Mauna Kea at its best (and worst)

The view from the Mauna Kea Visitors' Center at elev. 9200'

Today was a day for trekking. Luckily, this trekking could be done mostly by car saving us from having to hike up nearly 14,000 feet of mountain. We began the drive early in the day and got to the visitors center at 9200′ around 11am. We had to wait here for at least 30 minutes due to the elevation gain and to make sure that none of us would get sick. We took that chance to eat some lunch and check out the visitors center while others took deep breathes and tried to gain their footing (not me, of course).

Two of our group having fun in the vistors' center gift shop

The visitors center had all sorts of interesting things. They had computers where you could test your knowledge of the mountain, astronomy magazines to paw through and, most importantly, a video introduction to Mauna Kea‘s cultural significance as well as the many observatories and telescopes at the summit. We sat and watched the video noticing ourselves starting to yawn a lot more (in order to gain more oxygen) and some of us got a little sick to our stomachs, but not so much so that we couldn’t summit the mountain.

We also took this chance to go on a short walk out on the mountain and observe the Silver Sword plants that only grow on Mauna Kea. Unfortunately, these plants nearly died out many years ago due to non-indigenous fauna eating them and grazing away their land. Several years back, though, they found one left and took seeds from it, cultivated them, then re-planted them all over the mountain. This time of year they are not in bloom, but their bases still looked amazing and shone in the sunlight.

Several of the observatories at the top of Mauna Kea; Keck I and Keck II are the farther twin white observatories; to their left is the Subaru observatory and the closest to the camera is the famed Gemini observatory

Once we got back into the van we drove up the extremely perilous gravel road that bumps its way up to the summit. We did not die, thank goodness, but the views were spectacular. Pretty soon we could see the telescopes at the summit shining ahead of us and we got really excited in our semi-woozy states. We eventually reached the top and stopped at the Keck Telescopes to go into their visitors center for a brief lecture and to look at the telescope itself. We could only see the base mechanism and the back of the mirrors, but it was still quite impressive.

At this point a few members of the group felt adventurous so they took the trail to the absolute summit (it only took them about five minutes to reach the top). Half of us stayed in the van, however, as it was quite cold and we weren’t willing to subject our lungs to the thin air while hiking.

The five who decided to reach the true summit

This brought us to the end of our journey and we returned home stopping at Safeway along the way to finish provisioning and get ready for a movie night later tonight as well as our trip to the Planetarium and Tsunami Museum tomorrow. And thus I leave you with a couple extra pictures for good measure.

Several of us looking at the base of Keck I

The group posing in front of the lower cloud banks


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