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a VirtualTourist member from Newcastle upon Tyne


Visiting the observatories

Can anyone tell me if a 4x4 vehicle is really needed to go up to the observatories in November? Please bear in mind I am from the UK and we drive in the snow whenever it takes our fancy, we don't have much choice *(:¬>
Also, how long does it take roughly from Hilo to the summit?

4 Answers

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Ocoee

The need for a 4WD vehicle is not really needed for the drive up there. Although the road is just gravel for the last mile or so, it could be drivable in a car. BUT, and that's a BIG BUT, the drive down to sea level from up the REQUIRES low gears to use the engine to slow your descent. This will prevent you from overheating your brakes and having them fail. With all the twists and turns in the road, if you burn out your brakes, you may just be going straight at the next turn. And that's not a good thing. :)

2WD Cars do NOT have low gears that are low enough to slow your descent. And from 13,797 feet down to sea level, it's a LONG drive zig-zagging down the mountain that your brakes may not survive.

All rental car contracts forbid their cars from driving Saddle Road. If you go and get into trouble up there, don't call them.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Newcastle upon Tyne

Thanks [VT member 7b], good response but i've driven an 800cc 1954 Morris Minor over the Wrynose and Hardknott passes in the English lake district and that had cable operated drum brakes. Its good honest advice and I may plum for a 4x4 but other than lying snow I can't see why any ordinary vehicle driven correctly can't make it.

Any more oppinions more than welcome but please check out the gradients I mentioned below.


Kirkstone Pass (from Ambleside) 7.9% (max of 25%)
Honister Pass (from Seatoller) 7.9% (max of 25%)
Newlands Pass (from Buttermere) 11.6% (max of 25%)
Whinlatter Pass (from Braithwaite) 5.7% (max of 25%)
Hardknott Pass (from Brotherilkeld) 15% (max of 33%)
Wrynose Pass (from Cockley Beck) 5.7% (max of 25%)

answered by
a VirtualTourist member

There's rather a big difference between descending 1280 ft and 13,000 ft.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Newcastle upon Tyne

There's a bit of a difference between cable operated drum brakes and split circuit, dual ventilated disc brakes too. I spoke with a couple more locals who said they know a few people who work up there and not all drive 4x4's. The only benefit is the gear ratio as 4x4's have poor brakes in comparison to a standard car. Stopping frequently should do the trick.

Thanks for all the advice.

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