During our trip to the Big Island of Hawaii earlier this year, we drove to the summit of the world’s tallest mountain. Nope, I’m not talking about Everest. What most folks don’t know is that Mauna Kea, one of the Big Island’s volcanoes, is actually taller from base to summit than Everest. The catch is that the base of Mauna Kea is almost 20,000 feet (6096 meters) below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. The entire mountain is about 33,500 feet (10,210 meters) tall, while Mount Everest is approximately 29,035 feet (8849 meters).
From our condo near the beach, the drive up to the summit of Mauna Kea was about two hours. The last 45 minutes were the most treacherous. The road was dirt, narrow, and very steep, with frightening drop-offs, only to be driven by 4WD vehicles. It was a sunny day, but the temperature dropped quickly as we got closer to the top, where it hovered around freezing.
At the summit, it truly felt like we were on Mars with all the red dirt and desolation. Because of the lack of light pollution, Mauna Kea is a great place to study the stars. A couple dozen countries, universities, and tech companies have built telescopes up there, making it perhaps the most advanced collection of telescopes on the globe.
Although it has apparently been a few thousand years since Mauna Kea last erupted, geologists say it could erupt again. If that happens, hopefully the scientists operating the telescopes will have time to remove their expensive equipment!
When we visited in mid-April, there were only a few patches of snow on the ground. During the winter, however, blizzards and extreme conditions are common. There are times when the road to the summit is closed due to weather hazards.
At the top, the air is very dry, and because it is above the majority of the atmosphere that protects against the sun’s damaging rays, sunglasses and sunscreen are essential. (I will say that Mr. Handsome accidentally took his sunglasses off before I was able to warn him, and he’s just fine.) Another interesting fact about the Mauna Kea summit is that it boasts some of the purest air in the world, so it is a great place for scientists to collect air samples.
While at the summit, I filmed a video (embedded below).