Sleeping on Mauna Loa, the largest mountain on Earth!
We again woke early before sunrise. And it was definitely a better sunrise than sunset! To beat the heat for the climbs back out, and head off to our Mauna Loa summit, we set off quickly. Made great timing! Unfortunately I forgot my battery cable so wasn’t able to map the hike profile, but should be about 9.5 mile hike in yesterday and a 9.5 mile hike outthink morning. We arrived back to the lookout by 11 AM.
The local man watching the valley entrance was impressed we came out so early. Though we also had comments that our packs were really small. I am sporting my new Mountain Laurel Designs 38L Burn pack in the wasabi color, and my sister is sorting my old MLD 45L Exodus pack in the gray color. I haven’t really used my new pack extensively since it arrived in the mail, so I am excited to give it a variety of outings on this trip!
We hit the road and drove toward the island interior, to the high saddle between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. The trailhead required a drive up this eerie single lane road to the Mauna Loa Observatory. Saw three adult mountain goats shedding their coats and one tiny baby black goat. It felt like we were leaving Earth on the winding and climbing road impossibly built into the a’a lava fields. The road climbs to just above 11,000 feet and we drove right up into a cloud. It was so calm and quiet with no one around. We were the lone vehicle in the parking area and the Observatory looked empty, despite it being just before 3 PM.
My sister and I set out on our hike up to Mauna Loa at 3pm. Later than we wanted, so we went straight to the Mauna Loa Cabin. Which is right on the crater rim opposite the mountain’s high point. Took longer than we thought. Lava rock hiking is no small feat, especially at 13,000 feet.
This hike was a geology wonderland! I felt instantly transported to Mars. A lifeless, desolate terrain devoid of motion except for the volcanic signature. Not even wind was overly effective at modifying the landscape. Some terms:
a’a = stony rough lava, burn, blaze. This is a rough, or rubble lava surface composed of broken lava blocks called clinker. The clinkers surface actually covers a dense massive core where the flow is active.
pahoehoe = smooth unbroken lava. This is a smooth, billowy, or ropy surface from the flow of very fluid lava under the congealing surface crust.
lava tube = Forms when lava cools at the surface, forming an insulating crust, allowing the more fluid lava to flow underneath. Over time the flow forms a tunnel-like conduit which eventually drains, leaving the empty and open tunnel behind.
crater = A circular depression in the ground formed by the subsidence of volcanic material as gases vent out and magma chambers empty.
Our hike up a mostly a’a trail was 5.9 miles up 2,100 feet to above 13,000 feet. Considering we started our day hiking out 9.5 miles from Waimanu Valley at sea level, we were kicking ass!
We made it to the cabin with some sunlight to spare. Mauna Loa Summit Cabin is a great cabin! I did not know what to expect. There were 12 bunks, a composting toilet, and rainwater catchment. We had phenomenal views over the main crater, Mukuaweoweo Caldero. In the fading light we could see a tiny lone release of gas from the rift zone cutting across the crater. No lava action today, but the rift zone is created from magma pushing up from below and pulling the rift apart.
What a great sunset! We are definitely on Mars. The air became instantly freezing once sun left horizon. The wind began to blow. But the rocks continued to radiate heat from the sun’s rays. The stars seems particularly bright and beautiful, but the bright full moon quickly diminished their twinkle. We met two other hikers at the cabin who came up from the Red Hill cabin the previous night on the Mauna Loa Trail.
Despite hiking up out of a cloud at the parking lot, the sky that night was particularly clear and crisp. We had stunning views of the Milky Way. I tried to find the Scorpio constellation that night. In Hawaiian culture it is known as Maui’s fishhook, called Ka Maka. We couldn’t see it. Nonetheless I began singing Moana songs in my head the rest of the night. “…Open yours eyes, let’s begin. Yes, it’s really me, it’s Maui, breathe it in. I know it’s a lot: the hair, the bod, when you are staring at a demi-god.” I really want to re-watch that movie now.
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