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Sunrises and Sunsets: Day 3 on the Big Island

By on October 16, 2013
Sunset on Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are the two behemoths that form the majority of the big island of Hawaii. Each silently stand vigil over the other until the time comes for one to rain down a fiery inferno of death and destruction onto the lush, unsuspecting valleys below. Luckily for us (and everyone else on the island), the day we decided to attempt both of them was not such a day.

We decided to start the day with a sunrise ascent of Mauna Loa, the smaller of the two volcanoes at only 13,679 feet instead of 13,803 feet. Mauna Loa, Hawaiian for “long mountain”, is actually the largest volcano on the planet with it’s summit rising over 56,000 feet above it’s base on the ocean floor. My original plan was to actually summit the volcano, but those hopes were dashed by the government shutdown (which prevented us from actually reaching the summit even though a majority of the trail was not on National Park land), our waiter at dinner the night before (who told my mom there were feral pigs and wild dogs on the mountain, although I highly doubt they actually bother with the top 4,000 feet of the mountain since there is absolutely no vegetation up there), and the fact that entire 11 mile hike would have been on unsteady and razor sharp lava rock and neither my sister nor my mom had the proper shoes or attire for that type of hike. Instead we drove the 18 miles up to the Mauna Loa weather observatory, which was an adventure in itself.

We woke up at 4 am in order to make the 1.5 hour drive to the observatory before sunrise. This involved a relatively quick 25 mile drive on highway followed by an arduously slow drive on the 18 mile, one-lane road to the observatory that dipped and turned so aggressively that it was impossible to drive faster than 20 mph even on the descent during daylight. We finally reached the observatory at 11,141 feet just as the sky began to lighten. In total the sunrise probably last about 20 minutes from when we got out of the Jeep, hiked the short distance to the top of a ridge, and began taking pictures until the sun was above horizon and the sky was no longer painted in technicolor. 

The cotton candy sky
Taylor and I on the ridgeline


The sun makes an appearance


The three adventurers!


Moonscape with Mauna Kea in the background


Cool lava flow formation


Cartwheel/handstand on Mauna Loa

After sunrise, we drove to Waimea for the biggest pancakes I’ve ever seen. One pancake could easily feed a family of four, and they gave you two of them! Taylor and I made valiant efforts but in the end I only finished one and she finished one and a half. We then spent the rest of the day regretting so much of our pancakes!

After a nice afternoon run and sunning myself by the pool, we headed back up the same road we had driven at 4 am but with Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa’s big sister, as our destination. This time we were able to drive all the way to the summit, where there is a multinational space and weather observation station with multiple satellites. Being the science/space nerd that I am, I thought that was awesome! What was even more awesome was watching the sun set over the west coast of the Big Island and the white satellites turn a dusty rose color. My parents jokingly (sort of) say “if Sam sees a mountain, she has to climb it” and the reason for those feelings is for views like this. Sunset is a beautiful thing when you are on the same level as your surroundings but it’s magical when you can look down at the world and watch it slowly fade into blackness (or light since it’s equally as magical during sunrise).


I need to come back to see this
The train to the actual summit of Mauna Kea


One of the cool satellites



I’ll try to be better about posting about the rest of the trip but work has been pretty crazy lately. At this pace, I’ll have all of Hawaii documented by Thanksgiving. But I swear I’ll try to finish it by Halloween. Luckily I haven’t done anything cool lately, so my slowness with posting about Hawaii is helping me fill this void until my favorite holiday of the entire year…Halloween!! Once that hits, be prepared for lots of festive posts and pictures!