Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Getting High in Hawai'i (Part 2)

Obviously, traveling to the big island of Hawai'i is, for someone who lives in Kansas, a tremendous luxury. So I don't want to make too much of the fact that, for us, our vacation there was at least as much about being able to get away and follow our own pace as it was to go on some kind of once-in-a-life adventure. For the great majority of people in this world, to visit paradise even once (much less as often as we have!) really would be a once-in-a-lifetime-type of event. We're lucky, that's for sure. And I never felt that as strongly as I did last Friday.

On that day, our oldest daughter, Megan, and I got to do something that really was, as far as I felt it anyway, truly outrageous and adventuresome: we traveled by tour from Kailua-Kona, on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, to the summit of Mauna Kea, a dormant (but technically not extinct) volcano that rises to a height of over 13,700 feet above sea level. Not being a mountain climber, that was easily more than twice as high as I have ever been in elevation before (while on the ground, that is: I'm not counting flying, obviously). Our tour took us up the valley between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, with much informative discussion of the geological formation of the island on the way. We drove to a information center at about 9000 feet, near the tiny community where the astronomers and engineers who work at the observatories on Mauna Kea live, and ate there, getting acclimatised to the thin air at that elevation. Then, it was a bumpy, long climb up the final mile to the summit. The views were stunning. The temperatures were "merely" sub-freezing, but with the thin air, my fingers felt frozen (Megan handled it better than I). After sunset, we traveled back down to our previous stop for some star-gazing. All around, an amazing day (and it was a full day: the trip up and back took nearly three hours each). Herewith, some photos:

At our first stop up the mountain, overlooking the clouded valley between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa to the east, shrouding the city of Hilo below...


...then, looking west, you can just see the top of Hualalai, the non-active (but not entirely dormant) volcano that forms the western ridge of Hawai'i island.


At the summit of Mauna Kea, at sunset, we were surrounded by the shadows of the 13 observatories that have been built there, the Keck Observatory (the twin white globes) most prominently....


In the second one, you can see pretty clearly the snow all around us. At the time of our visit, it had been two weeks since the last heavy snowfall on the summit of Mauna Kea, and much of the snow had slowly evaporated in the sunlight. Still, snow in Hawaii: that was one of Megan's big goals for the trip, and I was happy to see it fulfilled


To the north, we could easily look over Kohala, the northenmost and oldest (but still not yet officially extinct) volcano on the island, and make out the southern end of the island of Maui, 30 miles away...


Most dramatically, to our east we could look out, over the clouds and the Pacific, and see the shadow of Mauna Kea itself--a pretty bizarre (and awesome) sight...


After our time at the summit, we did some star-gazing, which was simply fantastic; I'd never before seen the night sky so filled with stars that it was actually hard to focus on any one of them. Unfortunately, our camera couldn't take night sky pictures--but of all the celestial items (Jupiter, the Andromeda galaxy, and more) that we viewed, none were as impressive as the Orion Nebula, a spot in the sky that I seen lots of pictures of, but never had never seen with my own eyes (as aided by a powerful telescope!) before...


Once in a lifetime? Considering that I'm extremely unlikely to take up a second career as an astronomer, this qualifies. A great, memorable day, one of the best I've ever had on a vacation. A luxury indeed.

2 comments:

Matthew Franklin Cooper said...

Oh, wow - excellent pictures, Dr Fox. I have never been to Hawai'i, but I do have a weakness for mountains that's making Hawai'i look pretty tantalising at this point...

Hope you and your family are doing well and enjoying yourselves (as, from the look of things, you are very much)! Look forward to seeing more pictures from your holiday when you get around to posting them.

-M

Abe Fox said...

FANTASTIC Pictures, Russell!! Especially the one showing the shadow of Mauna Kea.....simply AWESOME!!