Mauna Kea Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

29.3
FIETS
42.5 mi
DISTANCE
13,850 ft
GAINED
6.2 %
AVG. GRADE

FULL CLIMB STATS

INTRO

This is hands down and by far the hardest bike climb in the world. The climb begins with the waves of the Pacific Ocean lapping at the shore behind us and ends 42 miles later, 13,803' above sea level at Mauna Kea Summit. In those 42 miles we descend less than 100'. We travel through five climate zones -- from the lush rainforest environment of Hilo, Hawaii to the lunar landscape that surrounds us the final 10 miles of the climb. At the top, you will have 42% less oxygen available as you climb the final miles at grades reaching 16%. Climb above the clouds to the top of the bike climbing world. This is the "Biggest Climb" you can ever do on Strava (Strava Mauna Kea Segment).
It's all about altitude and gradient on Mauna Kea. There is 42% less oxygen at the summit than start (3% less each 1000'). The 14.5 miles on Mauna Kea Access Road from 6,588' to the summit at 13,842' averages 9.5% (this segment alone qualifies as the #4 hardest world bike climb).

Average grade for 42.6 miles is 6.1%. We climb 13,863' and descend only 98'. 46% (19.6 miles) of the climb is at 0-5%, 37% (15.6 miles) is at 5-10%, 12% (5.2 miles) is at 10-15%, 3% (1.2 miles) is at 15-20%, and a fraction is above 20%. The steepest quarter-mile is 16.5% and steepest continuous mile is 14%

See more details and tools regarding this climb's grade via the Profile Tool button.
Roadway: The roadway is in excellent condition but there are 4.7 miles of gravel and sand to contend with just past the visitor center.

Traffic: For the first nine miles and the final fourteen miles, traffic is not a problem. However, 20 miles on Highway 200 (Saddle Road) can be harrowing with traffic whizzing by often above the posted 55 mph, including commercial trucks traveling the primary east-west traffic artery across the island. There is always a very wide shoulder and deep rumble strips (you\'ll know what I mean if you ride over them on your bike) that separate the "slow" highway lane from the shoulder. This is a tough section for the traffic averse.

Parking: There is street parking near the start, or parking on 301 Kamehameha Ave near the start which also is home to the Hilo Visitor Center (Map Street View).
Clothing: We have been snowed on atop Mauna Kea. It will almost always be around 70 degrees in Hilo and probably raining. The temperature nearly 14,000' higher will be quite different, particularly during the winter. Review the PJAMM weather tool for summit forecast before you begin your ride.

Cycling Gear: You either need to bring a gravel bike with 40mm tires or mountain bike to swap to for the 4.7 mile sand-gravel section. Bring MTB shoes for hike-a-bike on the impossibly steep and sandy portions.

4WD: Required above the Visitor Center. Use SAG/photographer Christian James (christianjamesphoto@gmail.com), or rent a bigger 2WD vehicle for SAG to MK Visitor Center and one of the Jeep 4WD rentals on the Big Island for the segment above the VC.

Provisions: There are sandwiches, chips, water, Gatorade, and the like at VC.
Before heading out on any cycling adventure check out our Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip and use our interactive check list to ensure you don't forget anything.
An exceptional hike is Mauna Kea-Humu'ula Trail, which takes you from the Visitor Center to the highest point in the Hawaiian Islands - 11.2 miles gaining 4,783'.; You can also hike to this point after your ride from our finish point - 2/10\'s of a mile gaining 77\' at 19.3% grade - Map.

While you are on the Island to do the hardest bike climb in the world, you might as well do one of the longest, too -Mauna Loa.

Stay in Hilo, where the climb starts, where there are many accommodation options including hotels and private vacation rentals.

Use the 'Routes in Area' button on the menu bar to see other bike climbs in this area.

