Climbing the Wrong Puʻu

The original plan had been to hike Puʻu Kole, a dramatically red cinder cone visible from the summit access road. The red coloration leads to the name, Kole, which translates as red.

What actually happened is that I climbed the wrong puʻu.

Parked on the Mountianside
The vehicle parked on the side of Mauna Kea with a snow covered Mauna Loa in the background
Puʻu is Hawaiian for hill and is generally used to refer to the many cinder cones that dot the landscape of this volcanic island. As prominent landmarks these hills are used to describe the land, and can be found as references in the old land surveys. Every prominent puʻu has a name. The summit of Puʻu Kole is used to define the modern Hamakua and Hilo district boundaries.

As I traversed the R1 4WD road the side of Mauna Kea was enveloped in heavy fog, thick enough that you could not see a hundred yards, sometimes less. I was pretty sure I was in the vicinity of the target, and sure enough the shadow of a large puʻu was visible in the mist. So I parked the vehicle and climbed it.

It was when I reached the top and looked downhill that I noted there was another puʻu hiding in the fog. It was then I realized that I might just be on the wrong hill. Checking the maps I realized that I had climbed Puʻu Palaolelo.

Wrong? Perhaps this is the wrong word, there was no particular reason I needed to be on the right puʻu other than my desire to explore a place I had seen so often while ascending or descending the summit road. The error was fortuitous in that my original target hill was enveloped in thick fog all morning, while Puʻu Palaolelo, a little higher on the mountain, was alternately in the fog and in the sunlight.

A beautiful fogbow, a glory and the spectre of the brocken on Puʻu Palaolelo
A beautiful fogbow, a glory and the spectre of the brocken on Puʻu Palaolelo
It was this play of fog and sunlight that led to the most dramatic experience of the day. When I neared the summit a beautiful fogbow appeared. Even better, when the angle of the sunlight and the steep slope of the puʻu allowed a glory and even a spectre of the broken appeared in the fog.

Standing atop the puʻu I could not miss the beauty of the morning. Still early the low sunlight was rich in color. Across the saddle you could see Mauna Loa, capped in vivid white, quite a contrast to her black lava flows. A chill wind swept fog over the summit, at times I was spattered with droplets. As the fog and light played across the landscape my camera memory card quickly filled. It was a satisfying hike, resulting in some pretty photos. My original goal of climbing Puʻu Kole lies unfulfilled, an excuse for another walk on the mountain.