunny there, while high above on the peak the
clouds were swirling. The nasty weather continued throughout
my stay. These "pineapple express" storms would pound Los Angeles
a few days later.