ROUTE MAP

MEMBER RATING

Difficulty: Extreme
4.3
Road
4.5
Traffic
4.8
Scenery

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MEMBER REVIEWS & COMMENTS

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Apr 7, 2022
Attempted on 4/6/2022 from Waikoloa Beach. First 17 miles had a decent cross headwind which made for slow going. Steep pitches start on the access road and I was happy I had the proper gearing on a rented Cervelo Aspero (30 front 34 back). Made it to the visitor center in another 90 minutes or so despite feeling like I was barely moving. Once at the VC, what looked like fog was clearly rolling in but they let me continue up the gravel part. Made it 2.5 miles or so up the gravel (only had to walk once on a very steep loose section) before a ranger drove past and told me they were closing the road and I needed to turn around. It started pouring ice rain and my goretex jacket was still in the support vehicle that now couldn't come up the road with the closure. Unfortunately turned around at 10,600ft :( The 38c tires on the gravel bike came in handy, might be able to do it on a 28c road bike but would be tough and probably slip a ton/require walking.
Jul 15, 2021
difficulty: Extreme
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 4
Jul 15, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 4
'Rode' this 6/23/21 from Waikoloa Beach unassisted. Ritchey breakaway, 30C, 50/34 X 11-34, 3L camelbak (12 lbs full). Without support, go Kona side as you can pit stop at the Kahehe rest area off Inouye Hwy. Take Old Saddle Rd - much quieter and absolutely beautiful - best part of whole ride imo. Phone coverage is good all the way so you can call for bail-out. Part above VC at 9000ft is as bad as most ppl say. Probably doable on road tires if you are >4-5 W/kg FTP. I'm not - ergo did 'some' high altitude bike hiking. Normal-ish riders need >35c tires + MTB gearing imo. Above 11000ft, altitude really hit and could not push 34/34 @ >10%. Don't know if it was just me, me that day, or something physiologically fundamental. Been up that high before and not had problems. Have small rain jacket for descent. Sort of sketch dodging tour vehicles coming up gravel part and got wet below VC to Hwy. Weather tends to come in late day. Would not want to descend Hwy to Hilo.
May 26, 2021
difficulty: Extreme
scenery: 4
traffic: 4
road: 4
May 26, 2021
scenery: 4
traffic: 4
road: 4
Completed 5/19/2021 Gear: Fuji Sportif 2.0LE | Shimano Tiagra | Compact Crank 50-34t | 11t-36t cassette (w/ Wolf Tooth Road Link) | 35mm Clement XPlor Ush tires. Such a sufferfest. First 7 miles from Hilo was great. Then a steady Hawaiian rain from mile 7-22ish. Fortunately it was warm rain and I had a rain jacket. From Mauna Kea Access Road to finish the weather was perfect - sunny and 50-60ºF. The Pjamm summary is spot on: it only gets increasingly more difficult from Saddle Rd to the summit. Gravel section was near impossible - sand/gravel mix. Walked a good portion of it. From end of gravel to summit is still brutally steep, requiring plenty of breaks to breathe (despite my living at elevation in Denver). The last mile has a few easier spots which provide just enough hope to finish out the climb. I was self-supported from Hilo to Access Road. Had support vehicle (i.e. family) for food/water from Saddle Rd to Summit. Thanks to PJamm for all the great info and inspiration!
May 6, 2021
difficulty: Extreme
scenery: 5
traffic: 4
road: 5
May 6, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 4
road: 5
If you love climbing on a bike, this is the most you could probably get, from Waikoloa Village Resorts to summit it’s 85km almost continuous climb. Gravel section didn’t feel as bad as others posted, but the 3mi after the gravel is the hardest sucker I’ve ever climbed. Seriously, it takes everything out of you. PERFECT
May 6, 2021
If you want to make it not only a long climb but also a long ride, you can start at Waikoloa Village. That gives you 53 miles and 4300+m to the summit. Best ride ever, incredibly demanding, 67 finishers on STRAVA as of May 2021.
Mar 5, 2021
difficulty: Extreme
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 4
Mar 5, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 5
road: 4
Once in a lifetime! The last part from above Visitors center is hell! Loosely lava gravel and last 7km altitude impact, postman technique is required. The view at the summit is magnificent!!!
ROUTE MAP
PROFILE TOOL

Climb Profile Not Found
CLIMB SUMMARY

PJAMM Cyclist climbs Mauna Kea, while Mauna Loa can be seen above the clouds in the background

Mauna Kea: THE hardest bike climb in the world.

