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Trip to Mauna Kea

Midwest
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Trip to Mauna Kea

We will be staying in Volcano Village and want to take the trip to Mauna Kea with one of the touring companies. I realize we're on the "wrong" side of the island for convenient pick up's.

Is Saddle Road a decent drive from the Hilo area to the junction of Mauna Kea road (Junction 28)? One the touring companies is indicating a pick up at this point and we're wondering if anyone has used this pick up point. and could give us some feedback.

Thanks!

Palm Springs...
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1. Re: Trip to Mauna Kea

its a pretty desolate and deserted place... leave nothing in the car... nothing.

I would also caution you to choose carefully the company.... If it sounds like Are- and Not.... then you can rely on being ripped off by a master snake oil salesman.

Allow 2 hours drive from the Volcano village. The road is excellent on the hilo side... but very steep and Very very tristy ... for 1/3 of the drive going and returning expect to be in heavy fog as you pass through dense clouds.. at might.... it will be a real chore.

Lugano, Switzerland
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2. Re: Trip to Mauna Kea

Hi,

we've been to Big Island one year ago and went up to Mauna Kea by rental car. it took us around 2 1/2 hours from Hilo (including 30min aclimatization stop at 2'500 m). It's a highway going up, but from the visitor center at 2'500 it's a dirt road leading to the top. We had a Wrangler Jeep. You have to pay attention but overall it's pretty safe. We waited for sunset and drove down when it was dark. We'll, I live in the Swiss mountains so perhaps it was not that big thing for us ;-)

But a great experience :-)

cheers,

Massimo

Island of Hawaii...
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for Hilo, Island of Hawaii
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3. Re: Trip to Mauna Kea

My concern is that you might be responsible for any vandalism or other problems to the car. You need to communicate with your rental agency about even going on the Saddle.

As for driving a Jeep Wrangler up to the summit, not from Harpers, our visitor from Milan got lucky but was violating the rental contract, whether or not he was aware of it. Those Jeep Wranglers have been known to have brakes fail and cause deaths on that road. You don't know how much brake lining is left on any of these cars from the last person who rented them and broke their contract.

Anyway, I know that's not what you're asking about. You want to do a tour. You are not staying on Kona side at all? As Dan hinted, if it's the Arnott tour I wouldn't do it. All the reputable tours leave from Kona side. Which one is it?

It really isn't a pleasant drive back down to Hilo at night. That's why I, who live here, don't run up there to do stargazing. It's a 6000 foot grade of switchbacks in a short distance, not counting the 3000 foot grade down from the VC. Often there is next to no visibility and you can't see more than a few feet of the road in front of you. There are also wild animals roaming the area - cattle, goats, wild boar, that can collide with your car.

I'm always very glad to get down to Hilo -- and then you still have to drive another 4000 feet up the mountain back to Volcano. All in all you will go up and down a combined 35,000 feet of elevation in one evening ...

If you do it, I can tell you it will be frigid while you wait for the pick-up, and be sure to allow extra time to get there so you don't miss the ride, as it's very possible to get behind a slow poke on the way up the mountain from Hilo and there's nowhere to pass until you get up to the Saddle. I suppose you can run the heater in your car. Just start out with a full tank of gas.

Volcano, Hawaii
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4. Re: Trip to Mauna Kea

I believe the pick up point is at the very beginning of Saddle Road on the Kona Side off of the Mamalahoa HWY, which means A LOT of driving on the saddle for you.

If this is the case then it might even be better to take the Hamakua Coast via HWY 19 and through Waimea, where it connects into Malamahoa (190). It will be approximately 20 minutes more driving, but you wont be breaking any rules with rental car contracts if they still don't allow cars on saddle, and it will be a safer drive. By taking this alternate route you can expect just under 2 hours driving time one way.

Ask the company if you can be picked up at Pu'uhuluhulu, or at the Mauna Kea access road and saddle road intersection. If yes then saddle will be the easier route, but again are you following the rental agreement? You will have to park across the street from the access road, where the car can easily get broken into if somebody felt the necessity to. The area where you would leave your car on Malamahoa can also be an easy place for somebody to break in, even though it is closer to more traffic.

Will it be worth the risk? If you plan accordingly then everything should be fine. As KK mentioned, take valuables with you. Pack light so that you dont have to leave anything in the car. Dress warm! It can get below freezing up there, especially after sunset. The temp changes so quickly that you can feel it, and the wind feels like it blows right through your clothes if your not wearing the right things.

Most importantly be careful with your driving! Saddle road can be a deceiving place. It may look fine one moment, and the next you can be in very little visibility coming around sharp turns going down steep sections. The tire marks leading into the trees, grass, and lava boulders prove that accidents happen regularly. Big animals, other drivers, and bad brakes can cause fatalities, especially in a vehicle that can easily roll over. Use low gear when necessary, drive only if you are awake/alert, and be ready to pull off the road if somebody is tailgating you or you come into a dangerous situation.

Island of Hawaii...
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5. Re: Trip to Mauna Kea

>> at the Mauna Kea access road and saddle road intersection.

I was assuming this was what our OP meant. And it did seem an odd place.

The pick up point I'm familiar with is as Lavaguyd said at the Saddle juncture with Mamalahoa Hwy. I see cars there every time I go by in the afternoon.

