This is a continuation of yesterday’s post, the third and final leg of the hike.
I made a rapid descent. Despite not feeling well, I was still able to put one foot in front of the other at a good pace. Unlike the Mauna Kea descent that I did a few weeks previously, this wasn’t as steep so the going really was easier. I made good time back to the trail junction at the edge of North Pit and better time from there on, barreling down the slope.
The weather continued to be perfect – cool, but sunny and clear. And going down, the views are always there. On this trail, unlike the Mauna Kea descent, views open up to both sides of Mauna Kea as well as the mountain itself. There were still clouds over Waimea and the foothills, and some clouds to the Hilo side, but these had been there all day and had not advanced at all up the saddle.
The farther I descended, the better I felt. There was some unnoticed point at which my concern for how I felt was replaced by appreciating what I was seeing, because I wasn’t feeling bad anymore. I wound down through the cinder section, followed the road again and came to the two big cairns marking the broken lava tube. From there it was just a short hike to the rough and ready road and the last string of cairns, with the observatory off to the right and Mauna Kea clear in front.
I ambled along the last section of road back to my car. I hadn’t seen a soul all day, but as I approached the parking area, four vehicles pulled up and disgorged a clump of tourists who sounded like they came from somewhere in Europe. Some wandered off. Others seemed to be going through some sort of personal growth ritual. I got curious looks as I peeled off shoes and socks, giving my battered feet some air. I didn’t much care. I felt pretty good again and very satisfied with the day.
It’s a hike I’d do again. I’d start earlier, have better footwear, take it a mite slower for acclimatization purposes. And I’d hope too make the summit next time, though I’m not too bothered that I didn’t. For me, a day alone on a big mountain is reward enough.
For more information about the Mauna Loa Observatory Trail, go to bigislandhikes.com/mauna-loa or instanthawaii.com (under Things To Do, check Scenic Drives for the road up to the observatory and Hikes & Trails for the trail).