Day 6 in Hawaii - To the Summit of Mauna Kea

Trip Start Nov 26, 2009
Trip End Dec 04, 2009

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Flag of United States  , Hawaii
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

For our 6th day in Hawaii (second on the Big Island), it was my turn to choose our adventure.  Zach's fun thing of choice was the diving trip so I chose mine to be a trip up to the Mauna Kea volcano summit and astronomical observatories at 14,000 feet.  I've always been fascinated by astronomy, so it was perfect.  We didn't have to meet up for the journey to the summit until 2 PM, so we had all morning to adventure around the north part of the Big Island visiting parks and pretty sites.

We got up pretty early and headed to Waip'io Valley along the coast.  The valley is so beautiful and impressive - the Hawaiians even used it to bury their kings.  Like many of the other valleys along the coast, the area is extra susceptible to tsunami damage as it just channels the big waves into the inland.  Many of the ruins at the bottom of the valley had been destroyed by such tsunamis.
                                                 Waipio Valley
After the valley we headed back to the east coast, stopping at the state park of Hapuna Beach and "Pu'ukohola Heiau", a National Park containing a temple King Kamehameha ordered built in the 1700's after a prophet revealed that by building it, King Kamehameha would be able to unite the Hawaiian Islands.  Apparently it worked!
We met up with our group to head up to Mauna Kea and the observatories at the mall near our hotel.  I admittedly felt like a cheater using a tour group to head up to the summit, but honestly after seeing the road and how hard the vehicles work to climb up it, I didn't feel too guilty about not trying it on our own.  The road up to the base camp area is completely paved, but is really rough in some spots.  The road winds through massive ranches owned by descendents of King Kamehameha and the European explorers who intermarried.  Wild donkeys, turkeys and goats wander the hills where small cinder cone hills dot the landscape.  It really does look a little wild west up there.

We stopped at the base camp at 9,000 feet elevation where there was a gift shop with all sorts of nerdy goodies there.  A lot of the workers on the observatories stay here at the base camp because the air is a little more oxygenated here.  It was still a little rough, one of the ladies in our group felt a little bit of altitude sickness, so she stayed there until we came back down.

Our trip was timed to catch the sunset at the summit with the observatories.  We arrived at the summit of Mauna Kea at about 5:45 PM which gave us a few minutes to get some pictures of all the observatories.  Countries like Japan and the European Union have telescopes up here, and the guide emphasized that many of these were controlled remotely (I know we saw the Keck telescope center back on the northern part of the island nearly at sea level).  The tour thankfully gave us arctic parkas which was awesome because it was below freezing at the summit. Zach even grabbed a couple pictures of snow at the top.  It was just amazing.

The tour kept us at the top a little longer than usual to catch the moon rise at the summit.  By this time, all of us were getting a little loopy from the lack of oxygen (I guess the summit at 14,000 feet has about 40% less oxygen than sea level), so we had to be careful not to run around a lot or do anything strenuous.  The astronomers and engineers have a harder time thinking up here and have to acclimated.
                                                Scopes at sunset
After the moon rise, we headed back down the base camp and the guides set up an 11 inch telescope to look at Jupiter and the moon and some other neato shots.  It seemed like down here in Hawaii, the constellations were all sideways and upside down compared to what they are up north in Washington, so for example Orion the hunter I guess looked like a man to the north, but here in Hawaii, the Hawaiians thought it more looked like a canoe, which it does when it's sideways.

Overall, it was an amazing experience.  We got back to our hotel late at night, and we were too tired to do anything else.  I hope you enjoy the pictures and I hope I didn't ramble too much- I just think this is so incredible!
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