FAQs

  1. Observatories
  2. Health Risk
  3. Tour Details and guides
  4. Equipment and food
  5. Weather
  6. Reservations
  7. Cancellations

Do we get a chance to go inside of any of the big telescopes on Mauna Kea?

No, normally not. At the time of day we visit the astronomers are quite busy and can't be interrupted. We do however see the observatories as they open their domes and swing into position. Some of the observatories are constructed so as to show a lot of the telescope from the exterior when the dome is open.

We are available for custom charters, which could be a day trip.  Normally we tour one or two of the observatories during the daytime. If you'd like a quote for a custom charter please write your request to: info @maunakea.com

Can we look through the big telescopes on Mauna Kea?

No, modern telescopes are not equipped for visual (eye) observing .  Scientists are making digital images that can be frequently found on the internet. Check out the websites of the observatories to see these images.

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What are the Health Risk of Mauna Kea?

Mauna Kea has 40% less oxygen than sea level and 40% less air pressure than sea level.
This lack of vital oxygen can be a very serious problem for persons with HEART or LUNG disease.

Persons that have been SCUBA diving in the last 24 hours run the risk of getting "The Bends" because of the decreased air pressure and the build up of nitrogen in their bodies.

Pregnant women should not travel to Mauna Kea because of the decreased oxygen available for mother and child.

We do not take children under 13 years of age to the summit because they have a much higher incidence of high altitude problems.

In addition persons whom are obese (Body mass index of 40 or over BMI calculator) should not make this trip.

Because of the long, bumpy road this trip might not be suitable for persons with back injury.

I have had heart/lung problems in the past and I would like to make the trip to Mauna Kea. What should I do?

To go on our tour you will need a letter from your personal Physician saying that a trip to Mauna Kea presents no special risk to you. Our reservationist can email a form for your physician to sign. A call to 911 on Mauna Kea will take about 2 hours to respond and even a minor incident will terminate the tour for everyone onboard.

What will the effect of the altitude be?

Depends mostly on your genetics but if you are reasonably healthy you will probably feel a bit lightheaded and giddy or sleepy.  A few people will feel nothing and a few people will have a bit of minor distress perhaps requiring a bit of oxygen (carried onboard).  Our guides are trained in the detection of hypoxia and they use pulse -ox meters to help with the diagnosis. There are no after effects and because our stay at high level is fairly brief there is not much likelihood of more serious problems developing. If you are tolerant of aspirin, a tablet every 4 hours for a day before and during may ward off the occasional headache.
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What kinds of plants and animals might we see on a trip up Mauna kea?

As for wildlife, the list is quite long. We see the following feral animals (domestic animals gone wild) frequently: pigs, goats, sheep, donkey, mongoose, cat.  We see the following native animals species less frequently:  Hawaiian Owl (Pueo), Hoary bat, Nene (goose), Palila, Apapane, I'O(hawk), Wekiu, Golden Plover. We also see many native plants. Along our route we can see Koa, Mamane, Naio, Puakeawe and Ohia trees.

Is the tour fully narrated?  Microphone?

Yes, Our tours are fully narrated in English.  We have a high quality PA system in each van. Our guides have a wide variety of knowledge and special interest in the islands.  We try to relate that information in a way that is fun, educational and appropriate to the group.

Do you have Japanese speaking guides?

At this time 10/2012 we do not have a Japanese speaking guide.

Are gratuities (tips) customary for the guides?

Many people do show their appreciation by tipping our hard working guides but it is not an obligation. $5-$10 per person is typical
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What kind of vehicles do we travel in?

We drive custom built Van Terra micro coaches.  They are equipped with 4x4, air conditioning, stereo, PA, phone, first aid and oxygen, parkas and telescope. Each van can hold up to 14. They are the most comfortable vehicles available.

What kind of telescopes do you use?

We are equipped with new Celestron CPC 1100 telescopes.  They are equipped with Celestron's new Starbright XL coatings for 10% more light throughput than ordinary instruments. These scopes are computer automated and have spectacular optics. Because they are bigger and have better optics they gather about 100% more light than telescopes used on other tours.

What is your warm clothing like?

We supply heavy duty arctic weight parkas with hoods. they are made  in men's sizes S-XXL. We also provide thick ski-type gloves.

What does our food and drink consist of?

We have improved and simplified our meal. We now offer 3 cheese garden lasagna. It is served hot in a stainless container. The portion size is 16oz and is quite satisfying. It comes with a big homemade brownie. There is a meal delete option available for persons wishing to do their own thing.
Drinks for supper are not provided but a wide selection is available for purchase at the visitor center.

During the stargazing activity we serve gourmet hot chocolate, teas and coffees accompanied with biscotti.

 

Why is there just one meal choice and why doesn't it have meat?

 Years of experience with a variety of food vendors has always resulted in mistakes. This new ,one item menu has stopped that problem. We serve lasagna because it is popular, hearty and holds it's heat. It is vegetable because meat has shown to be somewhat indigestible at altitude. We also have the lasagna hand prepared with less spices and avoiding certain vegetables so that it will be more agreeable as you ascend. Our lasagna wouldn't win a culinary competition but its a big winner on Mauna Kea.

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Weather

 How often is the weather unfavorable on Mauna Kea?

The afternoon cloud build-up that is so typical of the Big Island is no reason for concern. Usually the dense clouds down below actually signal a strong tropical inversion layer resulting in superb on Mauna Kea. The UKIRT telescope has a useful page on the web where you can see what the weather has been at any moment for the past few years.
(Updated 2/14) Our latest in-house statistics show that Mauna Kea has been over the last few years clear enough for astronomy and a scenic sunset an average of 315 nights a year. This amounts to about 13% unfavorable weather. Most of the really nasty weather comes in winter storms and is fairly predicable although arrival and departure times can be tricky.

