We had a nice time on the Big Island last week. Using airline miles for the plane fare, we had intended to try to do Hawaii on the cheap. In retrospect that statement is pretty funny because there is nothing cheap in Hawaii except for possibly macadamia nuts. For some reason Chris wasn't too enamored with the idea of camping, so an hour before we left for the airport, he called the timeshare people. We lucked out: they had a last-minute cancellation in Kona! I quickly repacked, meaning I threw out the tent, sleeping bags, pads, and stove. The only downside was that we'd be relegated to Kona every night as opposed to slowly making our way around this quite large island. Fortunately we are experts in speed touring.
We drove all the way around the island (~300 miles), hiked to some beautiful waterfalls, checked out the awesome Hilo open air market, photographed numerous beautiful flowers and sea turtles, visited some coffee plantations, Kohala and Puna, walked on a black sand beach, climbed Mauna Loa, ran on Ali'i Drive, visited the self-proclaimed best beach in the world, and otherwise generally chilled. Oh, and I snorkeled for about 5 minutes total. I am just NOT a water person and hate getting my head under water, so that was about my limit. It was a big step to just get into the water. The water was SO clear, and the fishies were brightly colored and spectacular!
The weather was hot and humid, even on the "dry" Kona side, so we tried to get any running done early in the morning. Where we live in Southern California, the weather is actually more pleasant--nice warm temps but no humidity. Probably not too many people can say their weather at home is better than Hawaii's. :) The Hilo side of the island is much wetter, rainforest actually, and where most of these plant shots were taken.
Interesting plants and flowers...
The only reason for this trip was so I could stand atop my 50th state high point, Mauna Kea. Ignoring dire warnings of rental car contract violations and the need for 4WD, we puttered up the 13,000 feet in a PT Cruiser (after all, I've driven on far, far worse roads--this one was a cinch!), then walked the last few hundred feet to the high point. The summit is littered with various scientific observation stations and gets quite a lot of traffic. It was cold: about 30 degrees with winds around 25 mph. Note the down jacket, fleece pants, hat, etc. How many people pack clothes like this for a Hawaiian vacation?
Some friends gave me a hard time about driving up when we could've hiked it--there is a parallelling trail. However, driving to/up high points "counts" (so there), and we really wanted to climb Mauna Loa, a 12+ mile hike, on the same day. While Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world from base to summit, Mauna Loa is considered the largest as far as total mass, kinda cool. The trailhead, near the Mauna Loa Observatory, was located about 30 miles across the saddle, mostly on a single lane, broken up asphalt road. The entire hike's surface was hardened lava, and there was nary a sign of life--not an ant, spider, blade of grass, flower. No noise even--pure silence. It was rather eerie. And very strange, probably the weirdest mountain I've ever climbed. The photo below is Chris near the crater rim, standing on what appears to be old asphalt. It's not. It's lava. The route was very well cairned all the way--good thing because the clouds rolled in later in the afternoon, and we had to navigate cairn to cairn.
The view into the crater was absolutely incredible. I kept repeating "Oh. My. God... Oh my God! OH MY GOD!!" I have been up Mt. St. Helens, Rainier, and other volcanic mountains before but never anything like this. The crater was H.U.G.E., really quite scary looking, and a place from which I really got a bad vibe. I felt the urge to leave quickly, which we did!
Our final day on the Kona Coast, we visited Pu'uhonua 'O Honaunau National Historic Site. Hawaiian legend has it that at this site, the "place of refuge," one is assuaged of their sins/misdoings and forgiven. :-)
When/if I get sufficiently motivated, I'm planning to devote some space here to my US Highpoint quest. For now, suffice it to say, I had a great time pursuing this goofy goal and saw some beautiful, interesting, off-the-beaten-path areas of the country that I otherwise never would have visited. A friend asked which were my favorite peaks. My response:
Faves: Gannett (WY), Granite (MT), Boundary (NV), and Katahdin (ME)Pleasant surprises: Black Mesa (OK), Guadalupe (TX), Charles Mound (IL)
Least faves: Britton Hill (FL), Campbell Hill (OH)
PS: I did Reno Monument in DC for extra credit. :)