The following is a journal entry written by Keith Hemstreet during the team’s research trip to Hawaii.
March 11, 2014
Kona to Mauna Kea Hawaii
Day #1, woke at 3:30 AM because of 4 hour time change. Still dark. Lie in bed looking out the window. As the sun began to light the sky, I stepped out onto the lanai. A thousand birds sang. The air was warm but pleasant. Little yellow lights like stars still lit the slopes of the 8,275 ft volcano, Hualalai. Somewhere behind it, the largest volcanoes on earth, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.
Smaller than Mauna Kea by 117 feet, Mauna Loa is the mythical home to Pele the Fire God.
Send my wife, Heidi, a picture of the view. She asks about the haze obscuring part of the mountain. It is volcanic smoke, also called “Vog.”
Walk along coast. Buy a coffee and yogurt. Sit at a small table outside and write in my notebook. A giant magnolia tree hangs over the road, its berries smashed into the asphalt. A Hawaiian Palace, built in 1800s, sits across the street. A bird lands on my table and hops around while I write. On the table next to me, a neon green lizard.
Drive to Mauna Kea, “the white mountain” via Saddle Road. Spectacular views as I climb higher from Kona Coast. Dark lava flows run down the slopes to the sea. I pull over to photograph thinking this may be one of my favorite places on earth. Driving higher, the air cools. I see traces of snow atop Mauna Loa and pull over to take photos. Driving higher, I watch the temperature drop on the digital car thermometer. Rolling hills with yellow flowers on both sides of the road. Temp in the mid-60s. I’m at approximately 4,000-5,000 feet when I begin to feel a slight chill. I roll down the window further and John Lennon’s Imagine comes on the radio, making this one of life’s perfect moments.
Pass a Military Base. Two helicopters in flight. Drive over old, blackened lava flows. I see wildlife off the side of the road. A dozen animals amongst the lava rocks. Again I pull over and quietly approach to photograph. Some kind of big horned sheep that I will have to research. I take a few pictures, but they quickly notice me and run away.
Take a left on Mauna Kea Road and wind my way up to the Visitor Center, which sits at an elevation of 9,200 feet. Temp 54°F. Weather station inside center. Temp at summit is 32°F, 0°C. Wind speed 15 mph with gusts to 25 mph, making the wind chill somewhere between 15°F to 20°F. I dress in my pants, fleece, winter jacket and wool ski cap.
Can walk on trail and snow, but not on the cinder. They do not want footprints on cinder. This is part of an effort to keep the sacred mountain pristine. Sign reads, “Leave the landscape as you found it. Do not disturb the stones.”
At the station, I talk to the ranger. He tells me the animals I saw were Mouflon, which look just mountain rams. They are not native to Hawaii. Mouflon are from Corsica and were brought over by Captain Vancouver as a gift to King Kamehameha.
Telescopes atop Mauna Kea are some of the most powerful on earth. They study black holes, dark energy, planets, stars. World class location for astronomy. Because of tropical inversion, it is almost always out of the clouds (clouds sit below). This area has one of the highest percentages of clear nights in the world. Scientists atop Mauna Kea have discovered hundred of planets and mysterious galaxies at the end of the viewable universe.
There is stargazing at visitor’s center. Video starts at 6. Stargazing at 7. Free.
The drive to summit from visitor center is just over 8 miles, but takes 25 minutes. Steep roads. Partially paved. Mostly dirt. I can feel the high altitude. My heart seems to flutter and I wonder if I’m ascending too fast. Maybe I am. Just two hours ago, I was at sea level. This could be dangerous, I think, but I do not stop. I want to summit while my blood cells are still used to the high-altitude of Aspen, Colorado. When I see snow off the side of the road, I become as giddy as a child. I pull over immediately and touch it, stand in it, make a snow ball and toss it. Incredible to me to actually hold in my hand the Snows of Hawaii!
Finish the drive to the top. Park right next to one of the observatories. There is a snowman built atop the asphalt, at the edge of the parking lot, near an observatory. Begin taking pictures. Breathtaking views. Freezing. No gloves. My hands freeze instantly. Painful, but I am too happy to care. I descend onto a snowfield across the road, walk around on the snow, then take a short hike up the trail to the summit. There, I photograph the natural area, away from the telescopes. At the summit, elevation: 13,796 feet, I find a snowman with a palm frond scarf and photograph. Then I upload a photo of my shadow in the snow to Instagram with following caption: “You know that big volcano in Hawaii? This is me standing on top of it.”
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