Monday, 4 February 2013

Hale Pohaku, the Stone House

Hale Pohaku from the top of a nearby cinder
cone, February 4th 2013
When astronomers head to Hawaii for their observing runs, they don't spend their whole time up at the summit.  They eat, sleep and acclimatise at the 9000-ft level in a specially-designed residence called Hale Pohaku.  Centred around a big, open dining room with views out to the south between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, the main building contains offices, a library, TV room, games room and various places to relax when we're not on sky.  There are then four dormitory rooms, and the Onizuka Visitor Center back down the hill.  It's extremely dry up at this altitude, so all the rooms have humidifiers that tend to run most of the day, and black-out blinds so that we can get some sleep when the sun is blazing in the cloudless sky.

The outside of the dorms at HP.
One of the original stone houses.
The name Hale Pohaku means 'House of Stone' in Hawaiian, and is named after some stone cabins that were built here in the 1930s to house members of the civilian conservation corps while they were installing forest reserve boundary fences on the volcano flanks.  The current buildings date from 1983.  Although I didn't spot any on my stay, Hale Pohaku shares its location with a range of native Hawaiian birds, and apparently you'll sometimes see goats, sheep and wild pigs wandering around the dusty old cinder cones.  The closest cinder cone is visible just out my window, and is called Pu'u Kalepeamoa, and was apparently known for its lava bombs, used by the locals as fishing weights.

The upper areas of the volcano are considered by native Hawaiians to be sacred, and at the very summit there are a range of small flowers and gifts left as offerings.  The Humu'ula trail runs by the Hale Pohaku lodging, all the way to the summit via a quarry and Lake Waiau.  I hiked down the trail once, in 2005, after a long night of observing and in need of fresh air, but managed to get sunburnt from the light reflected off the snow as we hiked down.

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