Mauna Kea is known as the tallest mountain on earth and one of the toughest climbs in the world of cycling. With its 4,205m of altitude gain in one continuous climb of nearly 70km it would scare even the best climbers on the world tour. Used to fighting for the World Champion Ironman crown during this time of the year on the island, Luke McKenzie had to set himself a new challenge after a difficult season.
Luke McKenzie, a 9 time Ironman Winner and runner up at Ironman Hawaii in 2013 surely would have preferred to be at the start line, but an injury plagued season forced him to miss the qualification period and left him to find other challenges on the island.
“It is now the 11th time that I am on the island and the first time I won’t race, it is a strange feeling, but somehow I also look forward to seeing the race from a spectator’s view. It’s an opportunity to learn from the sidelines and to utilize this knowledge in the years to come.”
“So often when I trained here I looked up to Mauna Kea and it crossed my mind how epic it must be to climb up this monster of a mountain,” said Luke with a smile.
The Hawaiian climb has four times the altitude gain of the famous Tour de France climb of Alpe d’Huez. With a 7km gravel section up top, some sections where gradients are up to 20%, a temperature drop of around 30 degrees from bottom to top and the low oxygen level on the summit, it doesn’t surprise that it is considered by many the world’s hardest climb in cycling.
The first 2,000 meters of climbing are rarely above 5% gradient and around 68km long. It is almost easy compared what comes next. Just when the altitude starts to make pedaling more difficult the second part starts with a ramp of up to 20% and climbs up with an average of over 10% for the next 7km to the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station. Only a kilometer later it gets even worse with a 7km long gravel section to up to 3,600m above sea level. From there it’s just 5km on tarmac to the summit, but high altitude and gradients up to 15% make it extremely difficult to reach the summit.
There are few people who have ridden up Mauna Kea on a bicycle, but until now there was most likely no one who made a triathlon out of the ascent.
To start the day, Luke McKenzie went for a 1km swim at Waikoloa Beach, before starting the longest ascent for cyclists on his SCOTT Foil. The 76km ride until the visitor center brought him to 2,800m. He then ran up the last 12km including the gravel section to the top of the mountain.
Photo credit: Korupt Vision