"I thought I'd circle the van around so you wouldn't have to freeze your ass off on the hike down," Lopaka mentioned to me as I rounded the tour van marked Arnott's. I laughed at the irony, never once expecting those words spoken to me in Hawaii, especially on the threshold of summer. I hadn't anticipated below-freezing temperatures atop Mauna Kea, and my sandal-clad feet were colder than they had been all winter in Alaska. I composed brilliant tweets appended with #imsuchatourist , but couldn't get the reception to post any.
The wind whipped across the false summit, and it was a lose-lose scenario for taking pictures: shooting landscapes beckons being stationary, but being stationary was when I was coldest. I'd run in place and do calisthenics to warm up, but the oxygen-depleted 14,000-foot elevation made me lightheaded. We had just driven the whole distance from sea level, and I was wheezing like a lifetime smoker.
I wanted very much to go to sleep. Lopaka giggled.
This was one of those places in the world that scoffs at casual visitors—but the allure remains, and the mystery is intact.
Mauna Kea is a splendid collision of old and the new, a sacred site of Hawaiians and astronomers alike. Once guarded as the dwelling place of the gods, we now venerate it as one of the holiest places to peer up and out at their handiwork. The reverence offered by the ancient priests and the modern epistemologists bears no discord—and so we came to Mauna Kea as one comes to a ritual, to mass, or to a celebration.