Humu’ula trail, Mauna Kea, Big Island, Hawaii, 2017

For me hiking the Mauna Kea summit alone was a touching experience with myself. I left at dusk from the visitor center with the video camera. Walking up and focusing on filming in the same time became a real challenge the higher up I got.

The heart was bouncing up my throat, my finger tips were slightly bluish, and - I felt it - the headache was waiting to kick in at any time, if I didn’t control my strides and breathe properly. Staying focused in the moment I could avoid that I got into this trouble. High altitude is always a risk, you never know how your body will react on that special day of the ascent.


It was the second time that I have done this hike. Last time with my dear friend Kjell I was underestimating the mountain, the altitude, the weather conditions, everything. The mountain is 4300m high. This remains a fact whether you are in the Alps or on the Big Island of Hawaii.


The path seems endlessly winding up ahead of you.

Stride by stride through the Mauna Kea desert

You have to be prepared for the cold, the snow, eventually an ice storm or heavy rains with thunderstorms, strong winds, in one word for extreme weather conditions that may force you to spend the night in the mountain.


Your cellular phone is not working, in the case of an emergency you may have to wait until the ranchers start looking for you. So you better register at the visitor center before you venture out. Last time Kjell and I didn’t even do that, totally irresponsible, stupid and ignorant. I am from the Austrian Alps, I should have known better.


Bright sunshine, hot waether and sandy beaches and the nimbus of Hawaii make you forget the irrestible power of nature of the Big Island of Hawaii. Sunsets like the one below carry you away.

Pacific sunset before the rain is going to fall

The sun is about to rise on my way up the mountain

I did the tour with 11/2 liters of water, a bite of avocado, an egg and a BIEST BOOSTER. I walked 21k and climbed 1380 meter.

This time I was well prepared. I calculated round about 5 hours to reach the summit (not unrealistic 3 hours like last time). But to be alone is yet still another story. I felt a bit uneasy. How would my body behave? Would I be as resilient as I expected it from me or as I was used from me to be?


This time I was well prepared. I calculated round about 5 hours to reach the summit (not unrealistic 3 hours like last time). But to be alone is yet still another story. I felt a bit uneasy. How would my body behave? Would I be as resilient as I expected it from me or as I was used from me to be? I reached the summit exactly in the calculated time, shortly before 11:00 am. It is amazing for me how I managed to pace my hike. 


No more to say, the video essay tells the story.

Keeping food supplies to a minimal makes life a lot easier on the steep trail.

I missed Lake Waiau


This lake is the miracle of the holy mountain. Nowhere in the midst of the lava fields the water can collect. This makes hiking difficult as you have to carry the water with you which then makes up for the majority of the weight on your back. This pond sits there so calm and peaceful. You can feel how life emerges from the dust. 

This is exactly why I want to do this journey one more time. Lake Waiau is located at round about 3900 meters of altitude surrounded by soft cinder cones embedded in lava rocks and rubble. Already tired I just followed the main trail missing the left turn to the magic sacred lake. 


Okay, I told myself, on my way down I shall walk back to the lake. As I had calculated my hike with 5 hours and I assumed that Ralf, my shuttle service down, was waiting on the summit already, I continued my path straight up.


When I reached the summit, Ralf was not there. What happened? I was worried and angry at the same time, maybe the altitude did him no good? He is a very unfit person and a heavy smoker. I couldn’t think about the lake anymore. I had to find the boy. First I considered walking down, a thought that I discarded in the moment it arose. My bottles of water were empty. I had to hitch down no doubt. At the visitor center there was no Ralf either.


The whole hike was about staying in the moment, a tender experience I wanted to enjoy and keep as a precious memory. This incident destroyed the fragile thing within milliseconds, very sad. One hour later the big boy arrived from the summit. And I slightly embarrassed withdrew my alert signals ...

Sacred Mauna Kea / Maunakea Fact Sheet

Mauna Kea, is a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. Standing 4,207 m above sea level, its peak is the highest point in the state of Hawaii.

The two ways of writing I put in the headline convey total different meanings and represent the controversy around this mountain over many years. It is a place where 2 cultures collides, where the belief in science clashes with the belief in men being part of nature.

Mauna Kea stands for white mountain, while Maunakea in Native Hawaiian tradition is short for “Mauna a Wākea,” the mountain of Wākea, one of the progenitors of the Hawaiian people. Maunakea is believed to connect the land to the heavens. It is the piko, umbilical cord, or center, of existence for Hawaiians. For the Native Hawaiian People the Mauna Kea is a sacred place where their ancestors got buried.

On the other hand astronomers revere Maunakea because its summit  provides a clear view of the sky for 300 days a year, with little air and light pollution. The largest telescope of the Northern hemisphere is expected to enable scientists to see 13 billion light years away for a glimpse into the early years of the universe.

The plan to build this telescope was successfully brought to an halt by protesters in 2016. The Hawaii Supreme Court’s decision had invalidated the permit granted to build the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea. But in July 2017 the case appeared in front of the court again, the legal battle is not yet over.

Until of today the observatory is on hold, and we all do hope that the holy mountain remains untouched.

At the end may be you feel inspired to watch my images in motion


As my breath harshly accompanies my stride


My ears listen to my heart beats


My fingers tips slowly turn blue


And my shadow being my only counterpartgiving guidance to my camera moves and framing.