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A Blistering Affiair

I spent the weekend hosting Matthew Miller, Features Editor for Islands Magazine ( Saturday we spent the day with two birdwatching guests at Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge and were treated to glorious weather and cooperative birds. I found my first mixed-species feeding flock of the season allowing great views of Akepa, Hawaii Creeper, and a female Akiapolaau.  Sunday found me meeting Matthew at the crack of dawn at the Puu Huluhulu parking area—we planned to hike the summit of Mauna Loa via the Mauna Loa Observatory access Summit Trail.  After a quick bit of breakfast we drove up to the 11,300’ elevation, geared up and took off on the 12 mile, 4,000’ elevation gain/loss roundtrip.

Hiking the summit of Mauna Loa takes it out of you in two ways.  First, six miles over rough, sharp, crack-ridden, uneven, bare lava is a perfect recipe for blisters, turned ankles, trips, and falls.  You basically need to watch every step you make along the way.  And the miles seem much longer on the lava.  Secondly, doing a day hike up from 11,000 to 13,677 feet, after you’ve driven up from sea level, guarantees that the altitude will get you.  Headache, light-headedness, dizziness, muscle fatigue, and shortness of breath were our companions for much of the hike.  Plus, around 12,000 feet the wind shifted and brought a visible haze of vog to the summit.  Not only were we breathing about 40% less oxygen, what little air we were getting was laced with sulphur-dioxide!  Both of us were hurting pretty good by 12,500 feet. Me especially.
We finally made the summit just at our absolute turn around time.  We averaged one mile an hour to the top—not a record pace.  As I approached the summit ahu, I thought, “This is the last time I’m doing this.”  I think I’ve said the same thing the last few times I’ve been to the summit.  Our hike down was easier but pretty tough.  Rubbery legs, a giant big-toe blister, and headache made for a brainless robotic descent.

Despite the arduousness of the hike, it’s a trek that’s well worth it.  The challenging conditions combined with the beauty of the lava formations,  the absolute silence, and the magnificent view of Mokuaweoweo caldera make it a world-class walk.  At the summit upon first viewing the caldera Matthew declared, “You know what, I think it’s more impressive than the Grand Canyon.”  Maybe he felt that way because of the tough going getting there or the hypoxic condition of a brain at nearly 14,000 feet.  But no matter what you compare it to, standing on top of the world’s largest volcano is definitely an awe inspiring experience. Despite my summit vow, I imagine if someone asks in the future and I’ve got the time (and my big-toe blister has healed), I’ll find myself hypoxic at the edge of Mokuaweoweo atop Mauna Loa.

If you’re interested in learning more about Mauna Loa visit this site: or check out my essay on Mauna Loa here:

With Aloha,
Rob Pacheco
Posted by Rob Pacheco at 7:01:53 PM in Blogs by Rob Pacheco, HFT Founder (16) | Comments (0)

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