Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

Photo shoots. World travel advice. Tips on Munich & environs.

Hypoxia at Thirteen Grand

Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world, measured from the sea floor. Not the highest, mind you, but the tallest from base to summit. Its peak is at 13,796’.

Most people come to Mauna Kea, spend a half hour at the visitor center (about 9,000’), and drive straight up to the summit where most of the world’s finest astronomical observatories are located. Then they get altitude sickness: headache, nausea, shortness of breath, the whole bit.

That seems too easy to me.

Instead, I decided to climb up from the visitor center. The trail is a bit over six miles, and almost a mile of vertical. This was complicated by the cold I was coming down with, but I figured if that slowed me down enough, I’d just turn around.

Here’s a view of Mauna Loa on my way up. The younger sister of Mauna Kea, she is the largest volcano in the world by mass. There’s one larger volcano in the known universe, but that’s on Mars. See the web of different colors on the side? Those are lava flows from about every 20 years, going a long way back. She’s overdue to erupt again. Apparently I climbed Mauna Loa in a previous life, in 1834. The summit is 13,679’, deceptively high because the mountain has such gradual slopes.

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As I climbed, I wondered at the lack of signs showing how far along the trail I was, or how high I was. I guess some other hikers had the same thought. But apparently they had a GPS, because they left me this:

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At this point, my nose was running like a faucet. I felt a bit lightheaded, but that could have been from the cold or the steady uphill climb. One thing I’ll note about the hike: I’d heard it was rocky and the footing was bad. WRONG. Most of the hike is on sand-like dirt, so it’s a bit like climbing up firm sand dunes.

A few short sections were rocky, or made of pumice stones like those in a gas grill. I didn’t have any problems there, although I could see how someone that is not too coordinated to begin with might have issues after getting hypoxic from the altitude.

As I neared the top, the trail split and I gambled on which path was the real trail. I crested a hill and saw Lake Waiau –  “placenta lake,” where native Hawaiian chiefs used to throw their firstborn son’s umbilical cord to give the child a place in the afterlife as chief. I didn’t get any closer than this, because I didn’t want to go downhill and then back up again.

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Shortly after turning around at the lake, I saw some telescopes over the crest of a hill! Now I finally believed the mantra I’d been repeating for the last four hours: “I’m 80% sure that I’ll make it to the top.” You can also see a representative (if less sandy) section of trail here. It’s not so bad, eh?

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After a bit of a walk up the road (because the trail stops), I came to one final, sandy hill, higher than the last of the telescopes. The wind was whipping at 30-40mph+ (that’s 60kmh+), and it was a few degrees above freezing. With the wind and the slight hypoxia, it was so cold my fingers went numb in under 30 seconds.

As I neared the peak, I was unbelievably excited to have made it. Now I know how people feel when they summit Everest or a similar peak. I swear the tears dripping down my face were from the wind in my eyes, though.

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After hitchhiking back down to the visitor center, I waited around for sunset on top of a nearby ash cone. This strange slantwise effect must be due to the mountain’s shadow.

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Hiking up Mauna Kea was one of the hardest things I’ve done.

My hike was probably made much tougher because of this cold. I’ve been battling it for two days since Mauna Kea, though fortunately it isn’t too bad. Nevertheless, I may have lost the desire to hike up any 7000m or 8000m peaks someday. I’m not sure that 22,000’ and above is the place for me, sans oxygen.

But you never know… maybe I’ll change my mind. Anyone want to sponsor an expedition?

Posted 6 years, 10 months ago at 3:30 pm.

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Black Sand and Sea Turtles

On May 30th I had to let my blisters heal (all that hiking in Kauai!), so I could try for the summit of Mauna Kea the next day. Here’s what I managed to see while lying low. Black sand beaches at Punalu’u on Big Island:

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The black sand is actually volcanic pumice ground up by the action of the ocean. It only lasts a few hundred years after the eruption. Eventually the soft pumice will be gone, and the beach will no longer be black sand.

This particular beach is a feeding ground for sea turtles. It took a while for me to spot this one, even with a local pointing it out. The turtles look like rounded rocks until they surface for air, which is every few minutes when they’re feeding.

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This guy in Kailua proves that you can stand up on a bodyboard.

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I capped off my lax day with sunset at a pier in Kailua. This sailboat couldn’t have been lined up any better if I’d anchored it there myself.

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Tune in tomorrow to see if I make it to the summit of Mauna Kea unaided. 13,796 feet, and the hike from the visitor center is close to a mile of vertical. It’ll be a challenge, considering I’m coming down with my first cold in over two years!

Posted 6 years, 10 months ago at 3:00 pm.

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The Green Flash

No, it’s not a superhero. It’s a phenomenon.

When it comes to the green flash, there are four groups of people.

