Visiting Mauna Kea
My second stop on the Big Island was Mauna Kea. It is one of the five volcanoes that form the big island, and is Hawaii's largest. I wanted to pick the perfect day to make the trip. Weather is an important factor for the view at the top. The forecast for the week was good however everyday drew clouds. It was a matter of picking the the perfect day. Most of the day was clear with some clouds, so I decided to go for sunset.From the hotel I took saddle road to get there. It was a long ride, and the road was curvy. During the day the the road is fine to drive, however, at night I grew uneasy driving back to the hotel. With the twists and turns it can be hard to see ahead of you as the road is not well lit at night. A more rural area lies in the center of the island, with a considerable amount of local farms. There are also animal crossings at random times durning the day and evening, because of all the farms. Saddle Road cuts through the center of the island. Most roads go around the island, but Saddle Road offers a direct route to the other side. Along the way we also passed a military base which seemed deserted, but was still pretty interesting to see. As I drove, I tracked the elevation on my iPhone. The clouds appeared to grow closer and closer as I approached the entrance.When I finally reached the visitors center I parked the car along the side of the road and checked in. It is a great stop for acclimating, before moving on to the summit.The trip itself is a six-mile stretch with an altitude change from 9,000 to almost 14,000 feet. Adjusting to the elevation is an important part of visiting Mauna Kea.
Although a rental car will get you to the visitor center, you will need a four-wheel drive vehicle or a mountain bike to continue any further on. I rented a car from Thrifty and although it was a four wheel drive car (Jeep Liberty), I was hesitant about driving to the summit. When driving back down from the summit, the workers at the visitors center told me that riding the break can cause damage to the car. While hanging around the visitors center I made the decision not to drive to the summit. I would have never made it in time for the sunset and I was nervous about taking the rental car.
Directly across from the visitors center was a small peak that I was instructed would be easy to climb. I decided that it would be a great place to watch the sunset, and many other people were climbing. The trip up felt longer than it was. Looking back, I probably should have hung around the visitors center longer and walked up the peak a little slower. I began to feel short of breath, develop a headache, and feel fatigue. Once reaching the top I sat for twenty minutes before I began to feel better. The solution to altitude sickness is to retreat to a lower elevation. However, I didn't want to miss the sunset, so I stayed.
The sunset was beautiful and the view from the top of the peak, and the view down was magnificent. It was quite an unreal feeling to be so far above the clouds. I spent roughly an hour an a half at the top of the peak just soaking it in an taking pictures. The weather was very cold once the sun began to set. I had forgotten to pack a jacket with me. I managed in a sweatshirt, but I recommend bringing some sort of jacket.
This was a wonderful experience and if you are heading to Hawaii it is a must see! Pack appropriately and plan accordingly so you have enough time to adapt to the elevation change.
Looking back I wished I made it to the top and there were less clouds, but never-the-less it was still an amazing experience.
Fun Facts About Mauna Kea:
It is the tallest sea mountain in the world, and stands at 13,796ft above sea level and 32,000ft from the very bottom.
Currently, Mauna Kea is dormant. Its last eruption was approximately 4,500 years ago.
The observatory at the summit offers at least 300 clear nights of viewing. Stargazing is magnificent due to nights free from lights and pollution.
The summit sits above 40% of the earth’s atmosphere and 90% of the water vapor leading to some of the clearest images.
The observatory on the summit is home of the twin Keck telescopes, which are the largest optical and infrared telescopes in the world.
The Visitor Information Center offers free lectures and video presentations as well as the opportunity to gaze through their telescopes or binoculars