Being on the top of Mauna Kea is like being on another planet. It’s surreal landscape is dotted with telescopes, satellite dishes and the odd geodesic globe. Standing 4,205 m (or 13,796 ft) above sea level, the view is unparalleled, land to ocean. It’s the highest point in the state of Hawaii plus Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa together are listed as two of the tallest mountains in the Solar System at 10.2 km (6.3 mi) from base. The kicker is just 4.2 km (2.6 mi) of this is above sea level. How cool is that?
A combination of high altitude, dry environment and a stable airflow, it’s one of the best sites for astronomical observation in the world. A road to the top was built in 1964 to allow for the building of the Mauna Kea Observatories and road signs warn of invisible cows. (Kinda reminds me of Kananaskis.)
We drove to the 14,000-foot summit of Mauna Kea in our rental Jeep and took the warnings with a grain of salt. Being from Calgary, we’re a bit better off to deal with high altitudes and winter driving, but we did stop at the visitor center to pee before heading up.
“Ordinary vehicles cannot cope with the steep, unpaved road; you will need to obtain a four-wheel drive vehicle, or take a commercial tour. There are no opportunities to “look through” the telescopes at the summit, and visitors are not allowed at the summit after dark. The road up the mountain can be dangerous, particularly in bad weather. The high altitude of the observatory carries serious health risks and routinely impairs physical and mental activity….
Mauna Kea is a very remote location. It has no public accommodations, food, or gasoline service. The observatory buildings are usually closed to the public. There are no permanent restrooms above the Visitor Information Station. The only public telephone above Hale Pohaku is an emergency phone in the entrance to the University of Hawaii 2.2-m Telescope building. Vehicles should be in good working condition with good brakes and sufficient fuel to return to Hilo or Waimea. Emergency services, including medical assistance, may be two hours away…”
-Institute for Astronomy University of Hawaii
Another cool fact, Mauna Kea stands at more than 10,200 m (33,500 ft) which is taller than the elevation of Mount Everest above sea level. How? A whole bunch of the mountain is below sea level and has an oceanic base.
Simply put, this is one of the coolest places I have ever been.
The Road to Mauna Kea, January 2010, A. Espetveidt, Quadrophonic Image