Ride 42.5 miles gaining 13,850’ at 6.2% average grade to 13,800’

Photo: Mauna Loa across “the saddle” in background

Climb summary by PJAMM Cycling’s John Johnson.

Cycling Mauna Kea, Hawaii - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, PJAMM Cycling's summits of Mauna Kea as seen over the years

We have climbed Mauna Kea five times: 2011, 2013, 2014, 2018 and 2022.

Mauna Kea is the most difficult bike climb in the world and one of the most epic.  Adjectives do not do justice in describing this climb.  Distinguished by the highest Fiets Index in the world, Mauna Kea is a monstrous, nearly impossible ascent.  In addition to the daunting climb, cyclists must be mentally and physically prepared for changing weather conditions, altitude sickness, and varying terrain on this extremely challenging 42 mile climb.  

Cycling Mauna Kea - view of clouds, road and volcano near top

Not much vegetation on a volcano.

GENERAL INFORMATION

Before heading to Hawaii for your Mauna Kea cycling adventure, be sure to rely on our list of Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip, and use our interactive checklist to ensure you don't forget anything.

What Makes This the World’s Hardest Road Bike Climb:  The sheer elevation ascended (13,800’/4200m), the average grade (9.9% for the last half of the ride), dealing with the gravel for 4.7 miles, the altitude (be prepared for the possibility of altitude sickness, as it commonly occurs above 8,000 feet; Wikipedia), and dramatically ​changing weather (for example, rain and 80 degree weather in Hilo, followed by wind, snow, and sub 40 degrees at the top, depending on the season).  On one climb up the volcano in December, it was 73 degrees in Hilo when we started, and we endured as low as 34 degrees and blustery snow towards the summit.

photo collage highlights warning signs along climb route

Well . . . you can’t say they didn’t warn you . . . 😨

When to Climb Mauna Kea:  We have taken on Mauna Kea twice in May, twice in June, and once (foolishly) in December.  We recommend going in May or June, as these are the lowest rainfall months for the start of the climb in Hilo.  The highest rainfall months there are March, April, and November.  The temperature throughout the year always averages in the 70s so it will be warm in Hilo when you start, but often cold to extremely cold (it was in the 30s and snowing in December 2013 when we rode to the top).

PJAMM Cyclist stands with bike at observation center at summit of Mauna Kea climb, in full snow 

PJAMM’s Brad Butterfield[1] on Mauna Kea summit, December 20, 2013.

Checking Road and Weather Conditions on Mauna Kea:  The best resource for Mauna Kea road conditions and status is the Mauna Kea Weather Center.  For example, when I originally typed this entry on January 14, 2020 from my hotel in Kona, I had just checked the MKWC site and the road from the VC to the summit was closed due to snow and ice - good to know!  Additionally, each PJAMM Cycling climb page has current and forecasted weather for the start and finish of each climb.

How to Climb Mauna Kea by Bike:  There are more tips below, but in a nutshell:

  • Train, train, train.  Be in the absolute best shape you can be before even thinking about this climb;
  • Choose the right time to do the climb, we suggest May-early June (better weather, cheaper prices);
  • The climb finishes at nearly 14,000’.  To the extent possible, altitude train, either using an altitude tent or riding up Mauna Loa or to the Mauna Kea Visitor Center days before the full MK climb.  Perhaps that’s just psychological because the studies indicate it takes at least three weeks to “fully acclimate” to altitude, but we recommend it anyway.  Regardless of what studies say, we have always ridden Haleakala (Maui) and Mauna Loa on the same trip before riding Mauna Kea and that seemed to help us.  One of our cyclists used an altitude tent in preparation and he felt that was an advantage;
  • Be prepared to swap out to a mountain bike or at least change wheels/tires on your cross bike to 38-40mm (only for very strong riders) at the Visitor Center (mile 34) for the 4.6 miles of sand/gravel beginning at mile 34.2.  The pavement begins again at about mile 39 and the last three miles are paved.  We do recommend a mountain bike or a bike that can handle 2.25” size tires (that is 57mm as a comparison to the 40mm gravel tire mentioned above);

PJAMM Cyclist John Johnson stands with bike at the end of the gravel portion of the climb, in front of sign reading "Road Narrows"

End of the gravel. May 2018.

