Hawaii County High Point Trip Report

Mauna Kea (13,796 ft)

Date: March 18, 2002
Author: Dick Ellsworth

From downtown Hilo, drive out the Saddle Road for about 28 miles until an unsigned, paved road leads north. Make a left hand turn onto this road and continue for about 6 miles on good pavement. At this point there is a visitor's center/gift shop for the observatories -- pop in on your way down. About 100 yards past the visitor's center there is a big sign warning that all vehicles going past this area must be 4WD (rough road, etc.). I kept driving up in a rented Ford Escort, determined to see how far I could go before parking and hiking the rest of the way. After about 2.5 - 3 miles, the road turned back into pavement and was smooth to the summit observatories!

We parked at the upper observatory (I forget the name now) and walked about 1/4 mile over to the true summit. There is a shrine of sorts there as well as the USGS BM. We had to kick steps for the last 100 yards (low angle snow with little distance to the bowl below). We enjoyed the view but it was obscured by the persistent cloud cover towards Hilo. It rained a lot during the week we were there. A short glissade down brought us back to a quick hike back up to our car. We went inside the observatory and looked at the telescope.

The drive back down was uneventful. A lodge in Hilo is taking van loads of tourists up to the observatory area, I passed several on the way down. A word on the notorious Saddle Road: this must be one of the best kept secrets on the island! The road is in great shape -- new reflectors along the shoulders, Botts Dots on the median, smooth as a baby's cheek -- 95% of our roads in AK are in far worse shape! Figure three to four hours round trip from Hilo.