Mauna Kea Claims Another…

The mountain claimed another vehicle this afternoon.

A rented Nissan Altima parked at the Hoku Kea telescope rolled off the ridge, a steep cinder slope about 400ft high. Fortunately neither passenger was hurt, the woman in the passenger seat exited the vehicle when it began rolling, her companion was already out. Witnesses describe the vehicle rolling several times as it descended the slope.

Now the Mauna Kea Rangers have the unenviable task of removing the vehicle and cleaning up the mess. The rangers report indicates that the vehicle does not appear to be leaking any fluids. Hopefully the vehicle can be removed without further damage to the summit. OMKM’s Natural Resources Manager and an entomologist are being consulted before removal.

Just another reminder to take our mountain seriously…

Mauna Kea Wreck
Wreck of a Nissan Altima that rolled off the summit ridge of Mauna Kea, photo by Shane Fox, used with permission
Mauna Kea Wreck
Location of a vehicle that rolled off the summit ridge of Mauna Kea, photo by Shane Fox, used with permission

Visiting the Summit of Mauna Kea

Visiting the summit of Mauna Kea is high on many visitor’s to-do list when coming to the island. The summit region is spectacularly beautiful, even after six years of visiting several times a week I still find it so. My habit is to drive, or to ride shotgun in order to enjoy the view. I keep a camera at hand, ready for the inevitable situations where beautiful is transformed to spectacular with a well placed cloud or shaft of sunlight.

Summit Visitors await Sunset
The usual crowd of summit visitors await sunset along the ridge between the Gemini and CFHT telescopes
Any visit to the summit starts by stopping in at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Center. Located at 9,200ft the center is found at the end of the paved road. The folks here are responsible for providing visitor information and helping you out if you get into trouble, a service provided by the observatories through Mauna Kea Support Services. This includes the Mauna Kea Rangers who patrol the mountain, providing information, advice and assistance to visitors. Also found at “The VIS” are bathrooms, a gift shop, and the evening star gazing program.
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Postcard from the Summit – Walking to the True Summit

It has been many years since I last stood atop the summit of Mauna Kea, the true summit that is. A couple decades ago, while on vacation I walked to the summit as a tourist. All these years of driving past on the way to work, I have not stopped and taken the short walk to the summit of Mauna Kea from the road, until now.

Broken gear on a weekend, driving up the mountain by myself. Once the gear was fixed I was free to head back down. Without a vehicle full of guys just wanting to go home after a full day at work, I was free to stop and take a walk with the camera…

Trail to the Summit
The trail to the summit of Mauna Kea outlined with stone

Dusty Road

Rush hour for Mauna Kea is just before sunset. This is when the day crews are coming down, while the summit tours and telescope operators are heading up.

The timing of this rush can be variable depending on time of year and what time sunset occurs. Twice a year this rush is at its worst, when everyone heads up and down at the same time. This can lead to some difficult driving conditions… A lot of vehicles on a road that can be challenging. A cloud of fine cinder dust and a setting Sun just adding to the confusion…

Dust Out
Fine cinder dust creating a hazardous “dust out” condition on the Mauna Kea summit access road

Merry Christmas… I think.

On-Call… No prob, a quiet holiday weekend so far.

Until the phone rings… The caller ID shows K1 Control.

Noooo!! It is Christmas Day!

What is wrong now? Time? 4 pm, daycrew should be doing final checks before releasing the telescope, just the time things usually go wrong. ACS?!? It has been creating a lot of trouble lately. Autofill? My usual problem child… No, I checked that already today. HIRES? Tonight’s instrument that I really know nothing about. Nothing to do but answer the phone…

Just Robert calling to say everything is fine and Merry Christmas.

Thanks Robert… I think.

Summit Chaos

Tuesday, April 27th was an exercise in chaos.

A convoy of observatory vehicles heads up the summit access road
It started when we arrived at the morning rendezvous and noted the number of vehicles waiting. Transportation sets up up as many vehicles as necessary based on the ride board, usually two or three vehicles are sitting by the door waiting to transport our crew to the summit. That morning there were five, and we all knew from the schedule that many more would be leaving later in the day. This was going to be a busy and crowded day.

At Hale Pohaku we were met by a film crew. Documentary film crews are an occupational hazard at Keck. I have appeared in more than one show. Not usually a problem, this day the crew would be yet one more complication.

For myself, things started to go bad with an email message, trouble with a key piece of equipment in AO. At the heart of the adaptive optics system is a thin flexible mirror that can change shape to correct the light, the DM or deformable mirror. In order to monitor this mirror a WYKO interferometer is used to image its surface. This device shines laser light at the mirror, the return light is interfered with itself, allowing the surface shape to be analyzed with incredible accuracy. This is used to calibrate the AO system at the beginning of each night. Gone was my plan of a simple day doing some documentation checks to prepare for some upcoming modifications to the system.

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