Monday night I scheduled a tour to go up Mauna Kea. Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world.
You thought Everest was right? Nope! From base to peak Mt. Everest is 29,029 feet. From base to peak Mauna Kea 33,500 feet from base to peak. So, why is Mauna Kea never talked about as the tallest mountain in the world? Because only 13,796 feet of the mountain are above sea level. The rest of the mountain is below the water's surface.
The easiest way to grasp this is to imagine all of the water in the world being drained. If it were all drained, Mauna Kea would be 4,471 feet taller than Everest.
This is a dangerous and risky trip up the mountain, so you have to book the trip as a tour with a professional. Due to the high altitude, steps are taken to ensure your safety and to avoid getting altitude sickness.
What is altitude sickness?
"Altitude sickness occurs when you cannot get enough oxygen from the air at high altitudes.
* Altered mental state (hallucinations)
* Loss of balance
* Impaired reason
There are special steps taken to avoid this. Some simple important steps are to not go scuba diving 24 hours prior and to inform your tour guide of any health issues you may have.
Our amazing tour guide, Edmond, took me and this couple (we were the only people on our tour) to the Mauna Kea Visitor Center to acclimate us for an hour. This basically just means get us used to the high altitude before we went up any further.
So, we had some noodles and hot chocolate while we were there. I also ventured off to the trail behind the visitor center. It appears foggy and very eerie, but really it looks that way because I was inside of a cloud! I got to see an altar and also this rare plant called Silversword. The Silversword plant only grows in three places in the world and only at high altitudes. All three locations are in Hawaii.
Once the hour was up, we started the journey up to the summit of Mauna Kea. I was feeling nervous. Edmond had filled an empty water bottle with air to demonstrate what can happen if we don't follow the rules before and after going up the mountain...I'll explain what happened to the bottle as we go.
On the way up it was so bright! All I could see was mountain tops, sun and clouds. At one point, Edmond pointed out this large area of the mountain where testing for Mars had taken place. They discovered that the land and the rocks matched EXACTLY to the land and rocks on Mars. How cool is that?
I was so excited once we made it to the summit. I wanted to run around and take photos. But moving quickly is not recommended. You are supposed to move slow because your brain moves slower at higher altitudes. So I walked slowly. Oh, and by the way, the water bottle is now rock solid to the touch.
I dressed for the weather. I knew that it would be cold up there, so I wore a sweater, jeans, sneakers and a jacket. Still, Edmond supplied us with an even bigger jacket. It was 40 degrees with no wind. We got lucky on the wind part. Edmond told us that about 1% of the time is there no wind at the top.
The view was incredible. I wasn't even worried about being cold. I was literally on top of the world, above the clouds. It is hard to show in photos just how amazing it was. The sun was so bright.
At the top there are these large, magnificent telescopes. Owned by different counties and groups for research purposes. Edmond told us that once an astronomer or scientist reaches Mauna Kea for a study, that is the height of their career. Mauna Kea is the biggest opportunity anyone in that field can get. Which was really cool to hear and then to get to be up there to see the telescopes...just, wow.
We stayed up there for about an hour. The sun sets fast once it starts setting. We got to see some of the telescopes open once the sun set. They have to stay closed during the day because of how bright and hot the sun is. It is the law that we must go down 10-15 minutes after sunset.
As we head back down, Edmond tells us just how bad things can get if you aren't properly trained or traveling with a professional up and down the mountain. First he tells us that at the summit you have 40% less oxygen. Probably a good thing that he waited to tell us that after we left the top! I would have been worried. But this is the reason that people with asthma or heart problems need to be honest with their tour guide. That way extra precautions can be taken. Also, many times people think that they can just go up and down the mountain on their own because they have a 4-wheel drive vehicle. WRONG. If they do not acclimate themselves, they will get sick 100% of the time. Also, if they are not with a professional coming down, accidents often happen.
Edmond told us the story about the man that trained him on the tours. He said that there was a guy driving a truck behind his friend's jeep. The trucks breaks failed and the driver tried to use Edmond's friend's jeep to stop his truck. Both vehicles fell off the side of the mountain and both people died.
It is very dangerous, so even if you think you don't need the help. Remember - you do!
We were going to star gaze at the visitor center because that's one of the main reasons people go to Mauna Kea. There are not many street lights on the big island, and the ones that are here are a weird yellow color. The reason for this is to reduce light pollution for the telescopes on top of Mauna Kea. So, usually you can see a sky full of stars. However, once we got back down to the visitor center it was too cloudy and a storm was brewing due to hurricane season. I was okay with it though. I had already had such an amazing experience at the summit.
So, we all hopped back into the Explorer and headed all the way down...
I am so happy that I went. And hopefully next time I make it to Hawaii, I will be able to see the stars.
Once we made it to about 4,000 feet elevation, the plastic water bottle was crushed. This is what can happen to your body if you're not careful!
I hope that you enjoy the photos and visit Mauna Kea next time you're on the Big Island.
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