Summiting Mauna Kea: Tips for a great tour!

Last November, we traveled to the Big Island of Hawaii! Our most anticipated adventure was going to the summit of Mauna Kea (13,796 ft) to watch the sunset from the top of this dormant volcano and then gaze at the stars!

The high altitude, dry conditions make it one of the best places in the world for astronomical observation!  

We went with a tour group that took us to the top to watch the sunset and then descended back down to the visitor center to spend time stargazing with their telescopes.  

The tour picks you up in a van and then you begin the ascent.  It's about a 2 hour drive to the visitor center which is approximately 9,000 ft elevation.  

Here you will eat an early dinner (they provide) and have some time (about 45 min to an hour) to acclimatize before summiting!

On our way to the summit!  

I recommend drinking lots of water during the day before your tour and eating a VERY light meal before the summit. You don't want your body working to hard to digest a lot of food when adjusting to the altitude.  When you leave the visitor center, its about another 20-30 minutes to the summit. Once we reached the summit we had lots of time to walk around, take pictures and just take it all in!

Most tour companies will provide a parka to wear because it is extremely cold and windy at the top.  Wear warm pants, because my legs got so cold that I was shivering, started breathing really hard, and fainted. Then I had symptoms of altitude sickness!

My oxygen levels were normal and they determined I did not need oxygen, so I'm going with the fact that the extreme cold and wind was the culprit of my problems.  

At the summit!! Do I look cold?  It was freezing!!  But so beautiful!

Now, all that to say, I still have no regrets doing this!  Once you get to the top, the view from above the clouds is truly spectacular! Maybe that's why I got sick, because I was overly excited trying to set up my tripod and capture this photo: 

Which I managed to get before I fainted!  Ha!

After watching the sunset, you descend back to the visitor center and have a chance to stargaze! 

I was unfortunately a little out of it during this portion of the trip.  However, there were some clouds so I don't feel like I missed too much!

A few of the telescopes.  Doesn't this look like another planet?!

I highly recommend this experience. It was such an amazing view from the summit and unlike anything I've ever seen!  I write this not to scare you out of doing this, but to just be prepared if you do it!  

Tips for an enjoyable experience at the summit:

1) Don't stuff yourself

2) Drink plenty of water

 3) Wear warm clothes and take it easy as they advise.  Don't try to go jumping around or running around the top of the summit.  Respect the altitude.  Seriously.

If you have experienced problems with altitude before you may want to take that into consideration. I personally never had before, but I think the extreme altitude change in such a short time didn't help.

Another tip: Schedule your tour near the beginning of your stay on the Big Island.  Our first trip got canceled because of poor weather and visibility, but we were fortunate to get into another tour group the next night!

Questions and comments are welcome!

Happy Traveling!  :)


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