To reach the true summit of Mauna Loa at 13,679 ft, use the Mauna Loa Summit Trail along the north and west rim of the caldera. From the intersection with the Observatory Trail
and Mauna Loa Trail
, skirt the northern edge of North Pit going counter clockwise. After some mostly level travel, begin a steady climb up lava fields along the top of the cliff edge. Pass some fissures and a jeep road leading to the original location of the Mauna Loa observatory.
The grade eases again and finally the summit is a high point along the 600 ft high rim of the caldera. With no references for scale, it is difficult to grasp the true size of this enormous crater. You're likely to have the place to yourself as most people don't often linger here to tempt Pele and the fierce weather.
Beware of altitude sickness, bring warm clothes, sun protection, excess water and food. Expect extreme and rapidly changeable weather. To avoid getting the bends, scuba divers should not ascend Mauna Loa within 24 hours of their last dive.