Convective weather is much less predictable. It is derived from heat and no one knows when or where it might pop up or collapse. Luckily it usually cools down in the late afternoon and early evening. Expect this objective risk to be greater in the warmest months of July and August but possible year round.

On average 1/10 of our trips is cancelled by weather or road closures.
The months of August, September, January, February and March are less stable ; resulting in 70% of the cancellations and adverse weather for the year.
 

How do you guys know whether it will be nice on the mountain ?

We don't. We are quite lucky to operate on the worlds most wired mountain. We have several web cameras, live weather stats, logging and 3 meteorologists that forecast weather for Mauna Kea. In addition to that we have the experience of 4000+ trips up the mountain.
 Can we be wrong? OF COURSE, WE CAN BE WRONG. Mauna Kea is a high mountain and like all high mountains it has a measure of unpredictable weather. If we make the trip your odds of encountering adverse weather is about 1/25 according to our trip logs. We do not cancel our trips solely due to a few high clouds or a bit less than perfect stargazing conditions. We do cancel when we think that summit is likely to obscured, there is a low probability of a scenic experience, the conditions might be dangerous or when the road is likely to be closed.

With all of the expertise and data available how can weather prediction fail?

Weather, especially mountain weather is driven by heat. Its not just a matter of tracking an object around a map. You have to predict when the Sun or a warmish ocean current might cause clouds to form. On the mainland there are many thousands of weather stations every few miles tracking and measuring this kind of data. It is all fed into big computers that imagine how all of this very complex data interacts and then generates  forecasts. The problem is that the heat isn't very stable and frequently doesn't perform as predicted. The computers learn from this over time and become more accurate. The Computers used on Mauna Kea have relatively little experience and very few data points. We read the forecasts every morning and observe for a few hours whether it appears to be coming true or not. If we don't believe in the forecast, intensity or the timing we make our own determination from years of experience. We have been very successful at this and thus have a bit better success rate than the official forecasts. With time the forecasts will get better but mountain weather will always be the hardest to predict.

Has climate change been observed on Mauna Kea? How has it been manifested so far?

It certainly has made its effects obvious here at least to my eyes. Snowfall, the primary form of precipitation on the mountain has fallen off dramatically in the last 30 years. Rain on the summit its almost unheard of nowadays. Winter storms last for days and days but in the end the snow gets rained off. Daytime highs of over 12 C. were rare, now they are common even in winter. Clear nights are bit less common as daytime heating takes longer to subside. Lake Waiau, a glacial tarn has dried up almost completely for the first time. Permafrost visible in the road cuts has disappeared. Skiing conditions last hours  not months. It has made weather prediction more complicated and less reliable.

How will I know if my tour is going up or cancelled ie. GO/NOGO?

update(2/14) We are experimenting using our Facebook page as an additional way to send out our tour status.
We make the determination each day 1:15 minutes prior to our Buns in the Sun, Kailua pick-up. Our reservationists can give you the exact time. If the trip is to be cancelled, we will attempt to call everyone in their hotel rooms or cell phones to reschedule. You do not need to hang around your hotel room waiting for this call, go out and have some fun. However, If you are not in your hotel room at that time you should call in (322-2366) to reconfirm the trip from a pay phone. In order to make accurate weather decisions we will almost never cancel a trip early. Ultimately you are responsible for contacting us to reconfirm your tour status.

What happens if the weather is adverse on our trip?

MKSA cannot guarantee fine weather (nor does any other tour in the world). We do, however, give our promise to stay informed and to cancel tours when in our opinion the summit appears likely to be obscured or without scenic value.  Our goal is a safe, scenic and informative trip. THERE WILL BE NO REFUNDS DUE TO WEATHER.

What happens should the mountain cloud up after the GO/NOGO decision has been made or enroute?
This is actually a fairly common occurrence. As long as the road is open we will proceed normally.  No matter what goes on during the warm afternoon hours the tendency of Mauna Kea to clear is highly predominate.  Many of our most memorable sunsets have occurred as  the afternoon clouds dramatically subside. Of course, sometimes it may not clear but at least we went with the most likely scenario.

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How can I make reservations for my Mauna Kea Summit Adventure?

Our reservationists are on duty from 8 A.M. - 6 P.M.  Hawaii time  x 7 days  Kona Time
If you are in the USA please just call our toll free phone at 888-322-2366 a week or two in advance is sufficient.

If you are overseas you can call our office at 01-808-322-2366 or submit an online reservation request.
If you are in the islands just call 808-322-2366.

How far out in advance do I need to make my reservation?

Almost 100% of our trips are sold out. If your exact day is important you should reserve at least 1 month prior. For Christmas maybe 3 months prior.  Unsecured reservations are taken off the books approximately 1  prior to the trip.

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What is your cancellation policy?

We understand that events occur that might change your plans. However, our capacity is limited by State permit and all of our tours are fully booked.  Please help us to serve our eager customers by giving ample warning when your plans change. Please make your cancellations directly with our reservation office 808-322-2366.

cancellation policy graphic

Within 24 hours no refunds, no exceptions. Note if you are sick or in some other way detained please call us as soon as you think you might not make the trip. We might be able to place someone in your vacant seat and save you the expense.  If you are unsure about finding your pick-up point or lost, please call our reservation office at 808-322-2366 ASAP.

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All photos and text are copyright 2009 MP Wright. All rights reserved