Touching Heaven

Standing proudly at 13,796 ft (4,205 m) and ranked 15th in the world of prominent mountain peaks, Mauna Kea is the second highest peak in the United States (first being Mount McKinley or Denali in Alaska). Many here on the Big island, we included, call the slopes of Mauna Kea home. As a result we take our fair share of pride in quickly pointing out that while the elevation of Manua Kea is measured from sea level, the mountain actually begins far below the ocean making the true height of the mountain 32,808 feet (10,000 m) making it the tallest mountain in the world. So go ahead, visit the top of the world, you wont be sorry you made the trip.

Also known as Ka Mauna A Kea (Wakea’s mountain) and Mauna O Wakea (the mountain of the God Wakea) who is believed by Hawaiians to be the one whom all things in Hawaii are descended. There are nine Hawaiian Gods and Goddesses (that I am aware of, but I’m no expert) associated with this mountain, thus, it is a very sacred place for the people of Hawaii.

At the summit you will be moved by the expansive views, ok, my eyes got very damp it was so beautiful. The earth simply falls away beneath you no mater what direction you look.

Do not miss the elevation marker showing the 13,796 ft elevation. Take a photo with the marker, after all, you have really accomplished something if you make it this far.

Built originally in 1997 by the Royal Order of Kamehameha the lele at the summit of Mauna Kea is living proof of the people of Hawaii’s continued respect and devotion to the sacredness of Mauna Kea. Please respect the cultural and religious significance of the lele and do not disturb it’s contents. Offerings are made regularly by the people of Hawaii who go there for many reasons, but predominantly to experience the physical connection between heaven and earth, for this is where they meet, and connect with their ancient spiritual past, breathing life into their future. The original lele was vandalized in 2006 but rebuilt that same year.

A hike to the summit of this magnificent mountain is an experience not to be missed. But take the time to prepare before you begin your accent and you will have a much more enjoyable experience. As you will notice in our photos we are wearing hiking boots (not slippers or tennis shoes. While you can drive most of the way up the mountain, the summit can only be reached by hiking. The trail is well marked, but consist of loose rock and gravel and the incline is quite steep.

Because the elevation is so high you will have difficulty catching your breath as you make for the summit, take your time, rest and enjoy the view. Please also notice that we are wearing long pants, and wind-breakers. Though not a requirement and we certainly saw our fair share of shorts and t-shirts on the day we went, but the danger of hypothermia is quite real and should not be ignored. While it was sunny at the summit, the winds were recorded at 20 mph and the air temp was recorded at 7.2 degrees Celsius or 45 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun.

It can be interesting to check the weather periodically and you can do so by visiting the Mauna Kea weather center at: http://www.cfht.hawaii.edu/ObsInfo/Weather/ or http://mkwc.ifa.hawaii.edu/index.cgi

You should also have a hat, sunglasses; I wish I would have had gloves, sunscreen and lots of water. The University of Hawaii, which manages the summit, offers this advice as well because of the low atmospheric pressure and it’s effects on your body: visitors should be over the age of 16, please no pregnant women, or people with high blood pressure, heart, or respiratory conditions, and if you have been scuba diving within the last 24hours of your anticipated visit to the maintain do not go, you will get the bends. Also plan on spending at least 30 minutes at the visitor center to let your body adjust so you do not get altitude sickness and need rescuing. While these warnings may seem silly and easy to disregard, remember, medical assistance is at least an hour away. You can reach the visitor’s center at the 9,200 foot level in a regular car with no trouble, but you should only plan on reaching the summit if you have a four wheel drive vehicle, and of course, obey road condition warnings. In the winter months, Mauna Kea has ground blizzards with flying snow and ice that can reach 70+mph. I danced hula at the summit once for winter solstice and the temp was below -10 degrees Fahrenheit. Brrr, it was darn cold. (But amazing to see stars below me as I danced and awaited the sun rise above the horizon).

On Saturday and Sunday there is a free 4-Wheel Drive tour of the summit that starts at the visitor’s center at 1:00. Participants must be 14 or older and you will need your own vehicle. The highlight is that you can get into Keck 1 observatory! A rare experience as all the observatories are privately owned.

The 4th Saturday of each month is also cultural night on the mountain at the visitor center. Programs start at twilight and are free. For more information about Mauna Kea you can call the visitor center at 808-961-2180 or visit the visitor website at: http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/vis/

Enjoy you adventure to the summit!