When you think of vacationing in Hawaii, you don’t imagine yourself bundling up in winter parkas and gloves. But if you sign up for a Mauna Kea Summit Adventures, that’s precisely what you’ll do!
Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano on the island of Hawaii whose size is deceptive. Over 18,000 feet of Maua Kea is beneath the ocean’s surface. The exposed portion is 13,796 feet (2.6 miles) above sea level. Such massiveness means it is high in terrestrial habitats like marine, desert, shrublands, alpine woodlands, and tropical forests.
When you sign up for Mauna Kea Summit Adventures, guides navigate through many of these habitats on the journey to the top of Mauna Kea. Your guide is well-versed in the history of the Hawaiian Islands and shares stories that will have you appreciate the islands’ culture.
The goals of Mauna Kea Summit Adventures are simple: to provide safe, comfortable transportation to the summit to enjoy a beautiful sunset and to stargaze. But there’s much more to their vow, so let’s explore it in more detail.
Transportation. Mauna Kea Summit Adventures uses Mercedes “micro-coach” vans. These 4x4s seat 14 comfortably and have large windows for unobstructed views. Additionally, they have AC, a PA (for the driver’s narration), a phone, a first aid kit, a telescope, and oxygen.
Altitude Adjustment. One doesn’t just hop into the 4×4 and drive to the top. Like mountain climbing, your body needs to adjust to less oxygen and air pressure. Mauna Kea Summit Adventures takes this seriously since altitude sickness and other related trauma can occur.
Here are some of their disclaimers and warnings:
- If you went scuba diving 24-hours before driving to the top, you run the risk of getting “the bends.”
- Pregnant women are advised not to make the trip.
- Children under 13-years of age cannot go.
- Obese people (body mass index of 40.0 or over BMI calculator) are not permitted.
The Mauna Kea Summit Adventures guides are well-trained in spotting the signs of altitude sickness and dealing with the symptoms. What you may experience on your trip is hard to determine. Some guests get mild headaches, while others experience nothing.
Dinner. Mauna Kea Summit Adventures serves a vegetarian lasagna when you reach the visitors center that’s at 9,000 feet. The 40-60 minute stop allows for a hearty meal and your body to get acclimated to the altitude. Mauna Kea Summit Adventures has also found that vegetarian lasagna is easier to digest at a higher altitude than pasta with meat.
Sunset. After dinner, you pile back into the Mercedes and head to the summit. Here, you’ll stand amidst the massive observatories and put on the winter parkas and gloves they provide; temperatures will drop to around 30°. While bundled up, you watch what many describe as the most fantastic sunset ever witnessed.
Telescopes. Mauna Kea Summit Adventures uses Celestron CPC 1100 telescopes whose combined optics are better than other tours.
Stargazing. After sunset, you leave the summit, so your van’s headlights don’t interfere with the astronomers in the observatories. You descend several thousand feet to a location for stargazing that is equally better on the body per altitude. While sipping hot chocolate, you gaze through the Celestron at the heavens. Even without the telescope, you may spot the Milky Way. Guests describe this part of the tour as the highlight.
If you sign up for Mauna Kea Summit Adventures, your tour begins around 5 PM and lasts anywhere from 7-8.5 hours.
If you’re in good health, love history, breathtaking sunsets, and stargazing, then sign up for Mauna Kea Summit Adventures.
You won’t be allowed into the observatories, and there is only one telescope per van, so viewing time may be limited. Some suggest packing a blanket to help stay warm while lying on the ground stargazing.