Mauna Kea, planet Earth’s tallest mountain (when measured from sea floor to summit) rises 13,796 feet above sea level. It is arguably the best place in the world to look at the stars. On Tuesday afternoon, Pacific Quest’s Malama students had the rare opportunity to don long-johns and winter hats, as they made the trip to Hawaii’s sacred mountain.
Upon arriving at the Visitor Information Station (VIS) at 9,300 feet in elevation, the students took a walk to see the unique flora of the ecosystem. Students viewed the silversword, a threatened plant species endemic to Hawaii. The life cycle of this particular plant is up to 40 years. Found only on the slopes of Mauna Kea and Haleakala (a volcano on Maui), the silversword is named for its long, narrow leaves with silvery hairs.
After examining the rare plant as well as a few others that exist on Mauna Kea, the students hit the trails for a short hike up an extinct cinder cone, or pu’u, to watch the sunset. From above the clouds the views were spectacular! Everyone seemed to enjoy absorbing the alien landscape, often likened to that of the moon. As the sun set, one student uttered a reverent, “Wow.” With that, the group shared one thing from their past that they would like to leave up on the mountain—one thing that, if absent from their life, would allow them to move forward in a more positive direction in their future.
The group headed back to the VIS to have a picnic dinner and watch a film about the cultural and scientific history of Mauna Kea. Once it had become sufficiently dark, it was time for the star tour began. Everyone shuffled outside to view the night sky. With the aid of the VIS telescopes, the Malama students got to look at the Moon, Mars, and Jupiter with four of its moons. VIS staff pointed out different constellations and before leaving everyone got a lesson on how to used the public telescopes to find different stars and planets in the sky.
Mauna Kea is truly a magnificent place and everyone was sincerely grateful to have had such a unique opportunity.