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Mauna Loa – The Hawaiian Gauntlet

The warm weather, pristine beaches and laid-back vibe of Hawaii make it the natural choice when you just want to take it easy. That being said, some of us like to sandwich our chill sessions between extreme bouts of adventure and challenge. As well as being the perfect place to seriously kick back, Hawaii is also, conveniently, the perfect spot for diving into some rugged outdoor activities.

This is a guest post by James Richardson

Diverse topography provides the visitor with ample opportunities for hiking, camping, surfing and backpacking. Relishing any chance to get outside, connect with nature and push my physical boundaries, Hawaii has long been a favorite destination of mine.

Photo by flickr user GEO M I

I recently visited Hawaii to go backpacking and hiking. Of course, even if you travel to the islands with the goal to experience the true outdoors, you can always start off the trip on the tamer side. I like to fly into Oahu, stay at centrally located places like the Lotus Honolulu or any other favorite mainstays of my Hawaii vacations (there are literally thousands of awesome hotels, restaurants, shopping and entertainment venues) – to get the trip started on a calm, comfortable note. Then it’s time to put on my game face. What’s the toughest trek in Hawaii? None other than the Mauna Loa Trail! More than just an afternoon stroll through floral-scented jungles, it’s a legitimate hiking experience. Here’s what it takes.

Photo by flickr user niksnut

Backpack: Check. Hiking Boots: Check. Ski Pants: Check? Yes, it gets THAT cold up here! Located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, this trail isn’t for backpacking virgins, and it crosses terrain ranging from tropical rainforest to snow-capped peaks. At 36 miles roundtrip, it’s considered one of the most challenging hikes in Hawaii, and you should give yourself about four days to do the whole trip.

Photo by Flickr user kano101

Prepare for a full camping trip, and be sure to call the Kilauea Visitor Center far enough ahead to ensure there is space for you and your hiking mates. Many choose to camp in tents, but there are also two cabins along the way.  Water is also available in semi-frozen rainwater tanks (super fresh!) at both cabins.

Photo by Flickr user rjones0856

The trailhead begins at 6,660 feet, then it’s seven and a half miles of strenuous ascent to a cabin at the Red Hill at 10,035 feet, then another 11.6 miles up to the primitive Mauna Loa summit cabin at 13,250 feet. Up here, you’ll forget you’re in Hawaii – the climate is called sub-arctic, whiteouts are common, and overnight temperatures are below freezing any time of the year.  Keep trucking to hit the true summit 13,677 feet. Believe me, emerging out of forest and volcanic cones to see snow in the Aloha State is well worth the effort!

Photo by Flickr user LaurenBacon