To the Top of Mauna Kea and Beyond!

July 28, 2017


Granddaughter H.D. with mountain shadow on the left and summit of Mauna Kea on the right

Since my last post, I've been to the Big Island of Hawaii and safely back. We took my three granddaughters on a "bucket list" trip to show them the magical mountain shadow atop Mauna Kea, as well as to celebrate the 12-year-old's birthday. It has been my tradition to take each grandchild on a long trip when they are 12. This being the youngest grand, I took her older sisters with me.

Mauna Kea is Hawaii's tallest volcano, standing at almost 14,000 feet. Atop it are some of the world's most important astronomical observatories. Tour companies bring visitors up the mountain to see the complex, and you arrive in time for a glorious sunset above the clouds.

On the eastern side, you may also see the phenomena called "mountain shadow" cast upon the atmosphere by the setting sun and Mauna Kea's true summit. This is often more cool than the sunset, and we spent quite a bit of time scooting back and forth between the two vistas.

To see other photos of Mauna Kea's mountain shadow, here is a LINK.

If you ever go to the Big Island, I recommend you book a tour with Hawaii Forest and Trail. They really take care of you in terms of acclimating you to the mountain. Mauna Kea is one of the only places in the world where you can drive from sea level to almost 14,000 feet in about two hours, so altitude sickness is a possibility. There is 40% less oxygen at the summit than at sea level, so it's important to acclimatize to the altitude before proceeding up the mountain.

There's Oxygen On Board The van will pick you up near your hotel. On your drive, you'll see astounding vistas of Mauna Kea and her sister, the massive Mauna Loa, then stop off for a delightful dinner at a sheep shearing station at 6,000 feet. Next, you drive to 9,000 feet for another acclimating stop, before making the very bumpy ascent to the summit. The road is paved a bit at the top, thanks to some of the observatories, but five miles of the road is very, very rough.

You arrive in time for an absolutely glorious sunset and a view of the mountain shadow. If you are lucky, the moon will be rising too. Afterward, you'll head down to about 9,000 feet for hot cocoa and a star party, where your guide will point out major objects in the glittering sky. This time I saw four moons of Jupiter!

The native Hawaiians have never been happy to have the observatories on what they consider to be their sacred mountain. (Pele used to live there, but she's fled to Maua Loa.) Now the Hawaiians are protesting construction of a new, 30-meter telescope, called TMT. This is a struggle between pagan beliefs and science. I hope an accord can be reached. This new telescope will be the last one built atop Mauna Kea. Other entities are taking their telescopes elsewhere, rather than deal with such ridiculous protests. I think the situation is a big loss to the Big Island's future and economy.

Volcanoes, Shaved Ice and Fish Galore Other wonderful tours on our trip were to Volcanoes National Park (think lava!) and also a snorkeling trip on the Fair Wind II to Kealakekua Bay. The rest of our journey, it was beach, beach, beach, shaved ice and souvenir shopping. Needless to say, after we got back, my husband and I collapsed.

In spite of the arduous journey, I was grateful to see the top of Mauna Kea for the third time, especially beyond to the mountain shadow once again. My oldest granddaughter H.D. said it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen, so beautiful, she stayed too long and almost missed the bus to go down.

Again, many thanks for reading and rating my work!

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© 2017 by Pat Dunlap Evans