Let us return; ‘tis cold.’
The following is an account written by Hiram Bingham and his ascent with Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) in 1830 to the ‘frigid apex of Mauna Kea.’ What follows is pulled directly from Bingham’s ‘A Residence of Twenty-One Years in the Sandwich Islands.’
(T)he king set out with a party of more than a hundred, for an excursion further into the heart of the island, and an ascent to the summit of Mauna Kea. To watch over and instruct my young pupil, and to benefit my health, I accompanied him. The excursion occupied nearly five days, though it might have been accomplished much sooner.
Crossing in a southerly direction the plain of Waimea, some on horseback and some on foot, the party ascended a small part of the elevation of the mountain, and being in the afternoon enveloped in dense fog, they halted and encamped for the night.
The next day they passed over the western slope of the mountain to the southern side thence eastward along a nearly level plain, some seven thousand feet above the level of the sea, to a point south of the summit, and encamped out again, in the mild open air.
In the course of this day’s journey, the youthful king on horseback, pursued, ran down, and caught a yearling wild bullock, for amusement and for a luncheon for his attendants. A foreigner lassoed and killed a wild cow.
The next day was occupied chiefly in ascending in a northerly direction, very moderately. Our horses climbed slowly, and by taking a winding and zigzag course, were able, much of the way, to carry a rider. Having gained an elevation of about ten thousand feet, we halted and encamped for the night, in the dreary solitudes of rocks and clouds.
When the night spread her dark, damp mantle over us, we found ourselves in the chilly autumnal atmosphere of the temperate zone of this most stupendous Polynesian mountain. Below us, towards Mauna Loa, was spread out a sea of dense fog, above which the tops of the two mountains appeared like islands.
We found it a pretty cold lodging place. Ice was formed in a small stream of water near us, during the night. As the company were laying themselves down, here and there, upon the mountain side, for sleep, I observed that the king and Keoniani, subsequently premier, and a few others, having found a cave about four feet high, ten wide, and eight deep, made by a projecting rock, which would afford a shelter from a shower, and partially from wind and cold, had stretched themselves out to sleep upon the ground in front of it.
I was amused to see that their heads protruded somewhat more than six feet from the mouth of the cave, and asked, “Why do you not sleep under the rock, which is so good a sleeping house for you?”
Keoniani, always ready, replied, “We don’t know at what time the rock will fall.” Whether the apprehension that the firm rock might possibly fall upon the head of the king that night or their unwillingness that any ignoble foot should walk above it, or some other fancy, were the cause of his declining the shelter, did not appear.
In the morning we proceeded slowly upwards till about noon, when we came to banks of snow, and a pond of water partly covered with ice. In his first contact with a snow bank, the juvenile king seemed highly delighted. He bounded and tumbled on it, grasped and handled and hastily examined pieces of it, then ran and offered a fragment of it in vain to his horse.
He assisted in cutting out blocks of it, which were wrapped up and sent down as curiosities to the regent and other chiefs, at Waimea, some twenty-eight miles distant.
These specimens of snow and ice, like what are found in the colder regions of the earth, excited their interest and gratified their curiosity, and pleased them much; not only by their novelty, but by the evidence thus given of a pleasant remembrance by the youthful king.
After refreshing and amusing ourselves at this cold mountain lake, we proceeded a little west of north, and soon reached the lofty area which is surmounted by the ‘seven pillars’ which wisdom had hewed out and based upon it, or the several terminal peaks near each other, resting on what would otherwise be a somewhat irregular table land, or plain of some twelve miles circumference.
Ere we had reach’d the base of the highest peak, the sun was fast declining and the atmosphere growing cold. The king and nearly all the company declined the attempt to scale the summit, and passing on to the north-west crossed over, not at the highest point, and hastily descended towards Waimea.
John Phelps Kalaaulana, who had been in New England, the only native in the company who seemed inclined to brave the cold and undertake the labor of reaching the top, accompanied me, and we climbed to the summit of the loftiest peak.
The side of it was composed of small fragments of lava, scoria, and gravel lying loose and steep. The feet sank into them at every step. Our progress was slow and difficult, by a zigzag and winding course. Respiration was labored, and the air taken into the lungs seemed to supply less aid or strength than usual.
I repeatedly laid myself down panting to take breath and rest my exhausted muscles. On gaming the lofty apex, our position was an awful solitude, about 14,500 feet above the level of the sea, where no animal or vegetable life was found. No rustling leaf, or chirping bird, or living tenant of the place attracted the eye or ear.
Maui could be distinctly seen at the distance of one hundred miles over the mountains of Kohala. The immense pile of lava, once chiefly fluid, which constitutes the stupendous Mauna Loa, rose in the south-west, at the distance of thirty miles, to a height nearly equal to that of Mauna Kea, where we stood. Very light clouds occasionally appeared above us.
Down towards the sea over Hilo and Hamakua the clouds were dark and heavy, floating below our level, and towards the north, were apparently rolling on the earth to the westward towards Waimea and Kawaihae, while the wind on our summit was in the opposite direction.
As the sun disappeared the cold was pinching. We occasionally cringed under the lee of the summit for a momentary relief from the chilling blast. While taking some trigonometrical observations my fingers were stiffened with the cold, and Phelps repeatedly cried out with emphasis, ‘E hoi kaua, he anu. Let us return; ’tis cold.’
The image is a drawing of Mauna Kea, as seen from Waimea (Harry Wishard.)