Mauna Kea is a large volcano at an elevation of 13,803ft (4.207m) above the sea level, located in the U.S. state of Hawai’i in the Pacific Ocean.It’s the only place in the world you can drive from sea level to a nearly 14,000ft peak in under 2 hours. It’s really challenging to get to the top. It’s not an easy road. As you go up, the oxygen gets thinner and thinner. Altitude sickness is coming as well as plummering temperatures. Temperatures regularly deep below freezing in winter. It's one of the highest roads of the USA.
The road to the summit, with asphalt and gravel sections, is called Mauna Kea Access Road. It's a 14,7-mile narrow road built in 1964. It can be dangerous, particularly in bad weather. This is one of the toughest drives in the world. It is strongly recommended to use a four-wheel drive vehicle to drive all the way to the top. Brakes often overheat on the way down. The road is steep and it's off road and a long way up! It's so high that you have to settle at base camp before attempting the off road portion of the drive. It's well worth the wait and the endurance as the views at the top are spectacular. It can be dangerous to be up there. If you’re lucky enoug h to reach the summit you’ll be welcomed by breathtaking views and some of the most spectacular sunsets ever. At the summit there are telescopes funded by eleven countries, used for scientific research across the electromagnetic spectrum. Mauna Kea is one of the only places in the world where you can drive from sea level to 14,000 feet in about 2 hours, so altitude sickness is a high possibility. At 14,000 feet, there is 40% less oxygen than at sea level, so visitors should acclimatize to the altitude before proceeding further up the mountain. Traffic delays and road closures on the summit access road may occur due to the use and transport of heavy equipment, slow vehicle movements, deliveries, road maintenance, stalled or abandoned vehicles, hikers and bikers. Remember that dust, fog or snow can reduce visibility and slow traffic.
Do not take this drive if you have respiratory problems or any type of heart condition. Notorius lack of oxygen that tests the organisms and a high degree of steepness. Most people feel altitude sickness at around 2,500-2,800 meters. Extremely low oxygen for engine combustion. The summit has about 40% less oxygen than at sea level, thus breathing is more difficult. Your pulse rate will increase and movement will be more laborious at the summit. The high elevation with its risk of altitude sickness, weather concerns, steep road grade, and overall inaccessibility make the volcano dangerous and summit trips difficult. Visitors traveling up the volcano's flanks are advised to stop for at least half an hour and preferably longer at the visitor center to acclimate to the higher elevation.
It has a well-deserved reputation for being dangerous because of unpredictable snowstorms and blizzards, and driving under these conditions, can be extremely challenging. Even in summer you can confront with snowy days. Its weather varies widely and the road may be closed due to dangerous conditions even though most of Hawai`i is warm and sunny! A calm sunny day may quickly become treacherous with hurricane force winds and blizzard conditions.The wind is usually quite strong at mountain areas. High winds blow here all year long. Summit winds above 120 mph are not uncommon. Temperatures here in the winter are brutally cold. Snowstorms have even occurred during the summer months. Below freezing temperatures, high humidity, snow flurries, and ice are common. When conditions are too dangerous, the road is closed to ensure everyone's safety. The road is re-opened as soon as the weather and the roads are safe again.
Due its unique location and the climb in elevation over thousands of feet, and passing through remote areas, it is important when driving in these conditions to be prepared. Only true 4-wheel drive vehicles with low range travel beyond the Visitor Information Station. About 300 yards beyond the station, the pavement ends and the next 4 and a half miles are a steep graded-gravel road. You should consult with your rental vehicle company or contract for a Mauna Kea Specific clause. Many rental companies do not allow their vehicles to continue on the summit even if they are 4-wheel drive.
Starting from the turnoff from Saddle Road, the ascent is 19.36 km long. Over this distance, the elevation gain is 2.146 meters. The average percentage is 11 % but there are sections up to 17%. Anyone in poor health should consult their physician before planning a visit to Mauna Kea. We do not recommend anyone who is pregnant to go further than the VIS. People under the age of 16 should not go any further because their bodies are still developing and they are affected more rapidly when going to a high altitude. If you plan to scuba dive, do not plan to go up to the summit within 24 hours after your dive. Furthermore, we do not recommend anyone with a heart or respiratory problem to travel above the Visitor Information Station.
The pavement can ripple like a roller coaster track in places where “frost heaves” are caused by seasonal freezing and thawing of the ground. Along the drive you will travel through volcanic lava fields and ancient forests featuring rare plants found nowhere else in the world. At the summit the air is thinner and the mountain can be topped with snow during the winter so dress appropriately! The summit is home to numerous space observatories and the views are spectacular!