Monday, February 16, 2009

Mauna Loa

I got up quite early

White rainbow seen on the way to the observatory on Mauna Loa

Mauna Loa's caldera, crater, summit plain, whatever

Mauna Kea from Mauna Loa; note "shield" shape

What Mars would look like if it had a road and telephone poles

While Vicki slaved over a hot laptop, researching the next phases and modes of our journeys, I got up very early, drove out to the observatory on Mauna Loa, and climbed the 6 mile, 3,000 foot trail to the top. It is less than a trail: rather, a "way" up the mountain--over a'a and pahoehoe (the two kinds of Hawaiian lava), both much crumbled, some finer gravel higher up, and more snow than I would have liked--marked every hundred feet or so by a cairn. The cairns are well placed, range from 3 to 8 feet tall and are easy to follow. It would take quite a white-out to get lost on this mountain. Given the terrain, the 6 miles are a ten-hour trudge, up and back, especially starting from 10,700 (sea level, actually) and reaching 13,700, without proper acclimatization. One can never establish a pace, as the terrain is continually changing--imagine 3,000 feet of alternating boulder hopping/jagged scree/snow, scanning for the next cairn--but continually interesting. The lava flows are fascinating, especially the pahoehoe, the smooth black type that forms itself into braids and other life-like designs. It is almost like climbing on a living thing. Let's see, Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984, so I guess it is a living, if sleeping, thing.

Like Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa is a shield volcano. All the Hawaiian volcanoes are of this type. The angle of ascent is slight, barely noticeable (except for one's heart thumping away...), and the distant views stay pretty much the same. Nearly all day long I could see from the Kona coast all the way to the cloud bank over Hilo Bay, with Mauna Kea rising prominently in the middle. Mauna Loa is a huge mountain, the world's largest "ultra" when measured from its root thousands of feet down in the sea.

Were I to do this again (who knows?), I think I would spend the night before at one of the parking lots, at 6,000, 9,000, or 10,700 feet, for acclimatization. Nonetheless, it was a memorable climb. I have done volcanoes before, e.g., Lassen, but nothing like Mauna Loa.

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