40mm gravel tires on a Specialized Crux cross bike.

  • Make absolutely certain you have warm clothes for the trip above the visitor center.  The temperature will be between 25-40℉ (14-22℃) colder  at the top than in Hilo at the start.

Photo: Riding up Mauna Loa - Mauna Kea is in the background.

  • Have SAG support.  If you do not have your own:
  • Christian James (also exceptional photographer) can be hired to SAG and photograph your momentous ride.  Phone (440) 225-9807, email: ChristianJamesPhoto@gmail.com and website here.

PJAMM Cyclist John Johnson stands with SAG support Christian James in May 2022

Chris, John, and Jen after our May 24, 2022 Mauna Kea climb.

  • PJAMM founder John Johnson’s personal note and endorsement:  Chris and Jen SAGed for us on our 2022 Mauna Kea climb and they were absolutely INVALUABLE, pleasant, fun, competent, enthusiastic and supportive.  They have supported cyclists on the Mauna Kea climb many times and know exactly where to stop for support and for photographs.  Many of Christian’s exceptional photographs appear on this page.  If you are attempting the Mauna Kea climb I strongly and without any reservation recommend using Chris and Jen.

  • PJAMM’s Bruce Hamilton’s tips for an unsupported climb (not recommended):  If you’re really riding it all solo with no equipment changes, I’d ride something like 38-42mm tires with knobbies on the sides and a slick stripe down the middle. Pump them to max pressure to start and then take them down to maybe 25 psi at the visitor center. If you are riding down, remember that it’s not just a screaming descent – adjust your time to account for going very slowly on the dirt even when coming down. It’s quite rough on an unsuspended bike and adds substantial time (and discomfort) to your descent.

What Gear to Bring to Climb Mauna Kea by Bike:  

We have always done the paved portion of the climb with a compact disk and in 2011 (27t cassette at age 55), 2013 (30t age 57), 2014 (32t age 58), 2018 and 2022 (30t chainring and 42t cassette - age 61 & 65 - see a trend here . . . ).  In 2018 and 2022 I used a specially fitted Roubaix Crux cross bike that I used 30mm tires for pavement and 38mm knobby tires for the gravel.  Note that for all but exceptional riders, I recommend swapping to a mountain bike for the gravel - I am not an exceptional rider at age 65 and would have been much better served with a mountain rather than gravel bike in 2022.  As noted above, bring very warm clothes for the top.  You may also wish to bring breathable rain gear because there is a good chance of rain in Hilo, regardless of the month you pick to tackle the climb.

Micah Ling’s Input: Bike - Moots Routt RSL -- same bike all the way up. I started with about 55 psi, lowered to about 30 for the gravel, did not reinflate.  Maxxis Rambler tubeless tires, size 38.  I'd ride this setup again, just because I'm so used to it. The bike did me well even though I had to walk a couple sections. I might go up to 42 for the tires.  

MAUNA KEA FROM A DISTANCE

panoramic view of Mauna Kea, rising above the fog line, as seen from Mauna Loa

As seen from Mauna Loa.

photo collage shows Mauna Kea as seen from Waikoloa Road and Mauna Kea

 Mauna Kea as seen from Waikoloa Road (55 miles)

Other four photos are Mauna Kea as seen from Mauna Loa.

Mauna Kea as seen from the airplane and from Waikoloa Road

Mauna Kea left, Mauna Loa right.

Top photo: From the air leaving Kona

Bottom Photo: From Waikoloa Road (55 miles)

RIDE SEGMENTS

Statistics for the four segments of this climb.

PJAMM Cycling's profile tool shows profile grade, route overview for Mauna Kea

PJAMM’s interactive profile tool (exit this summary to access profile tool)

The steepest segments are on the gravel and last paved section

Quarter-mile at 15.3%; 2.5 miles at 12.4%.

