We started our tour in the afternoon with Arnott's Lodge. We drove along the Saddle Road from Hilo to the center of the island. From there we headed north along the steep road which ascended Mauna Kea. At 9,300 feet we stopped at the Onizuka visiters center to aclimatize. At this altitude we had just risen above the clouds and could see the massive Mauna Loa in the distance. With its gradually sloping sides, it looked more like a hill than a 13,000 foot volcano. Measured from the bottom of the sea, it is 56,000 feet high and dwarfs Mt. Rainier in both width and elevation. Though not as massive, Mauna Kea is slightly higher and can be considered the highest mountain in the world, from base to summit.
After an hour of acclimatizing, we headed up the final 4,000 feet to the summit of Mauna Kea. The summit was a very surreal area. Not only were we high above the cloud cover, but we were also surrounded by eleven huge observatories operated by various institutions and countries. Also in the winter the area accumulates snow and people actually hike up to go skiing in Hawaii!
From our parking spot, I hiked up the last 50 feet to the summit. The air was noticably thin reminding me of my climb up Rainier. At the summit I found a sacred platform used by the native Hawaiians. Due to her foot and the thin air, Jamie waited for me closer to the van and the observatories. The breathtaking sunset had begun and I soon rejoined Jamie to watch the sun dip below the horizon.
September 19, 2001