Thursday, July 31, 2008

Day 167. I climb Mauna Loa

I had set my heart on spending a day visiting Mauna Loa, the largest mountain on Earth. This enormous volcano rises to 13,700 ft, or about the same altitude as Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo (and we all know how tired I was after climbing Mt. Kinabalu), but to this altitude we must add the portion that is under water, which is about 15,000 ft. In contrast with steep Mt. Kinabalu, the slopes of Mauna Loa are very gradual, which is easy on the knees but makes for a very, very long climb.
No, I didn’t climb all the way to the top. According to the National Park signs it is a three day climb, and one needs to carry full camping gear and supplies.

So instead I decided to spend a day climbing as far as I could, in silent communion with the mighty mountain and its geology. And silent it was on all counts. First, I didn’t see another human being all day long (surprising, really, given that there were plenty of tourists in the park). I did see a family of mongooses (introduced to fight mice many years ago and now one of the two top predators in the island; the other being feral cats), and plenty of Hawaiian pheasants. Second, the geology is positively boring: one basalt flow after another forming a gigantic pile. At the beginning I was trying to be a serious geologist, stopping from time to time to look for phenocrysts, but most of the flows are aphyric. Finally, after climbing about one third of the total elevation, I found a lava flow with nice olivine crystals and—proof of how bored I was—I romped around like a kid looking for the pretty green crystals. It took quite some time to get down from the mountain, and at the end I was pleasantly tired. Maybe it was not one of the most exciting days, but I am glad to have visited this mighty mountain.

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