State Highpoints – Hawaii - 13,796-foot Mauna Kea
Hawaii’s highest peak and the sixth highest US state summit, 13,796-foot Mauna Kea, is a shield volcano
of significant size. It is on the Big Island of Hawaii along with it’s neighbor 13,679-foot Mauna Loa,
another more active shield volcano. These two volcanos, plus a few sub volcanoes, make up the Big Island,
Hawaii’s largest island. Being quite a ways into the Pacific, Mauna Kea has the distinction of being
2,455 miles from it’s nearest higher peak, Mount Shasta in Northern California.
This isolation is only surpassed by Denali. Climbing Mauna Kea consists of travelling to the Big Island,
then driving up to the beginning of the road that goes up to the many observatories spread over
Mauna Kea’s large summit area. The mountain’s actual highpoint is separate from the observatories,
and has no building on it. This respects the native belief that the mountain is sacred. From the beginning of
the summit road at 9,180 feet, the hike up the Humuula Trail to the summit is about 6.4 miles, and you must gain a
whopping 4,600 feet. The alternative is to drive up the road to near it’s highest point close to some
observatories at 13,740 feet. There is a parking area here and a trail leads a modest 0.2 mile southeast to the
summit of Mauna Kea. The summit is usually adorned with flags and a cairn. In many winters, the summit area may
be covered with snow, and after the occasional big storm, enthusiasts swarm to the top to ski down.
Many observatories are scattered across the large summit area because this is one of the best observing sites
on the planet. The high altitude, isolated position in the Pacific, and predictibly clear Hawaiian climate
make for clear nights. The observatories belong to organizations from all over the world.
Highpointers from all over the world also seek Mauna Kea’s summit. It is a marvelous place to be.