5 things you should know before ascending the world’s tallest mountain

No, it’s not Mount Everest, contrary to popular belief. But the world’s tallest mountain is actually Mauna Kea on the Big Island, standing at 33,000 feet. Of course, much of it is underwater so only 13,802 feet of it is above sea level. Even so, it’s no easy feat to make it to the summit. Although we took the easier way out and drove to the top, as opposed to hiking, here are a few things I learned from this experience:

  1. Rent a jeep. You’ll need something with a four-wheel drive. That compact car rental will not be able to make it up the roads of the mountain.

    Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (photo credit: Taki Okita) 
  2. Dress warmly. And I don’t just mean throwing on a hoodie. It’s freezing up there. It’s about 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit and occasionally, you’ll see snowfall.
  3. Time is your best friend. After you get halfway up the mountain, you’ll need to wait about an hour or so to get yourself acclimated to the altitude. Otherwise, you can get altitude sickness, which can lead to more serious issues (lovebigisland.com has some helpful tips on this matter)
  4. Get up early. This applies if you’re planning to catch the sunrise. Find out the exact time of this as it’s always changing. You’ll need to factor in the driving + waiting time before you finally reach the top. From Hilo, where we were staying, Mauna Kea was about an hour drive. Once you get to the visitor’s center, that’s the 9200 feet mark/halfway point, or your resting area.
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    One of the many telescopes you’ll find at the summit of Mauna Kea

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  5. Go stargazing. In that hour you need to wait, you can take a nap or do something better with your time, like check out the stars. If you’re a city gal like me, these stars will be like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It feels like you’re in outer space.

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    Stargazing at Mauna Kea (photo credit: Taki Okita)

Once we reached the top, the sun had already started peeking out from the clouds. But we still got to catch the bulk the sunrise. I enjoyed it more than watching the sunrise from Haleakala on Maui because it was a lot less crowded on Mauna Kea. We stayed up there for about half an hour and that was the point I started to get a bit light-headed, though nothing serious for me. If you’re in good health, I would definitely recommend the trip.

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View of Mauna Loa

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