Thursday, April 1, 2010

big island hawaii - day seven

Day seven took us to the point of Mauna Kea, situated on the Big Island, is the highest point of Hawaii at 16,000 feet. Instead of joining a tour group, it was more economical to rent our own vehicle and join one of the free tours hosted by volunteers from the visitor center. Due to the high altitude, there is a set of rules that you must follow including no ordinary vehicles allowed due to the steep, unpaved roads. We rented a four wheel drive for the day and drove up to the Visitors Center (meeting point) 9,000ft up about an hour prior to the tour to get used to the altitude.

Once they gather everybody, they sit you down to watch a 60 minute video about the history of the mountain and a quick orientation. Volunteers do a quick check on everybodys gas and to make sure they know how to use their four wheel drive. As a convoy, there was a lead vehicle, 5 visitor vehicles and a park ranger bringing up the rear. If you didn't have a four wheel drive and wanted to go up, you were matched up with another vehicle that had space. We ended up taking a guy who was visiting from Germany for 3.5 weeks up to the top.

We made a stop at 11,000ft, so that they could check to see how our group was feeling. Me? Not, so hot. I felt fine getting out of the car, but a few steps later, I almost threw up in the circle we were standing in. Not a great way to start the journey! Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth ..... I was back to normal after a few minutes. The atmospheric pressure up here is 40 percent less than at sea level. Less oxygen is available to the lungs, and acute mountain sickness is common.

(inside the W.M. Keck Obervatory)

(each mirror in the telescope is worth $1.5 million each.. each telescope has 36 mirrors and there are two telescopes in total plus spares - almost $100 million in mirrors)

Mauna Kea is a very remote location. It has no public accommodations, food, or gasoline service. The observatory buildings are usually closed to the public. There are no permanent restrooms above the Visitor Information Station. The portable toilets that they do have are all tied down, so that they do not blow away. The road above the Visitor's Center to the Mauna Kea Observatories is unpaved, rough, steep, winding, and dangerous.

During the winter months, heavy storms commonly deposit several feet of snow. Minimum nighttime winter temperatures at the summit are around -4 degrees Celsius (25 degrees Fahrenheit); minimum daytime temperatures are about +4 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit), but wind chill and the high altitude can make it seem much colder. It was so wierd to pack flip flops, short skirts, t-shirts, bathing suit and then have to pack for winter.

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