Monday, September 21, 2009

Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea, at 13,796 feet in elevation, is the tallest mountain in Hawaii and the sixth highest of all the state high points, only behind Alaska, California, Colorado, Washington and Wyoming. From the standpoint of elevation above its base on the ocean floor, it is 33,476 feet, the tallest mountain in the world, even taller than Mount Everest.

In 1993, our family was visiting my parents who were living near Laie, Oahu, where my father was working for Hawaii Reserves. We left our kids with my parents while Judy and I flew to the Big Island. As part of our stay there, we decided to visit the top of Mauna Kea. We rented an Isuzu four wheel drive vehicle, and on October 21, headed up the Saddle Road in the middle of the island. At the turnoff to the Mauna Kea road, the elevation was about 6,700 feet.

As we got higher up the road, we started to notice Mauna Kea Silverswords, long, tall, grayish-green plants.

Just past 9,000 feet, we passed Hale Pohaku, which looked like lodging for the scientists that man the observatories. Then the road turned to gravel and a sign said to switch to four-wheel drive. We could easily have done it in two-wheel, but we did follow instructions. The road was quite steep in places. We were in first gear on a number of occasions. At about 11,000 feet we reached a beautiful paved road, probably the best paved road on the island. We surmised that it must be good for snow removal purposes. Below, a view of the peak from the road.

We eventually saw the observatories. There must have been 6 or 8 and one was under construction. The road turned east, or right, and we followed it up to the highest observatory, run by the University of Hawaii.

I tried to go in, but it was locked. I looked around to determine where the peak was and it appeared to be a little peak to the east. On closer inspection I could see a trail leading from the road down to a saddle and up the side. It also looked like there was a little monument. Below, the trail leading from the observatory toward the summit. This picture was taken on the way back and shows Judy in front of me.

The weather was cool and windy and the air had a bite to it. It was cold if you stayed still, but bearable if you were moving. Not the sort of weather you anticipate in Hawaii. It only took about 10 minutes to hike to the summit. Below, Judy on her way up.

Judy on the summit, near the Geodetic Survey marker. Judy had a bad headache from the altitude, so we didn't stay long. Her headache improved as we went back down the mountain.

Mauna Loa in the background, at 13,677 feet, is only 119 feet shorter.

Another view of Mauna Loa shows cinder cones near the saddle, evidence of prior volcanic activity.

The view of the observatories from the summit. Mauna Kea is one of the best astronomical sites in the world and is home to some of the world's leading observatories. It is above about 40% of the atmosphere and 90% of the water vapor, providing exceptionally clear images of the night sky. It is also above the inversion layer and gets about 300 clear nights a year.

Back down at the Saddle Road, we found the road to Mauna Loa. It snaked through lava flows and was twisty and winding. After 16 or 18 miles, we reached the atmospheric weather station near 11,000 feet. A lava gravel road continued another 6 miles to the summit, but Judy was not feeling well, so we turned back. However, at this point, I took a picture of Mauna Kea which showed it engulphed in clouds, with the pointed summit just to the right of the observatories. An amazing view.

Although not as difficult to get to as a hike, getting to the summit of Mauna Kea did require effort. Most rental cars will not let their vehicles use the Saddle Road and just finding a rental place that would allow us to go there took some time. In conjunction with the drive up Mauna Loa, it was quite an adventure.

1 comment:

  1. Sea level to 13,000+ feet in a few hours does not equal fun.