Maunakea Rangers remind visitors to be aware of hazards, vehicle restrictions to summit

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — As Hawaii sees more visitors, Maunakea Rangers are urging the public to be aware of possible risks and to exercise caution when visiting the mauna.

The nearest ambulance team to the summit would take at least one hour to arrive, which poses a danger to those who get altitude sickness or need medical attention. Rangers are trained first responders and are on duty every day of the week. For every 14-hour shift, at least two rangers are on patrol.

In 2018, approximately 60,000 vehicles drove up to the summit. In 2020, Gov. David Ige approved administrative rules for University of Hawaii managed Maunakea lands, which included a ban on two-wheel drive vehicles above the 9,200-foot elevation. There is now a checkpoint in an area known as Halepōhaku where vehicles are inspected. Since May 2021, rangers have turned around more than 5,500 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 without passing all this and saying, ‘I’m going to be ok,’” said Maunakea Ranger DuWayne Waipa.

Maunakea Rangers are also warning those who use four-wheel drive vehicles. The 8-mile drive to the summit’s nearly 14,000-ft elevation can be dangerous with unpaved roads, blind curves, rocks and no guardrails. Accidents occur on the road each year, ranging from single-car crashes to rollovers. Rangers respond to every incident, including flat tires and break-downs.

“Our rangers are integral in protecting the mauna and everyone that steps foot into this revered place,” said Center for Maunakea Stewardship Executive Director Greg Chun. “Most are retired firefighters or police officers and bring with them extensive years of experience from their critical roles in public safety.”

In addition to ensuring public safety, the rangers monitor cultural sites to make sure visitors treat the mauna with respect. Rangers also answer questions regarding the mountain’s cultural significance and natural resources.

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