  1. 1. Those who have never heard of the green flash
  2. 2. A few who know what it is, but never saw it themselves
  3. 3. Fewer still who have seen it and recognized it
  4. 4. A tiny handful who have photographed the green flash

For readers in group one, you’re about to join the esteemed second group! What is the green flash? When the sun sets over the ocean, just as the disc disappears completely below the horizon, you can sometimes see a green flash. It depends on the right conditions, and usually requires a rather clear sky. Kind of like this Hanalei Bay sunset from May 22nd, though I was worried the clouds would mess it up:

Sailboat Sunset over Hanalei Bay, Kauai

I noticed as I was photographing the sunset that the green moment (one second, really) had arrived, and held down the camera shutter button. The first two or three photos actually have a bit of green visible! You really have to zoom in, but here it is:

Green Flash over Hanalei Bay, Kauai

This photo is highly cropped, but has no color adjustments of any kind.

So now you know about the green flash. The next time you’re viewing a clear sunset over the ocean, watch for it! If you have a D-SLR, try to catch it in pixels. Just hold down the shutter in high-speed-shooting mode, and look at your pics later to see if the rim of the sun looks green as it disappears underwater.

What else did I do this lovely day besides join the ranks of green flash photographers? I rode a helicopter around Kauai with Island Helicopters! This outfit is fantastic, and I wouldn’t have changed a single moment of the tour. A truly impressive (and safety oriented) operation. I’ll be writing a full article about the tour shortly, but here are a few teaser pics to get you drooling.

Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific:

Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific

The Na Pali coast, inaccessible by roads:

Kauai's Na Pali Coast

I would say a helicopter tour is a MUST for anyone visiting Kauai, provided you can afford it. And remember, there are a few areas where you never want the “cheapest available” – medical services, used cars, and small aircraft flights. I’d spend the extra few dollars for a safety-oriented, professional tour operator like Island Helicopters.

As I’m writing this, I’m feeling rather isolated as the only person in Camp Sloggett, a cool but currently empty campground near the top of Waimea Canyon. That story, however, must wait for another day.

Posted 6 years, 11 months ago at 3:41 pm.

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Waikiki: Playground of the Rich

This surf-obsessed beach lined with expensive shops (and probably Hawaii’s most expensive restaurants) is definitely a haven for lovers of posh hotels and convertibles. When I arrived on May 18th I saw a lot of Mustangs, so I guess that’s the preferred rental cabrio of Oahu.

As I’d been traveling for 24 hours, I didn’t do much upon my late-afternoon arrival. But I did head to Waikiki Beach, five minutes’ walk from my hostel, to take in the sunset:

Sunset at Waikiki Beach on Oahu, Hawaii

There was a free hula show going on with native Hawaiian music, but I’ll have more about that in two days.

For dinner I checked out a delicious Japanese restaurant, which has branches in Waikiki and Tokyo: Jinroku Pacific, a Teppan Grill & Bar (2427 Kuhio Avenue in Waikiki). My longtime readers might remember another post about okonomiyaki, a large Japanese savory pancake:

Okonomyaki being cooked at Jinroku Pacific

And the tasty final product, topped with an egg, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, seaweed flakes, and fish flakes:

Okonomyaki at Jinroku Pacific in Waikiki

Here’s another Japanese “fast food” specialty, takoyaki. I tried the takoyaki for lunch another day. Mine was a little undercooked, but still good. There’s truly an art form to shaping these round octopus dumplings.

Cooking takoyaki at Jinroku Pacific in Waikiki

Let’s just say I slept well this night, after 24h of travel and a good Japanese meal. Though I did wake up early the next day due to 5h of jet lag. Tune in tomorrow to see Diamond Head crater and Honolulu!

Posted 6 years, 11 months ago at 3:17 pm.

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Fire in the Sky

May 12th brought me to Cusco, albeit a bit late because of (supposedly) bad weather. When we arrived the weather was beautiful, but I understand there is often fog in the morning – and no pilot in his right mind would attempt this landing on instruments.

For my skydiving friends, landing in Cusco is about like this: you fly in about a thousand feet above the mountains, which are around 12k’. Descend about a thousand feet to mountaintop level, then do a 180° hook turn into the valley and land. Considering the cruising altitude was probably 15-18k’, there was almost no descent – just one high-performance turn!

The view from my hotel room at Hostal Buena Vista

Hostal Buena Vista Cusco View

Yours truly at the Sacsayhuaman ruins at 3,701m, which have truly amazing stonework

Dave at the ruins in Cusco

A choice sunset shot (out of about 50 I took) – flaming hot

Fiery Sunset over the Ruins at Cusco

I wrapped up the day at the Inka Grill, where I had alpaca steak. But those details will have to wait, as it’s time for bed – I get up around 4am tomorrow to climb the mountain next to Machu Picchu. Will let you know how that goes in a couple of days, if I don’t fall off Huayna Picchu – hah!

Posted 6 years, 11 months ago at 4:00 pm.

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