Hiking to the Summit




 Hiking is at your own risk!  Register at the VIS

Before you go… be advised that:

  • The hiking trail to the summit of Maunakea is 6 miles (10 km) in length. The trail starts at the VIS, and climbs from 9,200 ft (2800 m) up to the summit at 13,800 ft (4,200 m).  The first 200 yards is along the roadway, and then the trail heads off to the left.  Follow trail signs for the first 1-1/2 miles, and after that the trail is clearly visible. When the trail hits the roadway at 13,200 you have run out of trail, and the remainder of the hike to the summit (~1 mile) is along the roadway. We discourage hiking to the true summit as this is considered a sacred site.
  • The average round-trip hiking time for experienced hikers is approximately eight (8) hours. Please know that your trip may take longer!!!  Plan to be back at the VIS by sunset or you may be stranded on the trail in the dark.  Be aware that the sun sets earlier in the winter.
  • Have appropriate clothing for cold inclement weather, including broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, lip protection, long sleeve shirt and long pants, and sturdy comfortable hiking boots.  Note that weather can change without warning, including the onset of rain, ice, and/or fog.  During the summer summit daytime temperatures average between freezing and 50 degrees F (8 C), however, there are periods when the weather is not suitable for hiking.  Check the weather forecast for the mountain at the Maunakea Weather Center before you start your trip.
  • There is no public transportation on the mountain.  You should NOT assume you can get a ride down to the Visitor Station if you become tired or lost. Don't become stuck or stranded on the mountain. Be prepared.
  • Maunakea is a high, alpine desert environment with humidity less than 10% most of the time.  There is ZERO water on the trail so you will need to supply your own water.  In response, bring 1 to 2 gallons (4 to 8 liters) of water for your hike of 8 to 10 hours -- be sure to keep well hydrated.
  • Additional thoughts...Have a backpack with extra gear, including flashlight, phone, rain gear, etc. Carry a compass to find the road (east) in the event of severe weather. Carry aspirin (only) for headache.  Sometimes a dust mask is helpful in the early morning hours to pre-warm and pre-heat the air you're breathing, thus cutting down on the "lung burn" from exertion in the cold, dry air.
  • Due to the high altitude and hypoxic environment children under 16 years of age, pregnant women, and individuals with severe health problems including pulmonary and cardiac problems, high blood pressure, or a severe overweight condition SHOULD NOT HIKE on Maunakea.   If you are part of this group you should first consult with your personal physician before hiking the mountain.  
  • SCUBA divers MUST wait at least 24 hours before ascending Mauna Kea to avoid getting the “bends”. This means that if you were diving less than 24 hours ago, you should not be reading this on Mauna Kea.
  • There are serious and potentially fatal consequences of hiking at high altitude (>13,000ft)....Mauna Kea IS HIGH ALTITUDE.  Be familiar with the symptoms (described below) of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE).  If you have had any of these conditions before, you are more susceptible to getting it again -- check with your personal physician before hiking on Maunakea.
  • Before you hike please register at the VIS via the form in the box next to the VIS doorway. Fill out the form completely and include all information requested, for your own safety. Just as important is checking in with VIS staff upon your return.

While on the trail…..

  • Stay on the Trail!!!  Do not travel cross-country!!!
  • Help out by removing trash you find along the trail.
  • Carry plastic bags, etc., for human waste.  Porta-potties are provided only at the very top of the mountain next to the Hokukea telescope.  All other waste should be carried out with you and disposed of properly.
  • Do not build rock piles or otherwise disturb the landscape. 
  • It is a criminal violation to handle, disturb, or remove historic properties including archaeological and building sites (H.R.S. 63-71)
  • Natural Area Reserve rules prohibit, among other activities, the following:
    • to remove, injure or kill any form of plant or animal life, except game mammals and birds hunted according to department rules
    • to introduce any form of plant or animal life, except dogs when permitted by hunting rules of the department and service animals accompanying their handlers
    • to remove, damage or disturb any geological or paleontological features or substances
    • to remove, damage or disturb any historic or prehistoric remains
    • to remove, damage or disturb any notic, marker or structure
    • to engage in any camping activity
    • to start or maintain a fire
    • to litter
    • to enter into or otherwise disturb a lake or pond

Take only pictures, leave only footprints

If problems arise….

  • This is a wilderness area.  There is no public transportation available on the mountain.  There are no rest areas or restrooms, and cell-phone service is spotty, and absent in places.  If you find yourself lost or physically in trouble and it’s getting dark, head toward the road where you may encounter help.
  • You ultimately are on your own all the way up and all the way down.  We can never guarantee that a ride down is available. YOU are responsible for your own well-being and safety.
  • In an emergency, call 911
  • The only appropriate treatment for altitude-related illnesses on Maunakea is evacuation to a lower elevation -- no higher than the VIS, and preferably to sea level.  If symptoms do not get better at sea level, the individual should be admitted to a hospital for observation and treatment.  Do not hesitate to get to the Maunakea Access Road and ask for assistance!

Acute Mountain Sickness - AMS:  mild to severe headache (which responds to aspirin), nausea (and/or vomiting), lack of appetite, sleeplessness, or malaise (not feeling well in a vague way and not having much energy).  Altered balance and muscular coordination (ataxia).  Altered mental state. Dizziness.  Fainting. Extreme shortness of breath after almost any activity.  Difficulty sleeping.  Unusual patterns of breathing during sleep.  Swelling in hands and face.  Darker urine with heavy odor, and decreased urine output.

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema HAPE:  headache, nausea (and/or vomiting) lack of appetite, dizziness, weakness and fatigue, increasing anxiety, unable to catch breath (even at rest), very rapid pulse, gurgling sounds in the lungs, very rapid respiration rate, dry cough at first then becoming wet (possibly pink), incoherence or hallucinations.  Blue coloration in lips and under finger nails.

High Altitude Cerebral Edema HACE:  headache (which doesn't respond to aspirin), nausea (and/or vomiting), loss of balance (ataxia), loss of muscular coordination, altered mental state, decreased mental functioning, psychological withdrawal, disorientation, confusion, hallucinations, weakness or numbness on one side of the body, being unable to talk, being unable to make sense while talking, coma.



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