Before going to the Big Island, I was told that driving to the summit of Mauna Kea was to be avoided as the road was extremely hazardous and altitude sickness would render me stupid and helpless at 13,700 feet.
Well, I'm here today to say that with appropriate equipment and experience, the drive to Mauna Kea is easy and the views at the top are extremely rewarding.
I live in the western USA and have some experience with driving 4x4s on forest service roads in the Cascades and the Sierras. As long as you have a truck or SUV with a low range transfer case (you're on the Internet, look it up) and know how to use it, Mauna Kea is damn easy to go up and down during the day. Shift into 4wd Low right before you leave the pavement. Go up the hill at no more than 20 miles per hour. When you're going downhill, manually shift your vehicle into 2nd (1st isn't needed, this isn't Waipio Valley...) and go down the hill at no more than 20 mph. In low range and second gear you should barely need to touch the brakes during your trip down the mountain.
Note that unless you rent from a local rental car company (Island Discount, Harpers, etc) you probably aren't technically permitted to drive up to the summit of Mauna Kea. That having been said, I saw multiple new SUVs at the summit of Mauna Kea, and they weren't private vehicles or local rental cars. The bar codes and non smoking signs are always a dead giveaway.
As far as altitude sickness goes? I'm in my early 30s and consider myself to be in pretty good shape. I'm not a Crossfit addict or a marathon runner, but I did fine on top of Mauna Kea and even hiked to Lake Waiau (about 500 feet of elevation below the summit, takes about 45 minutes to an hour). I don't know why there are so many scare stories about altitude sickness on Mauna Kea. If you've skied or hiked in Colorado or the Sierras you'll be fine.
Don't let the negative nellies on TA scare you away. Rent a 4x4, drive up during the day, enjoy the awesome views and have fun.
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