At the summit of Mauna Kea at nearly 14,000 feet above sea level, several observatories are seen above the clouds.

At the summit of Mauna Kea at nearly 14,000 feet above sea level, several observatories are seen above the clouds.




Snow In Hawaii: A Tropical Non Sequitur




My wife and I had the great privilege of traveling recently to Hawaii (the Big Island), and taking a tour to the top of its highest mountain, Mauna Kea (white mountain), that sits at nearly 14,000 feet above sea level. Travel to the summit for tour groups such as ours is regulated by the state. Only about seven tour groups are allowed to course their way to the top each day.


We began the climb to the top by mini-bus following a short stop at the Ranger Station where we enjoyed a light dinner. Then, we climbed steadily, following numerous switchbacks on the unpaved road. It was not long before we were above the layer of clouds that now lay below us. Our goal was to reach the summit in good time to observe the sunset on Mauna Kea.


As we ascended, our tour guide informed us of the history of the formation of the mountain. Basically, it is a volcano, now somewhat dormant, which, if measured from the ocean floor to the summit, would measure over 33,000 feet high, greater than the overall height of Mount Everest. The last eruption of Mauna Kea occurred 4,600 years ago. Interestingly, the Hawaiians discovered deposits of dense basalt rock near the summit, which they used to make tools that were fashioned into blades and fishing tackle. These deposits were known as “adze quarries” and were an extremely important resource.


Today, the summit at Mauna Kea is among the best in the world for astronomical observation. It is above the “inversion layer” that separates the maritime air from the upper atmospheric air. The summit is also spectacular for viewing sunsets, which is what we prepared to do. It is extremely important to know that the temperature drops dramatically as one approaches the summit of Mauna Kea. In fact, it is so cold that warm winter parkas are highly recommended for protection and comfort, especially as the sun is setting. Thankfully, the tour group we were traveling with to the summit provided these for us as part of the trip. Not surprisingly, at the summit there are numerous observatories that continuously monitor the skies for activity in the solar system and beyond.


Following the glorious sunset on Mauna Kea, we descended to the Ranger Station once again where we stopped to look at the heavens through global position, sensor-driven telescopes that enabled us to see Jupiter, Mars and the moon in tremendous detail. It is incredible to think that we went from swimming in the ocean earlier in the day to summiting at Mauna Kea where snow was all around us. Such is the incredible wonder of Hawaii.




Comments are closed.