Mauna Kea, Hawaii: A Visitor's Guide
At 13,796 ft, Mauna Kea, translated at White Mountain, is not only the highest mountain in the Hawaiian islands but in the whole of the Pacific region. Add to that the extra 18,050 ft under the sea and it becomes the highest mountain in the world.
With its summit covered by snow all year round, intrepid downhill skiers with 4WD vehicles can, amazingly, ski on this island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This hill is open for skiing from December to May, a fact which often escapes visitors to Hawaii.
An experienced driver using a four-wheel drive vehicle can reach the summit of Mauna Kea. The preferred ascent begins about 26 miles out of Hilo by turning off Saddle Road (road 200) on to the Mauna Kea access road. Hale Pohaku is 4 miles up this road, home to some of the Mauna Kea Observatory employees. After a short distance, at the Kilohana viewing point, the road forks, offering the choice of a 6 mile trail or remaining on the road which leads to the observatory.
Trees soon give way to barren land covered with lava. Those who undertake the ascent are rewarded with a fantastic view, provided the cloud cover is not too low. This route also passes Waiau which, at 12,143 ft, is the third highest lake in the United States.
The summit is snow-covered for most of the year. The unusual height and thin air make the ascent very long and strenuous. Care should be taken not to overexert oneself.
In contrast to Mauna Loa, which is administered by the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Mauna Kea is governed directly by the State of Hawaii.
Mauna Kea Observatory
The position of the observatory, located near the summit, makes it one of the finest in the world. It is maintained by NASA and the University of Hawaii as a research center. There are several working telescopes on the summit. Check at the Visitor Center for information on tours.