All sky-watchers are hoping that comet ISON is spectacular when it emerges from the solar glare. there is no guarantee on this, we just do not know. But it could be as pretty as comet Ikeya-Seki or comet McNaught, both of which became far brighter after perihelion passage.If this does happen the question is where to go to photograph the comet. A week ago I found that ISON was slightly behind the ridge from the Mauna Kea VIS. Not badly, but enough to delay when I could acquire the comet and start taking photos.
This recent Saturday I only went partway up the Mauna Kea access road, just high enough to be clear of the clouds and haze. There is a turnoff on the east side of the road just above the cattle guard at about 8,000 ft, one mile below Hale Pohaku. Plenty of room to park a vehicle or two and plenty of level ground to take photos from.
Winter might just be starting in Hawai’i. A fall storm dropped the season’s first snow on the summit of Mauna Kea this afternoon. Not much, just enough to turn the summit white. I had to scrape the frozen snow from the windshield to free the wipers before I could drive down.
We got 1.2″ of rain at the house, quite a bit when you consider we get 10″ a year in the shadow of the mountain. I am headed back to the summit tomorrow morning, wondering what we will find, this storm is just starting.
Guardrails? What is the problem? It is only a few hundred feet to the switchback below. As if taking all of the fun out of Saddle Road is not enough.I suppose the addition is not such a bad idea, the road is a little safer.
Mauna Kea Support Services is overseeing the addition of guardrails on quite a few of the more dangerous places on the summit road. This includes the lower side of each of the hairpin turns for the switchbacks. Notable curves are getting the same treatment.
The new rail locations include the spot where a red jeep went off the road a few years ago, killing the driver and a passenger.
MKSS had made a number of safety improvements to the mountain facilities over the last few months, part of a concerted effort. New speed bumps at the visitor center, guardrails, and plans for new signage along the road.
Visitor and observatory traffic on the mountain is increasing, so is the attention from state officials. With the new comprehensive management plan in place, and groundbreaking for TMT not far off, now is a good time for it.
The latest segment of the new Saddle Road opened this last weekend. From mile post 42 all the way to Mamalahoa Highway we have an all new highway to drive. The road follows a new route, straight for the coast instead of climbing up and over the ridge at Waiki’i. As a result Saddle Road comes out at a new intersection three miles south of the Waikoloa intersection. The old road remains, now demoted to a ranch access road, no longer labeled Highway 200 at the intersection.I finally got a chance to drive the new section late in the week while commuting to and from the summit of Mauna Kea. My reaction to the new section? It is smooth, fast and boring.
There are no blind curves. There are no one-way yields over narrow bridges! No more roller coaster, no slamming the curves at Kilohana. There is even a passing lane all the way up the steep grades. No more thrills and scares while passing the water trucks in no-passing zones. It is just boring!
And much safer I suppose.
What was the Saddle Road of infamy is now the best highway on the island. You can still travel the old segment if you do want a taste of the old Saddle, but most traffic is using the new road. Word from our management is that Keck vehicles are to drive the new road. It is a few miles longer when traveling from Waimea, taking about the same time considering the higher speed limits. For those traveling from Kona or Waikoloa it is substantially shorter.
Boring and safer? I will just have to deal with safer.
So I check the Mauna Kea webcams. The VLBA antenna? Aimed South?
Friday marked another important step forward for the future of astronomical discovery and economic opportunity on Hawaii Island. The Hawaiian Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) announced that it has granted a permit to the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project to build and operate the next-generation observatory near the summit of Mauna Kea.With this approval, the BLNR has recognized TMT’s goal of responsible development and environmental stewardship of Mauna Kea in close partnership with local interests. The carefully considered conditions in the permit help ensure the protection of sensitive environments in Hawaii.
“Over the last several years, the TMT project has welcomed the support it has received from all sectors of the Hawaiian community, from education to cultural to business to labor,” said Sandra Dawson, TMT’s Manager of Hawaii Community Affairs. “We look forward to beginning construction and becoming a neighbor of the outstanding observatories on Mauna Kea.”
Beaches? Tropical gardens? The volcano? Yeah, BTDT, not what I came to Hawaiʻi for. Visiting Mauna Kea is at the top of the list for some folks who visit our island, a priority I can fully understand. Even better? Bring a camera to this spectacular mountain. After six years of working on Mauna Kea I still carry a camera and find new shots. Some of the most fascinating photographic opportunities occur after the Sun has set. For those who pursue shots in the dark, long exposure photography, the summit provides a setting that is worth the effort to shoot.The summit is open after dark, but not unconditionally, I need to stress some explanations concerning that. Officially the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan limits public recreational use to ½hour before dawn and ½hour after dark. This has not been strictly enforced any time in my experience on the mountain. There is no gate in use, you will see people drive up the summit road in the middle of the night.
So what are the real rules for summit access after dark?