As daunting of a task it was to plan out a near 12-day scenic expedition summiting Hawaii’s two highest mountain peaks, Mauna Loa and Maunakea — each an astounding four times — Kawika Spaulding can now say, it was well worth the adventure.
On May 21, the 65-year-old Honaunau resident found himself walking straight into the record books as being the first Big Islander to successfully complete such an incredible feat with some jaw-dropping numbers: eight summits, 11 days, 424 miles, 74,000 feet in elevation gained, and completing all of it on foot with only two pairs of shoes.
Celebrating that moment felt very surreal.
While at the summit of Maunakea on his last day, all that Spaulding could think of was to savor his time atop the mountain he felt so passionate about before settling his exhausted body into a blissful sleep.
“I just dropped my pack and circled around the whole rim. It was something I’ve never done before on Maunakea,” Spaulding said. “My feeling was I wanted to be one with the mountain and be able to savor the moment. It was so beautiful up there.”
But, he wasn’t quite done yet. After spending about an hour paying his respect to the spirits of the mountain with offerings of sea salt and stones from the ocean, Spaulding knew he needed to descend Maunakea for his journey to be complete.
“Yeah, I couldn’t call it just yet. I wasn’t done yet,” he laughed. “I needed to go back down Maunakea before I could say I’m done. On my way back down to (Puu) Huluhulu, it was getting rainy and getting dark. It was really cool because three out of four times it didn’t rain coming down Mauna Kea. But this time it did, which made it even more special. And all day I was only thinking about how I wanted to end at Huluhulu and be able to sleep and just dream there. And so I got my wish – I got to sleep and dream on Huluhulu.”
Spaulding said he needed to make some adjustments to the original plan that had him dividing his ultra endurance trek into three trips that would have covered a total of 480 miles starting and finishing at Hilo’s Coconut Point Lighthouse. Thus the revised plan had him ending a day earlier as he began on May 10 and completed the trek on May 21.
“When I was coming down Mauna Loa I thought ‘this is getting pretty rough, how am I going to make the schedule?’ And so we decided to snip away the 28 miles coming back from Hilo for the second trip, and also snipped away the 28 miles going back into Hilo at the very end of it,” he said. “It just didn’t make sense to have to go all the way back to Hilo again. So my total mileage was 424 and I still did all eight summits in 11-and-a-half days.”
Spaulding’s longtime friend, Jonathan Tadross, who was onsite filming the trek for an upcoming documentary, provided an update via email on Day 9.
“Kawika is doing fantastic! He’s gone up and down from Mauna Loa sunrise hike this morning. Full moon last night and cold air made for a shimmering hike with the air freezing. All the cinder took on a light icing.
“Right now, he’s hiking up Maunakea for sunrise. He’ll summit by sunrise and be back to Huluhulu by noon. Eat lunch at Huluhulu and start back up Mauna Loa for the fourth and final time then once more up Maunakea.
“He’s in great spirits. He’s had several friends from the canoe club and a friend from Oahu come join him. It’s really amazing to witness. He just has a determination and a perspective that seems to lighten every step. He told me yesterday that this part is really about visiting friends. I don’t think he has a conquering mentality about this at all but more a longing to spend time with his teachers. It’s that element about Kawika that really inspired me to want to document this. He does these treks and pilgrimages to honor the mountains and continuously walks past what most consider limits in a humble way.”
What’s impressive of Spaulding is how he completed this epic trek as well as the numerous ultra endurance ventures that came before.
His motivation and determination has always originated from deep within, without the use of any electronic devices such as a cell phone, GPS navigational system, music or even a watch to get to any finish line. No Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Strava KOM posts either. Just a humble prayer to the spirits of the mountain for an audacious journey worth saving in his memory bank is all that he wished for.
Spaulding endured a few “hiccups” along the way like a little soft tissue injury on his left foot instep, or a close call with a car nearly hitting him as he walked along the highway, and accidentally burning his top lip while drinking hot tea. But nothing was more challenging than the summit climbs and cumulative sleep deprivation.
“I think the most challenging was having to go back up the hill each time, because it felt like it just never ends and knowing that there was someone there waiting to meet me,” he said. “Each climb was around 20 hours and so you just have to grind it up there, and the air gets thin. So I felt real fortunate to have gotten all eight summits in a row like that. All that I was thinking about was trying to get some food in me, and trying to get some four hours of sleep before having to get moving again. After a week I only had 28 hours of sleep. So sleep deprivation was huge.”
But the reward of having to complete such a daunting achievement is priceless.
“It’s a pretty satisfying feeling and at the same time, a lot of things had to go right,” Spaulding said. “I felt like the mountain had finally accepted my offering because of the way the weather just kept getting good, and mentally I just felt really good all the way.
“And there was so much moon and stars every night — it was just amazing. It’s just so quiet out there on the roads at 1 or 2 in the morning and it made me feel one with the two sleeping giants on each side of me. I can’t describe it. It was just magical.”
Spaulding credits his success to all who supported him from Day 1.
“The biggest thing was having some really good friends who bought in to helping me out,” he said. “There’s no way I could’ve done it without them. I had a total of 13 people come up and help. And seven of them came back to help the second round. My dog, June, was a good moral support for me too. And the other thing was the mountains really wanted me to be up there. There’s no way I could’ve done it if they didn’t want me there.”
Spaulding said he doesn’t plan to attempt this ultra endurance trek again as it is no longer a calling he spiritually feels he needs to do again. It is done.
And as far as what this epic 424-mile journey has taught the 65-year-old about himself, along with advice he would pass onto others who may want to attempt a similar feat, Spaulding said this:
“I learned that I definitely have some deep reserves. Given the right opportunity as this was and having to overcome little obstacles, I was fortunate to keep my body moving. Quite often something would happen but it was totally worth the price of admission.
“You have to have a really good reason to want to do something like this. For me, having a reason is everything. It has to be bigger than just wanting to challenge yourself, it has to be bigger than you. This trip for me was really about my relationship and respect for the mountains and to raise awareness for what’s happening up Mauna Kea.
“I was honored and privileged to have visited those mountains as many times as I did. And, I would never say that ‘I conquered these mountains’ as no one can ever claim to conquer something as great at Mauna Loa and Maunakea. But to actually feel and be with those mountains the way I did, totally immersed, that was a blessing.”
To view a teaser put together by Tadross called “Mauna” for an upcoming documentary visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dP4B21m3ccA&t=127s. Also a Go Fund Me page (www.gofundme.com/mauna) has been set up to assist with costs directly related toward helping Spaulding and his support crew complete this recent trip.