Those with any appreciation for science and astronomy would surely want to include a visit to Mauna Kea on their Hawaii itinerary. The summit reaches 13,800 ft, and is home to some of the world’s best observatories with the mountain itself having a unique ecology comprised of several different climates. Getting to the top can be a challenge though, and requires some experience with a 4WD or at the least some willingness to take on a tough hike (I suppose one could also join up with one of the dozens of tour groups that visit daily, but that’s boring).
The day prior to my trip up the mountain, I had heard a story from locals saying a tourist had recently wrecked his rental car trying to drive up the summit, and it had since been turned into a small ski ramp before it was eventually removed. Not wanting the same fate, and enjoying the challenge of a difficult hike, I decided to spend the day on the summit trail, smartly leaving my car at the visitor station roughly located at 9,200 ft.
The hike itself is not terribly long (six miles), but after 10,000 ft altitude sickness hits and I end up having to pause every 100 feet or so to catch my breath. Hours later at the top and in the shadows of the obversatories, I’m greeted with amazing views of the Big Island.
Back down at the visitor station, I catch some rest and explore the area nearby which includes a shrine and a small garden of rare Silversword bushes. As nightfall approaches and the temperature drops, staff begin to setup an awesome assortment of telescopes for guests to use, pointing them at the most prominent and famous objects in space. By the time it’s dark, the Milky Way is easily visible.