Aloha! I’m Donnie MacGowan and I live on the Big Island of Hawaii. Today, I’d like to take you to the top of Mauna Kea. At 13, 796 feet above sea level, Mauna Kea’s summit is the highest point in the State of Hawaii; since its base lies at 19000 feet below sea level, its has a base-to-summit height of 33,000 feet, making it the tallest mountain on earth. It’s also one of my most favorite places on earth.
Mauna Kea began forming on the sea floor about one million years ago. Its name means “White Mountain” in the Hawaiian language and it is snowcapped much of the winter, and the summit is covered with permafrost 35 feet deep. During the ice ages, Mauna Kea’s summit was glaciated 3 times, starting about 200000 years ago and ending only 11000 years ago. One can see the U-shaped valleys and cirques, striated bedrock, glacial tills covering the summit area and remnants of ice-damned lava flows from those times. There are even the remains of extinct rock glaciers near the summit.
The Visitor’s Information Station and summit are reached via a road which turns off Saddle Road at about 6600 feet elevation near the 28 mile marker and tortuously stumbles its way up the south side of Mauna Kea to the Visitor Information Station at about 9300 feet. The road, though steep, is paved to the Visitor’s Information Station. Above that, the road is graded dirt for about 5 miles, returning to asphalt paving for the final sprint to the rim of the summit crater. Road conditions for the summit road are available at 808.935.6263.
The Visitor Information Station is open from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. 365 days a year. Informational multimedia presentations, souvenirs, and some food items are available here, as well as clean restrooms and drinking water. Every evening after dark the center allows visitors to stargaze through several telescopes and informational talks by visiting scientists are occasionally scheduled. Saturday and Sunday the staff lead escorted summit field trips, but visitors must provide their own vehicle. Call 808.961.2180 for information. It is suggested that summit-bound visitors stop at the Visitor’s Information Station for at least half an hour before heading to the summit so they can acclimate. The rangers there can help you decide if you and your vehicle are fit for the trip to the summit.
A wonderful, easy road trip that includes a visit to the summit of Mauna Kea can be made a memorable part of any visit to the Big Island. Directions for a 1-day scenic drive from Kailua Kona to the top of Mauna Kea and on to Hilo (with stops along the way) can be found here. More information on the summit drive and hike is available here; information about the Hawaiian mythology surrounding Mauna Kea can be found here.
Produced by Donnie MacGowan; original musical score written and performed by Donald B. MacGowan; videography by Donnie MacGowan and Frank Burgess.
For more information on visiting Hawaii in general, or touring the Big Island in particular, please visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com. Information about the author can be found here.