Mauna Road

Two missions up into the saddle this week to go comet watching. Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE is rising in the northeast, blocked from view at home by the mauna, need to drive up to where I can see it.

With the comet as an excuse to get out well before dawn I may as well add a few secondary missions to the plan…

Make sure the drone batteries are charged for a few flights to photograph the saddle scenery at sunrise. The lava fields are spectacular at sunrise, one of my favorite places on the island.

The next mission is to photograph pueo along old Saddle Road. I tried two times, both times not a single bird to be seen. Where are the owls?

In any case a couple memorable trips into the dawn.

Looking down the Mauna Loa access road towards Mauna Kea
Looking down the Mauna Loa access road towards Mauna Kea

Flying the Summit

Governor Ige signed the new public access rules, drones would be illegal on the summit in ten more days.

Keck and Subaru in the snow atop the summit of Mauna Kea
Keck and Subaru in the snow atop the summit of Mauna Kea

With a deadline looming much sooner than I had contemplated there was a narrow window of opportunity. While I had wanted to fly the summit for a long time, I now had a few short days in which to do so. On January 23, 2020 the new rules would take effect.

The Office of Mauna Kea Management has attempted to restrict drone use on the summit by posting signs that drones are not allowed. Problem, they did this with no legal authority to do so. In conversations with OMKM staff I had pointed this out and received a quiet admission that it was true.

The new public access rules would change this… Flying a drone would be specifically prohibited on the science reserve, a civil offence with steep fines involved. With the governor’s signature those rules would be in force.

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Mauna Kea Public Access Rules Take Effect

On January 13th, 2020 Governor Ige signed the controversial rules governing public and commercial activities on Mauna Kea Lands. They take effect ten days from the signing, on January 23rd.

Mauna Kea sits above a fog shrouded Saddle Road
Mauna Kea sits above a fog shrouded Saddle Road

I have mixed feelings on these rules. Some of the rules are badly needed to control public activity atop the summit of Mauna Kea, rules that can help preserve and protect this place. I believe other rules go too far, attempting to regulate visitor activities that have no impact on the mauna.

My concerns on these rules are known, I have written about them here on DV and I have testified at each round of public hearings. I will not editorialize this time, the rules are now finalized. Those who go to the mauna should be aware of what has changed, and much has changed, expect these rules to be implemented in coming months.

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A Snow Week

With a decent snowfall atop Mauna Kea my week was one of snow, and more snow. It was a week of problems and beauty.

The snow started falling on the 10th, a blanket of white covering the mauna. As the observatory crews pulled out and the road was closed we watched the storm on the webcams. While it snowed on the summit near record rains and flooding hit Hilo along with much of the windward side.

Dawn over Mauna Kea as seen from Saddle Road
Dawn over Mauna Kea as seen from Saddle Road

While a few guys from our summit crew made short visits to check on things, for the most part work on the summit was paused through the weekend, conditions inoperable.

It was not until Tuesday that the snowplows cleared the snowdrifts and access was partially restored. With delayed tasks to do I drove up that morning into a spectacular dawn over the mauna.

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