I do wonder if the cars get messed with, as every sleazoid in the area would know there are rental cars left there on a regular basis, but I've never heard reports of problems. That road isn't what I'd call frequented by dishonest types. The Saddle itself is somewhat outlaw territory and I'd be nervous leaving my car on it. I'm always nervous even parking my car at the Mauna Kea State Park for a pit stop.

I would not drive all the way back to Volcano from the Mamalahoa Hwy pickup after a summit tour - not by either road. Aren't vacations supposed to be fun rather than risking one's life? There is so much hype about Mauna Kea. It's interesting but not worth taking big risks to do it.

I could do it any time but doing it once was enough for me. If it were that amazing I would be drawn to go back and back. There are a lot of places on the island that I return to time after time, but the Mauna Kea trip is more of a novelty IMHO. Of course when you go to so much trouble and pay a ton of money to go, your mind makes it into something sublime and people write it up as the most amazing thing ever ...

but, take away all the hyperbole and it's just a cinder road going up a steep mountain where it's really cold and you do get a cool view above the clouds and you do get to see the outside of observatories, but you can barely breathe or think because of the low oxygen. And the road home sucks. That's why people pay big bucks to get driven the whole way.

Kona, Hawaii
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6. Re: Trip to Mauna Kea

If you decide to drive call your car rental company on island.. not the 800# and ask if they allow you to make this drive. Some have it in their contracts that you can not drive from the Hilo side, some will not allow you to drive it at all, some will... it changes often so I hesitate to even suggest one company over the other.

Volcano, Hawaii
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7. Re: Trip to Mauna Kea

Despite the danger, the freezing temperatures, and the fact that lava rock is what you will be mostly seeing - this can be an experience of a lifetime, but only for the right person(s). Its the stories and the presentation of the place that makes it worth paying $$ for, especially if you go with the right company. Mauna Kea offers a fantastic insight into geology, archeology, history, *astronomy and outstanding stargazing opportunity*, and the dynamics between glaciers and lava. Yes, there used to be glaciers in Hawaii! Its up to the person/guide to make it worthwhile for the first time visitor.

Unlike KK, I am one who enjoys visiting the area often, so im offering a different perspective. With that said, I think many people are sold something that they may not have wanted. Instead they followed the advice of somebody who makes commissions getting them into a tour vehicle.

Is this the kind of experience that fits you? Are there better things you can be doing with the time that you have available?

Buenos Aires...
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8. Re: Trip to Mauna Kea

I jump into this topic as I am planning to go to the Muana Kea summit with family in early September and I am waiting that Harper give me the rate for rent a 4WD.

But.... after reading the comments I started to feel uncomfortable and a bit nervous.

I have seen You Tube videos of Saddle road and Mauna Kea unpaved road, and I do not think they are a big deal. Obviously you have to be cautious but I read that Saddle Road has received some improvements and the unpaved road up to the summit looks wide enough (in one video you could see the SUV goin up and a Bulldozer going down, which shows it is a wide road).

I will depart from Kona side, but some of you write so much concern traveling the Saddle Road from the Hilo side. Are they similar or different kind of route?

Also, i read too much concern about taking the kids to the summit, but when I was 11 and my brothers were 9, we were up to Christ Redeemer of the Andes, which altitude is similar (12.000 ft), and we did not experience any trouble. Again, I will have to be cautious and go down to the Visitor Center at first symptom.

But... a big but. Some of you are here warning about fog in a way to warn anybody to not to go. Is it so hard the fog in september? I want to return after dark, as everybody, after watching the sunset at the top and stargazing at Visitor Center. Is it not the same plan every tour company does every day? and aren't there not many other visitors at that time of the year?. In the end I could follow them...

Omaha, NE
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9. Re: Trip to Mauna Kea

If I had to guess, most of the visitors will turn west on Saddle Road to head back to Kona rather than east towards Hilo. As for whether it's "ok" or not to drive, all I remember on the drive back was "thank goodness we took the tour instead of driving ourselves", and I closed my eyes and dozed. (We had arrived the day before, so our internal clock were registering at the wee hours of the morning...)

Palm Springs...
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10. Re: Trip to Mauna Kea

first going to 12000 means nothing without knowing what was the altitude at which you started from.. You have a 3000 to 4000 ft zone you can be safe in without AMS The ascent to Mauna Kea is 13,500 ft .

Yes, the road is fixed across the flat saddle...its not fixed for the 6000 ft 20 mile descent on the 1.5 lane old road.... Still has all the one lane bridges and 15 mph corners and and no shoulders. or guard rails.... thats where the problems are.. and it will be another 3 years till they fix that. Ant thats smack dab where you hit the clouds and below it the rain and mist.

Now there is fog every night of the year....its actualy clouds in the tropical inversion that you will experience between 6000 and 9000 ft at all times.

People in colorado camping at 7 to 8000 wont feel anuthing till a bit over 12,000

As to the road width....and your confidence about it. You dont fully unserstand... its not the width.... the road is "moving" all the time and has to be constantly re cut. Its on volcanic ash and cinders that are loose. The effect is much like driving on ice...its very easy to loose traction and control like hydroplaning on pavement, you turn to the left and the car keeps going directly ahead...no steering at all and no braking... the tires will stop but the car wont...even in 4x4 !!