Humu'ula Trail guide from VIS to MK Summit
The trail covers 7 miles to the summit with a gain of 4600 feet elevation. An average speed of 2 mph while moving is reasonable. At that rate one would reach the summit in less than 4 hours without any stops. Most hikers will stop from time to time and will need more time. Unless you run the Pikes Peak marathon or Western States 100 expect to spend closer to 5 hrs on the walk up, half the time coming down.
As you leave the Visitor Information Station stay on the road for a couple of hundred meters until the pavement ends and a dirt road enters from the left.
You will see an official hiking trail sign directing you up the Humu’ula trail. There will be more signs along the way but you will not go wrong by heading up at any intersection.
The first mile will bring you close to the second bend in the road having gained 1000’ on loose cinder with a grade approaching 40%.
The second mile continues up the steep cinder slope to near the base of the black hill (pu’u Keonehehe) visible from the visitor station. Before you reach the large rock with A & B painted on its southern exposure you will have begun encountering some steel fence posts which mark the trail for the rest of the way.
A&B rock is a good spot to rest and enjoy the view as you have ascended another 1000’ from the second bend (current elevation 11,100 ft).
The next couple of miles are a bit less steep, more like a 13% grade with somewhat better footing.
The views to the south and west along this stretch are very dramatic.
It is along this stretch that you enter the adze quarry area where ancient Polynesians discovered the very hard, dense stone that made excellent tools. These stone deposits were utilized from very shortly after the islands were first settled until shortly after western contact. At about 3.8 miles and 12,300 feet elevation there is a huge pile of chips left over from the adze shaping.
A number of other excavation sites are visible due to the piles of dark colored rock chips.
Continuing on the trail you will have views of the road to your right. There is another short steep stretch (28% grade) ahead as you approach the junction with the park 2 trail to Lake Waiau.
To view the lake you must take a short detour from the main trail (only 75 meters or so) to the ridge overlooking the lake. Going down to the lake edge requires a 20 minute side trip and better than 100 feet elevation drop and recovery. (The ridge is at 13,100 ft, 4 ¾ miles from the VIS)
Heading up along the main trail from the lake overlook, keep your eyes up to get the first views of the observatory buildings.
Once they are in sight you are no longer in the wilderness.
Upon reaching the Mauna Kea Ice Age Reserve sign at the edge of the road you have covered 5 ½ miles and reached 13,221 feet.
From here the rest of the route is along the road, either to the right or to the left. The right hand option is steeper but shorter to the summit.
To the left the road is less steep and provides a great view toward Kawaihae and Maui. The summit road is a loop so either way will bring you back to this spot. There are portable toilets in the park 3 area to your left. If you take the entire summit loop there are flush toilets and drinking fountains at the Keck I visitor gallery. The gallery is usually open from around 9:30 am until 3:30 pm.
Heading to the right (as most people do) takes you up a mile of road some of which is around 17% grade but with good footing.
There is one hairpin turn on the route from which you can see the 25 meter dish of the VLBA to the south east.
As you come to the first small telescope building you will note the trail to the very top of Mauna Kea. The peak is actually on the rim of a cinder cone and the trail goes around that rim with the more direct route outlined with rock curbs. The geodetic survey marker stands about 16” above the current surface of the ground but does mark the actual summit.
Now that you have reached the top you can head back down the trail which requires only about half the time it took to come up or follow the road down with hopes of catching a ride.
Either way will seem like a reward for a real accomplishment.