Originally posted to ydnar.vox.com in September 2006.
Before the unfortunate incident with my foot I drove & hiked up to the top of Mauna Kea. This is kind of cool for two reasons:
- Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world, measured from the base (33,474 feet).
- At the summit is the largest collection of observatories in the world, including the Keck Telescopes, the Gemini Observatory, the Subaru Observatory, the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and the Submillimeter Array.
There's also a lake up there, about 30 minutes from the road at 13000 feet. It was here that I decided that my express Jeep elevator to the summit was gonna have to pause. I started feeling dizzy and a little short of breath, and came pretty close to going back down. I didn't, and after 20 minutes or so hiking (just out of view of the car, road & civilization in general) up the pumice/dirt/lava mountain my heart stopped racing and I could walk around at will. Yay quitting smoking!
After the requisite half-hour, I crested the last hill and looked down on this eerie lake, completely out of place in this moonscape. I walked down into the crater and circled the lake, finding a small patch of life clinging on to the edge of the water. The air and sun were unlike any place I've ever been, mica crisp and glinting. I read that most of the UV protection is gone at this altitude, so wearing sun protection is a really good idea.
I hiked up the far side of the lake, climbing up huge boulders and found a USGS marker. I stooped down to photograph it and when I turned around I saw two people in the distance. They were hiking around Mauna Kea with their daughter who showed up a few minutes later. They were from Hilo, and had parked their car in a spot much closer to the lake (sans crazy uphill hike). Oddly I saw their car parked in the same spot when I came back down the mountain a couple hours later.
I got back to the car, feeling ever more confident with my new high-altitude lungs. Drove the rest of the way up to the summit where the observatories were. It was some serious Evil Genius NASA shit. I kept looking around for guys in silver jumpsuits driving golf carts.
Determined to get to the top of the mountain, I had one more climb. Or should I say, slide down a stupidly steep slope on the wrong side of a guardrail and then a climb. On top of Mauna Kea is a traditional Hawaiian shrine, constructed of tied wood, feathers, stone and offerings. It seemed right that the highest piece of land in the Pacific wasn't bereft of something truly human. The only other thing on the summit was another USGS marker, uncerimoniously sunk into a concrete/steel post.