Mauna Kea– The Tallest Mountain In the World


What is happening atop Mauna Kea is a tragedy and a slap in the face to the native Hawaiian people.

Mauna Kea* (or White Mountain) is of tremendous spiritual importance to the Hawaiians. It is white because of the snow that often dusts the peak. It is the home of Poli’ahu, the snow goddess. This is contrasted by Mauna Loa (or Black Mountain), home of Poli’ahu’s rival, Pele, the goddess of fire. The number of legends and heiaus (temples) on Mauna Kea speak to its importance.


So what have outsiders done to this sacred locale? They have installed 13 of the world’s largest and most sophisticated optical, infrared, radio, and submillimeter telescopes on its summit. The environmental degradation is obvious and tragic. Spills of ethylene glycol, diesel, and mercury are par for the course. It’s akin to Dick Cheney going to Mecca and taking a massive dump on the Kaaba. I am an ardent supporter of science and thoroughly enjoy and appreciate astronomy. But choosing to plop all of these telescopes on Mauna Kea is the height of cultural insensitivity.

But it’s not just the nerdy scientists who are to blame. The tourists are doing just as much damage and defiling the mountaintop. When I was up there to see the sunset, there were at least a dozen 15-passenger vans filled with American and Japanese tourists. We all used one of two port-a-potties next to an observatory. They were overflowing with semi-frozen, foul, human waste. Pu’u Wekiu, a very small piece of land, is the highest peak and it is cordoned off and reserved for native Hawaiian ceremonies. But what did I see on my visit? A dozen Japanese 20-somethings ignoring the cordon and racing each other up and down the pu’u, screaming, laughing, and pushing each other. It was disrespectful and sad.


The piece de resistance of my field trip had to be the flame throwing hippie. On our way up, we were passed by four dreadlocked trust-a-farians in an old Isuzu Rodeo. Apparently, one of these no-shower-taking bums had the bright idea of doing a light show at sunset atop Mauna Kea by twirling a gasoline tipped baton. Though the sight was cool, it was a direct insult to Poli’ahu, whose arch-enemy is the fire goddess.

We’ve ravaged the islands enough. Kaho’olawe is uninhabitable due to naval bombardments. Niihau is a desert now. Waikiki is overfilled with hotel highrises. West Maui is more developed than Newport Beach. Let’s dismantle the observatories, clean up our mess, and leave the sacred mountain to the snow goddess and her people.


*From the ocean base to the mountain top, Mauna Kea is 33,500 feet high. Everest stands at 29,029 feet.

Disclaimer: I fully appreciate the irony and hypocrisy of taking a van tour to the top of Mauna Kea with a bunch of haoles and at the same time decrying the destruction and defilement of the mountain top.

Images source: Maxichamp

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *