Saturday, February 14, 2009

Over the Volcano: Ascent of Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea, From Near the Saddle Road

A Few of the Observatories Near the Summit

The Summit and Its Traditional Shrine

In the Astronomy Gift Store (!) at the Visitor Center

Our major achievement for Friday, apart from doing the wash, was an ascent, by me, of Mauna Kea, Hawaii's highest peak ("peak"), about 13,800 feet. Via Arnott's Tours, we established camps at Rainbow Falls, at the Hilo 7-11, at 6,000 feet on the Saddle Road, at 9,200 feet at the visitor center, and the final ascent camp on observatory row at 13,700 feet. All this for acclimatization, like Nepal. From there I pushed on the final 100 feet to the summit. There was a foot or more of snow, gale force winds, and temperatrures below freezing. Seriously. (This is Hawaii? We foolishly left all our down and polartech in Honolulu.) But I made it, snapped a few pix, and then hustled back to the warmth of the van.

Mauna Kea is contested ground. To traditional Hawaiians, it is sacred space, the nexus between heaven and earth. To a variety of universities and national agencies, it is prime astronomical observatory real estate. There must be a dozen major observatories up there, some with reflectors over 15 meters, making significant discoveries--in addition to the hundreds of tradititional shrines and sites that have been there for ages.

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