Where to Start:  The traditional start for Mauna Kea, and the location that ranks Mauna Kea as the highest rated bike climb in the world, is Hilo, Hawaii.  It is best to stay in Hilo so you needn’t get up at an insane time to drive from the west side of the Island (Kona side) to the east side (Hilo). Twice we have made the early morning trek across the island to start the climb and do not recommend it.  In 2022, we stayed in Waikoloa but also rented a hotel in Hilo the night before our climb so we could get up 1.5 hours later (still up at 4 a.m. for sunrise start).

two PJAMM Cyclists dip their bike wheels in the Pacific, just across the street from climb's start 

Dipping our bike wheels in the Pacific just across the road from the start of the climb.

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclists at the start of the climb, with the Pacific Ocean in the background, over the years 

Photos with the Pacific in the background just across from the start of the climb.

PJAMM Cyclists pose next to Mile 0 sign at climb's start, Waianuenue Avenue

Climb begins at mile 0 on Waianuenue Avenue (we just call it W Avenue).

PJAMM Cyclists set out on climb early, sunrise behind them

We start early.

Alternate Route

The alternate route from the west side of the Island (Mauna Kea West; commonly known as the “Kona side”) is 59 miles (15 miles longer than from Hilo) and thus necessarily ranks lower on the Fiets scale (21.82 v. 28.9 from Hilo).  The comparative statistics for the western approach are:  Miles:  59 v. 42.6, average grade 4.6% v. 6.1%. The first 44 miles from the west are at 3.3%.  The final 14.8 miles from the start of Mauna Kea Access Road to Summit are at 9.2% and go from 6,579’ to 13,767’; that stretch alone is a 23.4 Fiets which would rank the final leg of Mauna Kea at #11 in the world if we only rated that fraction of the entire climb.  What does that tell us?  Save your energy for the last 14 miles of the climb.  

View of Mauna Kea Summit from Mauna Loa as framed by cyclist.

Alternate start - Anaehoomalu Point, Waikoloa

Profile Gradients from our friend Erwan Treguier of Brittany, France

SEGMENT ONE: Hilo to Mauna Kea Access Road

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclists on first segment of the climb

Ride 27.6 miles gaining 6,595’ at 4.5% average grade. 

PJAMM Cycling's profile tool shows route overview and grade for the first segment of the climb

The first leg of this journey is the "easiest" part of the ascent.  With a Fiets score of 10 for this segment alone, it would rank #37 in the U.S. Top 100 (equal to Mt. Lemmon in Arizona).

PJAMM Cyclists ride through rain and rainbows on first segment of climb

You will often encounter rain on this segment, but

. . . with rain in Hawaii can also come the beautiful rainbows!

PJAMM Cyclists ride through rain on first segment of climb

  • The entire climb Includes the only two turns (right onto Saddle Road at mile 11, and right onto Mauna Kea Access Road at mile 27.8);    
  • The first three miles of the climb take us along the only urban portion of the route (along Waianuenue Avenue). Make sure to bend left at about mile 1.3 onto Kaumana Drive, which merges into Saddle Road (Highway 200) about five miles further up the volcano.​

Stacy Topping riding her bike on the Mauna Kea gravel.

The final 16 miles of this segment are on Saddle Road (Highway 200).

PJAMM Cyclists ride within traffic on Saddle Road

Traffic on Saddle Road - note the safety rumble strips.

Highway 200 is a main connector from west and east Island of Hawaii.

The 16 miles on Saddle Road are fairly easy (not too steep and not yet at elevation), but traffic makes this segment a bit unpleasant as vehicles do whiz by at 60 mph.

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclists riding in rain on Saddle Road

You may get some drizzle or rain on Saddle Road.

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclists riding Saddle Road on a clear day, Mauna Kea visible in distance; mile marker 16

On a clear day you will see Mauna Kea as you ride west on Saddle Road.

SECOND LEG: Mauna Kea Access Road to Visitor Center

photo collage shows highlights of segment 2 of ride, including road sign for Visitor Station

Ride 6.5 miles gaining 2,808’ at 8.2% average grade from 6,613’ to 9,421’.

PJAMM Cycling Profile Tool shows route overview and gradient

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclists riding second segment of climb, Mauna Loa looms in the background

Top photo: Mauna Loa in background.

