HomeNewsHistoric Climb: Two Hikers Ascend to Top of Earth’s Tallest Mountain

Historic Climb: Two Hikers Ascend to Top of Earth’s Tallest Mountain

by Matthew Memrick
(Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Two Hawaiian hikers did a historic climb, topping the Earth’s tallest mountain without ever tackling Mt. Everest.

How’s that? Well, while Chinese mountain is the highest mountain on Earth (29,032 feet) above sea level, Hawaii’s Maunakea volcano holds (33,500) the title of the tallest mountain.

Victor Vescovo and Cliff Kapono teamed up for the February 2021 triathlon. SF Gate also noted they’re in the Guinness Book of World Records for the physically-exhausting trip.

Two Men Tackle Tall Mountain With Permission

The sacred mountain on Hawaii’s big island is more than halfway underwater (19,698 feet), while 13,802 feet is above sea level.

Vescovo, a former U.S. naval officer, is a mountain climber and underwater explorer. His friend, native Hawaii scientist Cliff Kapono wanted to go up the mountain starting at its base at the bottom (the Pacific Ocean).

Already, the former Navy sailor’s got an impressive resume with climbs over the highest peaks of all of Earth’s continents. He’s also gone to the planet’s deepest points in five oceans with a self-built, submersible watercraft.

Vescovo told SF Gate he came up with the strenuous, three-day excursion idea in 2020 while working on the ship. While many have climbed the volcano from base on land to the summit, no one had ever gone from the ocean floor

The men planned and got the proper permits for the trip. The trip involved going to the bottom of the ocean, taking a kayak to shore, and then ascending the volcano by bike and hike.

At first, Vescovo said the men saw flatness and sand at the volcano’s bottom. But sonar also picked up the land mass’s sharp features. So, they witnessed old lava flows at 5,000 meters deep.

The kayak portion of the trip included expert canoeist Chad Cabral. The three paddled 27 miles to shore and reached their camp at Hilo Harbor before dark.

The men biked and cycled 37 miles from Hilo to Maunakea’s slopes the next day.

Permission To Travel Sacred Mountain

By the time they got to Puuhuluhulu, the mountain’s volcanic cone, a stop was in order for some religious ceremonies. Cultural practitioner Tom “Pohaku” Stone helped the duo follow Native Hawaiian practices with the prayer ceremony.

After that, they continued up the mountain on bikes until steeper slopes meant they’d have to finish their trip by walking to the Onizuka Visitor Center at 9,300 feet to spend the night.

On the final day, the pair hiked the rest of the way to the summit through snow and ice.

When they got to the Maunakea summit, Stone was there again to help with a Hawaiian ceremony. The location has several telescopes on it. 

Vescovo told SF Gate they got clearance from the local elder to do the final ascent.

Now the two men are in the record book with the title of making the “First full ascent of Maunakea.” They provided dive logs and GPS tracking for the sea and land portions for the Guinness folks.