It’s Christmas Day and I’m G I D D Y with excitement at the prospect of visiting the telescopes at 14,000 feet on the summit of Mauna Kea on Hawaii. It all started on Jan 3rd 2011 when I watched the BBC’s Stargazing Live prog with Prof Brian Cox at Jodrell Bank with a live link up to the observatories on Manua Kea. Right then I *knew* had to visit Hawaii, had to see the telescopes and the lava flow!
I’m glad I chose a tour company to do the trip to the summit, the drive is treacherous and the altitude very uncomfortable. John from Hawaii Forest and Trail was my guide and I travelled with 10 or so other lovely guests in a mini van complete with onboard oxygen just in case someone gets altitude sickness. It was great to sit back and relax as John explained details of the geology, fauna and flora around us. After about 2 hours of driving we stopped for picnic dinner in a tent set up in the grounds of Humuula Sheep Station, once part of the famous Parker Ranch. The disused ranch buildings were a photographers heaven, I didnt want to stop and eat . .
After taking time to acclimatise to the altitude we continued onwards, heading for the summit. On the way, John leads a discussion: Physics and Astronomy News. Obviously the Higgs particle had top billing, I was in sub-atomic physics Bliss!
By now it was getting chilly, the aircon had been switched off in favour of heating and we were all wearing the parkers provided by John. This is another good reason why I should not have attempted to do this solo – the clothes I had were not adequate.
We reached the summit just prior to sunset, it was FREEZING but I got out my tripod and took these:
I can honestly say this is the coldest place I have ever been, I only managed a few photos before I lost feeling in my hands & feet and had to retreat to the mini bus. On thawing out everything hurt but it was worth it, absolutely fanbloodytastic!
And, the nights not over yet! We descend to about 9000 feet, just past the visitors centre and park up for stargazing, hot chocolate and cookies! John unpacks a telescope, a BIG one, well by my standards . . The night sky was indescribable, the last time I saw so many stars was in the London Planetarium! I *tried* to take some long exposure shots but didn’t have much luck and gave up in favour of Johns guided tour of the skies. I’ve never looked through a Proper telescope like this one, it was truly awe inspiring to see the Andromeda Galaxy, Venus and the other ones whose names I forget!
I had the most amazing time, the experience was even BETTER than I imagined.