While the climb from Hilo to Mauna Kea Access Road is challenging, the section of this climb that makes it the most difficult in the world starts just after you begin your climb up the Access Road.  The Access Road part of the climb is broken into three parts and includes segments 2-4 of the full climb.

interesting signs along this segment, including "No Dogs Allowed for Mammal Hunting," and "Invisible Cows"

A couple of interesting signs along this segment.

photo collage shows bare hillsides for most of this segment, other than two pockets of conifers

For the most part, the hillside is bare but for two pockets of conifers along the way.

runaway truck ramp, sign for 17% grade

You know the road’s steep when it’s got a Runaway Truck Ramp . . .

. . .and when the sign at the top says 17%. 😓

Visitor’s Center 

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclists taking a break at the visitor's center

Swap to a mountain bike here.  These can be rented on the west (Kona) side of the island Bike Works (Kona) or Bike Works (Waikoloa), or Kona Sports Center, or swap to wider gravel tires.

Note: As of May 2022 the Visitor Center was being renovated and had only tap water available - no food or other drink.

bicyclist information sheet to give to ranger   

Fill out your information sheet and give it to the ranger before continuing above the VC.

THIRD LEG: Gravel Section:

PJAMM Cycling's profile tool shows route overview and climb gradient

This segment of the ride is two-tenths of a mile after Visitor Center; you must have four-wheel drive.


photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclists reaching the gravel portion of the roadway, about 2/10ths of a mile up from the Visitor's Center

Beginning of the gravel - 300 yards up from the Visitor Center.  

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclists riding along gravel portion of roadway

Ride 4.6 miles gaining 2,472’ at 10.2% average grade from 9,421’ to 11,877’.

           

views of roadway snaking along Mauna Kea, and of mountain partially covered by clouds in distance

There are five switchbacks that are murderous -- they are generally steeper than the straight road and at the steepest sections cause your rear wheel to slide towards the inside of the turn.

PJAMM Cyclists make their way up the gravel portion of the roadway climbing Mauna Kea   

It’s a long, lonely grind up this segment.

Stacy Topping riding her bike on the Mauna Kea gravel.

Sorry for the shaky video, but . . . I was a bit shaky at the time.

   PJAMM Cyclists make it back to the pavement, past gravel section

Back to the pavement at mile 38.9.

FOURTH AND FINAL LEG: End of Gravel to the Summit:

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclist on final segment of climb; Garmin reads 16%

Ride 3.7 miles gaining 1,980’ at 10.3% average grade from 11,877’ to 13,857’.

aerial drone view of last 3.7 miles of climb

Last 3.7 miles.

PJAMM Cycling's profile tool shows route grade and overview

At the end of the gravel, you may wish to  swap back to the road bike, or continue on the mountain bike with its lower gears.  The final stretch presents a serious challenge to climbers with its altitude and extreme gradient in places.

bike parked next to a 12,000 feet elevation sign

You’ll not see that elevation outside Colorado and Mauna Kea in the US.

bike parked next to a 13,000 foot elevation sign

Mt. Evans (14,125’), Pikes Peak (14,110’) and Mauna Kea (13,767’)

 are the only paved roads topping 13,000’ in the U.S.

bike parked next to road sign approaching hairpin turns

Approaching the hairpins.

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclists riding together toward the climb summit, observatory in view

On this final stretch we are fighting: altitude, gradient, and fatigue.  Upper left photo is a photo of Luke Hise and Erwan Treguier paperboying it up the last 17% pitch - these are not weak cyclists!  They went on to ride down Mauna Kea, up Mauna Loa and then on to Waikoloa, dipping wheels in the ocean at 2 a.m. after 19.5 hours riding, 139 miles gaining 19,000’ (Luke Hise’s Double Dip).

aerial drone view shows two giant hairpin turns at climb's finish; Mauna Kea observatory seen at climb's summit

Two giant hairpins at the finish.

PJAMM Cyclist John Johnson summits Mauna Kea

Eight miles from Visitor Center to top.

THE FINISH - HIGHEST POINT IN HAWAII

PJAMM Cyclist John Johnson summits Mauna Kea, Gemini Observatory

Finish at the Gemini Observatory.

sign at climb's finish for Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea Summit to your right as you finish the climb.

