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Maunakea Rangers Warn Visitors to Take Caution Before Driving to the Summit


University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Center for Maunakea Stewardship Rangers are warning tourists to exercise caution when visiting the mountain.

Rangers respond to about four distress calls a month for people experiencing altitude sickness or medical emergencies. All rangers are trained first responders. They are on duty seven days a week.

However, in case of a medical emergency where a visitor needs to be transported to the base of the mountain, the nearest ambulance takes at least an hour to arrive to the summit.

Two-wheel drive vehicles are not allowed to drive up Maunakea. But the 8-mile drive to the summit is still dangerous with a four-wheel drive. The roads are mostly unpaved with sharp turns and no guardrails.

DuWayne Waipa is a Maunakea Ranger stationed at Halepōhaku, a checkpoint where visitor's vehicles are inspected. From January 2020 to May 2021, rangers have turned down more than 5500 vehicles.

"We are trying to protect people at this level before even going up and make them understand that this is the risk you take. We want to make sure that they are safe to and from the summit. And this is one of our responsibilities that was put upon us by the University of Hawaiʻi to protect and mālama this ʻāina, this mountain," Waipa said.

Rangers also monitor cultural sites to makes sure they are not negatively impacted by visitors.

As more people visit the islands, rangers want them to be aware of the possible hazards before traveling.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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