Terra Galleria Photography

Freezing in paradise: Mauna Kea Summit


After the Green Sand Beach and Waipio Valley, the Mauna Kea Summit was my third destination on the Big Island that required 4WD, because of a steep, unpaved road.

When I arrived at the visitor center, at 9,000 feet, I was still trying to dry up my clothes, drenched while working in the rainforest of Hawaii Volcanoes NP. As I was told that the summit has been in the clouds all day, in order to acclimatize, I took a nap in my car, and then decided to drive up anyways.

Just half an hour before sunset, as I reached the paved section of the road, near the summit (13,796 ft). the clouds began to clear.

The recent storms had dumped snow on the summit, in Hawaii, and in May !

It was well below freezing as I rushed to capture the last light.

Speaking with a ranger and an astronomer, I was told that I was welcome to hang out there, since they wouldn’t start experiments until much later because of the residual humidity, but I should watch out for altitude sickness.

After every 15 minutes of photography, I had to retreat into the car to warm up. I liked the connection that the telescopes (part of the largest such complex in the world) provided between earth and sky.

More images of Mauna Kea

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  1. Russ Bishop says:

    I love this spot and the night shot would have to be my favorite. I can remember shooting sunset there and having to thaw out in the car before heading down (very strange in Hawaii!)

  2. I also like the third image, the Summit, great colors and framing of the elements.

  3. Rob Oresteen says:

    QT – how long of an exposure on the very bottom shot? Film/camera/lens?

    Thank you..

  4. QT Luong says:

    It is a f1.4 30s ISO 1600 exposure. You could not use a longer shutter speed because the stars would then be trailing. 5Dmk2 24mm/f1.4 II

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