PJAMM Cyclists rest at summit of Mauna Kea above the clouds

 On top of the world!

Garmin device at climb's finish comes in just under 13,800 feet of elevation

While our downloaded map reads 13,800+ elevation, our Garmin 2011 and 2022 is a bit less.

Note, the full section from Mauna Kea Access Road to the Summit:   Approximately 14.8 miles, 9.9% average grade, 7,189' gained, 0' descended, 23.38 Fiets Index, by itself would rank this ride as #1 in the US, even eliminating the first 28 miles and 6,500' of climbing, that's how much of an absolute beast this part of the climb is. ​

on top of the world at Mauna Kea's summit, Gemini Observatory

Bottom right photo:  View from Mauna Kea Summit back to cycling finish.

From the finish of our ride you can hike to Mauna Kea Summit which is the highest point in the Hawaiian Islands.

The Mauna Kea Summit is 13,796’ (from its base under the sea = 33,500’ - tallest mountain in the world)

Photo collage shows PJAMM Cycling founder John Johnson on his five summits to the top of Mauna Kea, most recently in 2022 for his 65th birthday

I think my 65 birthday post-cancer challenge in 2022 will be my last Mauna Kea climb.

But, there’s always the challenge of my 70th coming up . . . .

A comparison of the european cycling club BIG's top climbs confirms that Mauna Kea is THE world’s BIGest bike climb.

Riding the road bike at the top of Mauna Kea.

Thank you to Helmuth Dekkers, Netherlands for providing us this BIG climb comparison[2].

Helmuth’s summary of the climb is located further down this page.

snow at the top of Mauna Kea in 2020, with Mauna Loa in the background

It does snow in Hawaii:

Top of Mauna Kea during winter 2020 with Mauna Loa in the background.

JOHN SUMMERSON SUMMARY

“Mauna Kea is another gian ascent on the Big Island of Hawaii and one of the most difficult and spectacular climbs in the world. After just over one mile in town turn left on Kaumana Road (which becomes Saddle Road). You soon leave the city over moderate grade along with a short flat. Rolling miles follow and signs of civilization (including traffic) soon end. The route becomes tree lined about 6 miles in as you continue to ride over mostly shallow grade. Laa slowly and eventually replaces trees as you ride between two massive shield volcanoes over a long section characterized by mostly shallow and rolling grade...Soon the grade eases within the magnificent saddle between the two giant mountains and just beyond mile 28 turn right for the top.

This is quite isolated and spectacular territory and the next section continues as shallow and through grassy fields (there were a few cattle hanging around this area when the author was on this hill) and then gradually gets steeper as you ride. Just over 3 miles into this upper section you encounter the first of two steep ramps. The initial one lasts for over one mile and then the slope moderates. Very soon the 3nd and steeper ramp appears and lasts for one mile and is one of the steepest paved miles in the U.S. It also provides spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and lava fields in places as you ascend. Soon the grade eases, there is a small descent, climbing resumes over moderate grade and you reach the Mauna Kea Visitor’s Center (on the right) which is an interesting place to spend some time (and fuel up for the return trip as needed). Just beyond the Visitor’s Center the pavement and listed climb mercifully ends within a lunar like landscape with long views from high points. If you reach this point you hae come a long way.

A somewhat soft (mountain bike) gravel road heads to the very top of the mountain (pavement reappears a few miles from the summit) and its high altitude and world famous observatories. Snow occasionally accumulates on top in winter which is quite a sight. If and when the unpaved section is paved this hill may well become the world’s most difficult paved road climb. It is tough enough as is so go prepared if you tackle it (there are no services onces you leave Hilo). Keep in mind Mauna Kea is a giant descent as well.” (This quote is presented with the approval of John Summerson, from his book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike), 2nd Edition, pg. 178.)

sunrise on Mauna Kea

That’s a wrap!!


[1] Brad was 16 when he climbed Mauna Kea.  Since then he has documented climbs for PJAMM in the US, Canada, Colombia, Bolivia, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Ukraine, Poland, Bulgaria, Albania, Czechia and all the top US climbing states, including Hawaii, California, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Idaho and more.

[2] These are Helmuth’s personal comments, not as a representative of BIG.

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