My second day on the Big Island of Hawaii was gonna be all about one thing: a sunset on Mauna Kea. I actually had to do some research on Manua Kea as part of one of my biology classes this semester, and it was the #1 reason I wanted to visit the Big Island before I left Hawaii. Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain on Hawaii, at around 14,000 ft above sea level. If taking below sea level into account, then it is actually the tallest mountain in the world. While doing my research, I looked at photos of Mauna Kea and saw that being at this altitude puts you in the troposphere (above the clouds!). I saw other photos of the summit during sunset and decided this is what I wanted to do more than anything.
The biggest issue was that you can only take a four-wheel drive vehicle up Mauna Kea from the visitor center, since the road is gravel. To rent a 4WD vehicle was almost $500, and a tour to the summit would be about $200. My only option left was to hike to the summit of Mauna Kea and back down, which would take around 10 hours. Having done Ka’au Crater and Moanalua Middle Ridge, I was pretty sure I could do this. The biggest issue would be the temperature. Mauna Kea can get up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and I had no winter clothes.
Another issue was that in order to make it up to the summit at sunset, I would have to walk down the summit in the dark. I brought a headlamp, but I wasn’t sure what the trail would be like. When I reached the visitor center, the road to the summit was actually closed due to chance of bad weather. I knew there was a chance for thunderstorms, unfortunately my plane tickets were already booked when I found out. There was one more setback, too. I woke up with my knee hurting pretty bad. I thought that it was just muscle pain from hiking so much the day before, so I took a couple of Aleve and pushed through it.
The park rangers tried to stop me from going (and a part of me really didn’t want to haha), but I figured I’d at least try! Just starting from the visitor center, it was already pretty damn cold and windy.
Once I started hiking, my body warmed up and it wasn’t as cold. The incline was a lot more than I expected for a hike so long. About an hour into the hike, I started to see cars going up the road to the summit. NON-4WD cars, too! I rushed back down the trail, got in my lil 2015 Mustang, and started driving up the trail! It really was bumpy and not really safe for my car, but I had to see the sunset at the summit haha. At one point my car got stuck and I had to reverse it back down the curvy hill to make it up again. Take your chances with this, I guess. It’s up to you.
I forgot to take a good photo of the observatories, haha! I did get a video of them, though. It’s on my Flickr. It was even colder up here! That combined with the strong wind, I could only stand outside of the car for maybe 45 seconds. I was pretty glad I decided not to hike up here in my thin jacket and skinny jeans haha.
Since it was only 12pm, I had about another six and a half hours to wait around. Of course there was the choice to go down the mountain and come back up later, but I wasn’t sure my car could do it a second time. I decided to pull out Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and read for the rest of the day! This was probably one of the best days of my life. I can’t explain how it feels to be completely alone with clouds floating right past you, the only sound the wind against the car. I had nothing to feel anxious about. I did a lot of thinking, about my relation to the world and my relation to other people. I feel like the greatest thing in the world is to have your energy reciprocated by another person. Here I was, alone, content, and without anxiety. I wanted to meet all of the people in the world that could make me feel this same way.
Somewhere around 5pm, a park ranger drove by and told me that I needed to get off the summit because the winds were getting up to 50mph. I was pretty sad that I wasn’t going to be able to view the sunset from the summit, but just the great experience of being up there for so long truly was enough for me. Driving back down, the wind was pushing the clouds all around me. To see a cloud coming right at you, twisting and rearranging with the wind, is quite an experience too.
I waited in my car for a little longer at the visitor center. About ten minutes before sundown, I started hiking on the trail I was on earlier. I was still pretty high up and I was sure the sunset would still be nice from this trail. While all of the tourists went one direction, I went a different way so that I could be alone.
“So therefore I dedicate myself to myself, to my art, my sleep, my dreams, my labors, my suffrances, my loneliness, my unique madness, my endless absorption and hunger- because I cannot dedicate myself to any fellow being.” – Jack Kerouac
I felt like this quote had a lot in common with my day! Since I spent all day reading Jack Keroauc and thinking about myself in relation to the world. While I could’ve spent the day doing a bunch of other things, I’m glad I took the entire day to do this one amazing thing. I feel like sometimes I just want to hike and get it over with that I never stop to appreciate what I’ve done to get there. Today I did that.