A Visit to the Summit of Mauna Kea
Sledding in Hawaii?
Sledding is not an activity you normally equate with vacation on a tropical island. But on the Big Island of Hawaii, the summit of Mauna Kea, one of the tallest mountains in the world, standing almost 14,000 feet above sea level, is often covered with snow. Every winter the locals grab their body boards and head up to the mountain in their lifted pick-up trucks and have the time of their lives. Keep in mind that the access road to the summit is 4X4 only; Check with your rental car company ahead of time to see if they allow you to travel past the Mauna Kea Visitor Center.
Tourists come to Hawaii from all over the world – often to get away from the snow. Meanwhile, the locals are sledding down the mountain on their body boards. A new trend has started recently of bringing shovels along, filling up the beds of pickup trucks with snow and bringing it down to sea level to share with everyone. Snow on Hawaii is quite novelty, you’ll earn added bragging rights if you play in the snow and then dive with dolphins all in the same day!
There is no chairlift up Mauna Kea, but that doesn’t stop visitors from bringing skis and snowboards and attempting to rip up the steep, icy slate. The snow conditions aren’t even close to the ideal powder at your usual resort. Beginner riders and skiers shouldn’t attempt to tackle the slope. The falls are quite hard! And body boards have round edges, so control … well, there is no control.
Getting to the Summit of Mauna Kea
The access road to Mauna Kea is commonly closed when there is snowfall. Driving all the way to the top of Mauna Kea only to find the access road is closed can put a damper on vacation fun, so be sure to visit http://mkwc.ifa.hawaii.edu/current/road-conditions/ or call (808) 935 – 6268 to check current conditions before committing to the drive.
The Mauna Kea Visitor Center, which is located at 9,200 feet elevation, is a good place to stop to acclimate before you ascend to the summit. Pregnant women, kids under the age of 16 and anyone with a serious health condition including heart and/or lung problems are advised to stay at the visitor center. At the 14,000 foot summit of Mauna Kea there is 40% less oxygen in the air than at sea level.
The visitor center features informational panels, interactive displays, handouts, a video program and the First Light Bookstore. The store contains many books about astronomy and Hawaiian culture. The store also sells snacks, soup and hot and cold beverages, and provides hot water dispensers and a microwave for your convenience.
Plan around the weather and your phenomenal trip will be topped off with incredible panoramic island views. The 360° view of the entire island from the summit of Mauna Kea on a clear day cannot be beat. Remain on the summit until sunset for a trip-capping experience. The clear blue sky turns a blend of deep orange, lavender, hot pink and red haze followed by a green flash. Standing on top of Mauna Kea, the pinnacle of your Hawaii vacation, will leave you feeling like you’re on top of the world.
Photo of Mauna Kea by Kirk Puuohau-Pummill