Mauna Loa Hike Journal

Mauna Loa Summit
Mauna Loa Summit

Photo by Rahul Bhundhoo

 

Mauna Loa Observatory Trail
August 30, 2017
By Rahul Bhundhoo

 
Ahu (stacked rocks) mark the trail
Ahu (stacked rocks) mark the trail

Photo by Rahul Bhundhoo

When I booked my ticket to the big island of Hawai'i, one of the goals that I set for myself was to hike either Mauna Loa or Mauna Kea. I ended up choosing the former as there were cabins available in which I could stay. Leading up to my trip, I was constantly doing research on Mauna Loa and the trails available. I was originally thinking of doing the Mauna Loa Trail, where you start at Mauna Loa Lookout at 6,667 feet. But as my time on the island was limited, I chose the Observatory Trail which I planned two days for (NOTE: I am a beginner hiker). On August 29th, I called the park and made arrangements with the Park Ranger. It was the scariest 15 minutes of my life. What I realized after speaking with the ranger was that I was not prepared at all for this hike. I did not have a sleeping bag, no first aid kit, nothing to cook or boil water with and I only had one gig with altitude hiking before (2,300m). Ascending Mauna Loa will be an additional 1,739 meters. From the ranger's tone, I knew that he was a bit worried for me. But I already paid for the cabin, a non refundable 10 USD, so I had to do. Leaving Hawai'i without achieving one of my goals would be hugely disappointing. On the 30th of August, I set off to the Mauna Loa Observatory. The drive there was beautiful. I had a peak of the extinct Kohala volcano. As I arrived at the parking lot of the observatory, I sensed the thin and cold air. it was different. I stayed for approximately an hour in order to acclimatized. I met other Canadians who were also hiking to the North Pit that day. Finally, at 12: 09 pm, we set off. Within 15 minutes of hiking, I felt a headache coming on. Later, I realized that I was getting altitude sickness. And the Canadian couple with me was also getting sick. But we went on, I took an advil pill which relieved the headache for a bit. The hike up, we were just surrounded with a'a and pahoehoe lava fields. The first sight was the North Pit and in the distance was the caldera. The Canadians went back and I carried on on my own. I came across the Lua Puholo pit and had to stop to admire its grandeur. Finally, at 6 43 pm, I reached the cabin and it was the biggest relief ever. I went into cabin, and saw that there were sleeping bags left from previous hikers which was another relief. If you read this, bring a sleeping bag, it gets close to 0 degrees Celsius at night. I then went out to check out the caldera. It was breathless. It was massive, deep and if I could I would have just stared at it till dusk. I now could fully understand the immense size of Mauna Loa and the power of Goddess Pele. Unfortunately, I was still very sick. So I quickly went into the sleeping bag and fell asleep. I kept waking up throughout the night as my headache was pounding. Headaches from altitude sickness tend to get worse overnight. At around 10 30 pm, I decided to wake up and take a look at the stars. Although they were not fully out, they were still shining bright. August 31st, I woke up feeling tired and with a massive headache. I went to the outhouse to do my business and then tried to eat and drink some water. Hiking down did not seem like a possibility at this time. But I had to push on (because I had rented a car which would cost me more if i stayed overnight again). I quickly took a look at the caldera and the pit again and said my goodbyes to this holy land. Luckily, I came across an American hiker on my way down who generously gave me two aspirin tablets. Within 30 minutes, I saw myself covering a lot more ground before taking a break. I then reached the parking lot and my trip was done. I was proud of myself for completing the hike and surviving. My trip in Hawai'i was now complete. I sat in my car, ate a sandwich and admired Mauna Kea in the distance. I got spiritual, giving thanks to Goddess Pele who allowing me to discover her beauties. Thanking the previous hikers for leaving their sleeping bags, without it, I would have most likely gotten hypothermia. And to the American hiker who gave me the aspirin tablets. Thank you Hawai'i Volcanoes Park for allowing me to see your beauties. Mahalo Rahul
 
Self portrait of the author
Self portrait of the author
 

Last updated: October 3, 2017

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