I've driven up to the visitor station but not up to the summit - what are the road conditions like beyond the visitor station, where can you refill water, and should I prepare for anything beyond a leg crushing day?

I'll be starting on Kona (west) side, in September, and am expecting about 6-7 hours of straight climbing.

Here's about all I know so far;

Mauna Kea, Hawaii, HI

This mostly paved climb is perhaps the largest rideable climb in the world. The first 34 miles are paved, then 5 miles often loose cinder gravel, and then 3 final miles of pavement. The first 28 miles up Saddle road from Hilo gains only 6600 feet at modest grade, tapering off to almost flat in the saddle between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Turning off onto Mauna Kea Access Road is a real shocker, as you are now faced with sustained 17% grades at high altitudes. The Fiets index for this climb is off the charts at nearly 30. It’s a combination of net gain and high altitude driving the high rating. Like Haleakala, views are too good to describe with words. Many of the world’s most powerful telescopes are at this summit.

ref: http://www.northeastcycling.com/Favorite_Climbs.html


  • 2
    I recommend going up to do a personal reconnaissance. At that altitude the consequences of getting it wrong can be serious, so I'd be cautious about taking advice from even such sensible people as us. A friend rode to the visitor station but not beyond.
    – andy256
    Dec 21, 2014 at 23:19
  • 1
    This page has contact details for the visitor center. I suggest a phone call :-) I'd love to hear how the ride goes!
    – andy256
    Dec 22, 2014 at 4:51
  • 2
    Three things you should prepare with: newish brake pads for the descent, good lights, and warm clothes for the highest parts. I haven't done this climb, but that's (incomplete) general advice for this type of attempt. Dec 22, 2014 at 4:52
  • 3
    If you haven't already, read this article by Norwegian blogger Martin Hoff
    – Jørgen R
    Dec 22, 2014 at 8:13
  • 1
    Don't plan on doing it in the winter. ifa.hawaii.edu/info/vis/visiting-mauna-kea/winter-visits.html Unless you know for sure there is water beyond VIS be prepared for no water.
    – paparazzo
    Dec 22, 2014 at 10:47

1 Answer 1


I think this long post by Martin Hoff also indicated by jurgemaister in a comment tells you everything you need. You can find some more info in the comments on individual attempts people did of the segment on strava. The main takeaways I got from the article are:

  • You need two bikes (a road bike and a mountainbike) or a dirt-road suitable bike.
  • You optimally have a support vehicle driving along with you for food/drinks/extra clothing/emergencies/the way down/nice pictures/the second bike.
  • If support isn't an option you need to pack for a really long hard day in both winter and summer climates. Even if you are very fit. Use panniers mounted on your bike, a backpack carrying enough stuff will probably break you.
  • Mauna Keau tops out at over 4K above sea level. How fit will you be up there? How used are you to high altitudes? Altitude sickness might be an issue, strenuous activity will certainly be very hard.
  • You need low gearing for the steepest part. Install a mountainbike crank-set.
  • If you take one bike you probably want knobbly tires on it.
  • This is way, way beyond me but you might consider dropping off a set of off-road wheels at the visitor centre and changing wheels (assuming you hire a car or something to recce it before the ride). Maybe also a pannier with (some of) the cold-weather gear. Or just a random bag for swapping out kit. All in the interest of saving effort for the hardest bit.
    – Chris H
    Jan 16, 2015 at 15:14

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