Chris and I just returned from a 2.5 week camping and hiking trip in southwest Utah. You'd think we'd spend our first free day back catching up on chores. Instead we went hiking. But it's not just because we can't get enough of the outdoors. There was only one place left on the island that I had not seen and really wanted to - the top of Mauna Loa. At 13,679 feet above sea level the air gets a little thin. Mauna Loa, the largest volcano in the world, last erupted in 1984 and is considered active. I think I have heard that from the sea floor to the summit, Mauna Loa is the largest mountain in the world by volume.
We tried to do the hike once before but failed miserably. We were told it's good to camp overnight at the weather station at 11,000 feet elevation to acclimate for the hike the next day. Terrible idea for those who live at sea level. While you're awake, you can force yourself to breath extra. While you sleep, your body's involuntary instincts kick in and you wake up often gasping for air and with a nasty headache from the lack of oxygen. At least that's my layman's perspective. We got awful altitude sickness, including vomiting, and had to come down the mountain at 2 a.m., me nearly running my husband over in all the light-headed confusion and rush.
So...after having spent more than two weeks camping at around 6,000 feet elevation in Utah, Chris thought it would be our best chance to try Mauna Loa again. We think it takes a body several weeks to produce extra red blood cells to hold more oxygen. When my 67-year-old aunt, Alice, visited from Glenwood Spring, Colo. she ran circles around us on Mauna Kea's summit.
Chris and I began our second attempt at 8 a.m. Saturday after having a full night's rest at home. It was a steep, four-mile hike over a lava trail marked with rock carins to the edge of the giant caldera at the top. We made it! It was 2.5 miles more to the summit on the other side of the caldera. We didn't feel like adding an extra 5 miles to the hike just to say we made it officially to the top, so we had our lunch at a rock shelter near the caldera. For those who take the much longer trek beginning on the other side of the mountain in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, I give you credit! The wind blew hard at the summit and the clouds threatened to close in on us, so we took one last look at the amazing and surreal, volcanic view, and headed down.
|Yes, it's me inside all those clothes standing in the caldera at the top of Mauna Loa. It was 9 degrees C when we started the hike, and it got colder at the top.|
|A rock carin marks the path with a view of Mauna Kea in the background.|
|The shelter near the caldera where we had lunch.|