Mauna Kea (unassisted)

Winter doldrums and perhaps an opportune moment to revisit memories of something mostly warm. What was or would be your strategy for an unassisted Mauna Kea ascent?

This was mine. I took the less common route from the west (Waikaloa Beach), which permits a critical pit stop at the State Recreational Area. This is also the dry side. From the top of Waikaloa Rd, go north to Old Saddle Rd. It is much quieter and more scenic than the Inouye Hwy. I chose a road bike with 30c tires and a 3L camelbak. This worked fine, for a while - lolz. Up until the 2nd pit stop at the Visitor Center at 9200 ft., the ride is like a longer range Haleakala. But, the extended dirt section that follows is loose with steep pitches. I suppose it can be done with road tires but only for elite riders. I think most ppl need <= 1:1 gearing and cyclocross tires or wider; which of course, are suited only for this section and less desirable for the long haul up. This is the main compromise to work out regarding equipment. There is some truth to 11000 ft being some sort of physical threshold. I lost a lot of power starting around there and was actively hyperventilating to keep moving. On the descent, the loose dirt section becomes challenging for a different reason as you will be, on the tires of your choice, dodging the many tour vehicles driving up at end of day for the sunset and stargazing. Lastly, further down below the Visitor Center, weather often blows in from the east during late afternoon. So, while the climb may have been clear and dry, the descent may be into fog and rain.


That’s awesome!

That’s one of my dream rides too, but WAY beyond my current ability.

How did you handle the extreme temperature change? The wind up there can be pretty nasty too.

I did an assisted Haleakala (my wife drove sag) on my only Hawaii trip. Ever since, I’ve wanted to check out the big one if/when I ever get back.

Leave at first light to minimize the heat and humidity on the lower slopes. This should allow you to reach the top by mid-afternoon when the temperatures are still reasonable. I found it was fine in the sun but cold in the shadows. Cell phone coverage was very good for the entire route. It is certainly less risky when you can call for a bail out. Wind and weather are just luck of the draw.


Unassisted, I think a MTB with fat slicks would be the ticket. Start on the west side. I hiked up once. Like ****ing Mordor. Kudos to anyone who rides that.

thanks for the awesome information.

I did it unassisted from the East side starting in Hilo when i was on a bike tour of the Big Island in 2018, see my comments in the Strava Post:


Is water available at the visitor’s center?

Great trip. I heard from someone afterwards that the dirt section was doable on road tires with v low gearing like 26/42. How much water did you start with? I had not considered that if it was raining, one stop at the visitor center could be enough.

Yes. Most visitors do not proceed higher. There are some modest facilities. The ranger will ask hikers and bikers who do go past to fill out a card, check in/out, at the visitor’s desk to keep track of them.

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Jann - yes water and basic snacks ie sandwiches, chips, soda, snickers, etc. available at visitor center. Rod - as I was on my touring bike I had a low end of 30/36, honestly could have used lower on the dirt. I run a 3 liter bladder in my frame bag plus a water bottle with sports drink, even on the hottest day I could do it with only the visitor center stop for topping off on both.

The idea behind 26/42 and road tires seems to be that the modulation is key for keeping traction. Faster riders can use higher gears despite loose surfaces because they are still smoothly turning. If true, one might conjecture the advantage of an MTB on that dirt section is due as much to the gearing as to the tires. Or perhaps, be v smooth at 40 rpm then even 34/34 would still work. I have some experiments to try.

Regarding the water, I did have at least 1L left upon arriving at the State rec area stop.