Kai and I were up at 7am with her calling the rental company to arrange the vehicle for Mauna Kea! I think at first we weren’t sure about the decision because it was financially really quite a bit, but once the rental was booked, we were so excited. We headed into Hilo and went to Moonstruck Patisserie. Wow, what luxury! We got a mini quiche, a cheese croissant, a regular croissant, and both got a slice of cake: hers was chocolate and mine was made with ube (purple yam, remember?). We chatted with the woman for a while; she was absolutely the best and had great tips for us for climbing the mountain. I think we were prepared for the day! Everything was sooo delicious. We sat in the car and ate many of our goodies.
Then off to Harper Rentals, the only rental company on the island that will rent you a car to go up Mauna Kea – and no, they don’t sell insurance. It was a giant silver pickup truck which Kai looked really good driving (despite my cringing at the fossil fuel expenditure). We drove halfway up the mountain, with lots of ear popping, and stopped at the visitor centre. You’re supposed to spend a half hour there at least to acclimate to the elevation change. That was easy because the gift shop was really cute. We got some stickers and other goodies and used the bathroom, and soon enough we were on our way! Most people just visit the gift shop and turn back, so the road past that was nearly devoid of other drivers.
The grade was incredible, so steep you were stuck to the back of your seat! Kai did the driving up and I was going to drive back down. We took our time and stopped once or twice to get out and take photos, but my gut was churning every time I got out of the vehicle because the wind was so strong and it just didn’t feet safe being right on the side of a mountain.
The drive really was intense, and when we stopped in the parking lot for one of the observatories (the top of Mauna Kea is littered with telescopes from agencies all over the world because the skies being so clear with no moisture and so little dust or other particles made it one of the best places on the planet to observe the cosmos). Kai pulled forward and even though we were nowhere near the edge of the cliff, I fully flipped out and started crying because it felt so unsafe. I told her to always drive at an angle with the edge and never directly it. Poor woman! I think the altitude had impacted me because I really was beside myself. Anxiety: peaked!
We’d planned to do the hike around the summit and check out all the observatories from the outside (only one allowed a tour and we weren’t able to sign up because of timing and expense), but we weren’t even there ten minutes before a park ranger came and told us the winds had exceeded 55mph, which was the cut-off for the mountain road, which meant we’d have to make our way down! This was really shitty news, but he wasn’t messing around. At one point I tried to open the car door and the wind almost whipped it off the hinges. The ranger told us even the staff at the observatories would have to leave. It was the first day that year that the winds had been so high… of course.
We asked if we could take our time heading down, within reason, and he said we could drive around but not do the hike. We drove to another observatory and were stopped there to take photos when another ranger came to talk to us. He reiterated what the first ranger had said, and then asked if we had space in the rental. Why? Well, for two hitchhikers who had made their way up the mountain but had no way of getting down.
We decided to take them on, and they appeared from around the corner of the parking lot. They’d been living rough in Hawai’i since that January and had a lot of great stories. We told them we’d planned on taking our time going back down, and we explored the area at the top of the mountain, keeping in mind that it is a sacred space for Hawai’ians. We began to make our way back down, and because of the passengers and because I was still feeling really upset and anxious, Kai drove down the mountain as well. I was bummed that we couldn’t do our hike or our picnic and that I didn’t get to drive on the mountain, but it was really cool to meet the hitchhikers and to have experienced the top of the mountain at all.
We stopped again at the visitor centre on the way down, which was closed. I had to use the bathroom so I chose a bush and walked toward it. I stepped up on a thick log and hopped off the other side and completely wiped out, falling so hard that I was sure something had broken. I rolled up and grabbed my leg – the pain was emanating from the outer right of the right side, about mid-calf. It was entirely numb to the touch but screaming with pain. I immediately thought about declining travel insurance… Had I made a terrible mistake?
After sitting in the dirt for a minutes, out of sight of anyone else, I tentatively moved my foot. No real pain. I thought maybe it could bear weight so I tested it out… yes, it was okay to put weight on. Thank goodness! Nothing was broken and I didn’t even think the ankle was sprained. It hurt like hell, though. I managed to hobble along for my pee and then get back in the truck. I was filthy and covered in straw-like stuff that penetrated my clothes and made me itchy as anything. I told Kai and I had fallen and she asked if I was okay, and I said ‘No’ but wouldn’t elaborate. Probably not the best way to handle that, but I can be like a cat sometimes – don’t want to reveal any injuries!
We drove the passengers to the coffee shop we’d been to the night before, and they continued on their adventure.
Our own adventure was to include Waipio Valley the next day. Only a couple hours before, my intention had been to hike down solo while Kai explored the area on top. On this leg, I would not be making that happen. I was pretty upset about that, in pain, and possibly unwell from the altitude, which I think is why we had the most random argument. It can be summed up by saying that if did decide to hitchhike down to Waipio Valley, I would think throwing $5 or $10 toward gas money would be acceptable payment, whereas Kai believed we should offer to split half of the rental cost of the person’s vehicle. It was a whole ordeal filled with misunderstandings and weirdness.
However, we did work our way through that disagreement and decided, why not give Mauna Kea another go the next day? We had the rental for 24 hours, and sunrise was just as good as sunset. With that plan, we felt a lot better. We decided to drive back up Saddle Road to the base of the mountain, park there for the night, and drive the rest of the way at 4am the next morning. We had a plan!
We went to a grocery store and got some bread, cheese, and cinnamon buns. From there, we drove to the P’u’Huluhu parking lot, across the sacred hill where people would go to meditate or pray and make offerings before they climbed Mauna Kea. Once there, we worked really hard to get the truck organized so that we could sleep in it. Kai took the passenger seat and I took the back, because I can’t sleep on my back. The maneuver including tipping the driver’s seat forward and then stuffing my half-inflated air mattress into the foot well behind it, and sort of lying on that. It was terrible until it was perfect! We didn’t sleep much but we both got enough to feel rested.