Saturday, 6 November 2010

Things I'll miss (and others I won't)

It's not long now before we switch to remote observing from our offices in Hilo. I've set a date of mid-December for the change but as you might expect the actual date is not something I'll share here! Local staff already know and so will the UKIRT board very soon as I'm off shortly on a trip to tell them. I can't wait to experience November in England again, I still remember how wonderful the weather is there at this time of year...

This got me thinking though. What will I miss after the switch?

Things I'll miss (in no particular order):
  • Sunsets and sunrises from Mauna Kea.
  • Working at a place most people on the planet haven't been to.
  • Being at the coalface of world-beating observational astronomy.
  • Talking to visitors about Mauna Kea and astronomy.
  • Dark and beautifully clear nights where one can see the Universe and Milky Way with their own eye while not even being dark adapted.
  • The out-of-this world experience of stepping outside the dome in the middle of the night, looking at the sky and just saying "wow!". (Moonlit nights excepted).
  • The vivid and rather pleasant dreams sleeping at 9,000 feet provides.
  • The company and conversation of good friends and colleagues during a long night and catching up on news from the old country.
  • Brilliant scientists and observers visiting and keeping us informed of all the latest research and discoveries in their area.
  • Watching a first-time observer run up the stairs from the bathroom to the control room and then collapsing into a gasping, helpless and oxygen-deprived heap and me saying "I told you not to do that!" (maybe that should be in the next section).
  • The drive down at the end of a long night watching the sunrise and the remarkable show the atmosphere puts on.
  • Winter snow and ice.
  • The comradeship of Hale Pohaku staff.
  • The cookies Hale Pohaku cooks bake for us to take to the summit.
  • Breakfast at Hale Pohaku (this is one I'm going to really miss).
Things I won't miss:
  • The 2am "wall". You think working the night shift is bad in your job? Try it at 14,000 feet!
  • The commute to Hale Pohaku and the bone-breaking dirt road above Hale Pohaku.
  • Being stuck in a 15-vehicle convoy on the way to the summit while dodging the speeding day crews on their way down to sea-level.
  • Phone calls every few minutes asking "how's it going?.
  • 16 to 17 hour "workdays".
  • Clearing winter snow and ice from the doors.
  • Tourists asking "Can we have a quick look through your telescope?", "Have you seen any UFOs?" and "Are black holes real?".
  • Evacuating people from the summit who are really sick due to the altitude. I can tell you it's not a lot of fun and extremely stressful for all concerned.
  • The vivid and very unpleasant dreams sleeping at 9,000 feet provides.
  • The fried chicken dinner at Hale Pohaku (do you want fries with that?).
  • The Captain's Platter dinner at Hale Pohaku (with extra napkins to soak up the grease).
  • Mashed potato for dinner at Hale Pohaku (Do you want a sick bag with that?).
You know what? I'm going to miss the place dreadfully and suspect I won't really know what I'll miss until it happens in December. I will be up there from time-to-time and will be at the summit again mid-December during my secret "switch-to-remote-observing" dates, but since they won't be full nights spent at the summit they don't count. Or maybe not. I've a hankering for watching another dawn from the summit...


Keera Ann Fox said...

After that write-up, I'm missing it already! I hope you sneak up there for some sunrises!

Anonymous said...

So, I guess come January, you will post only pics of ground level Hilo and surrounding areas? Too bad, as I probably will never visit Mauna Kea.

Have fun in November. It's always nice to see old friends and family.

Andrew Cooper said...

Wait? You will MISS the breakfasts at Hale Pohaku? I have to agree on the sunsets/sunrises! I only get one chance a month to watch sunset from the summit, and make a point about getting out to watch it.

Speeding day crew leaving the summit? Watch out, I'm driving!

Anonymous said...

I had to laugh at your mention of the convoys, I remember those! I'm sorry that you are having to leave, but happy for you that you will be home. I have really enjoyed your pictures and posts. I left the Big Island in 1996 and haven't been back since, so it's been nice revisiting with you.

boo said...

So what DO they serve for breakfast?!

Is there perhaps a touch of sarcasm in that "November in England" comment? Here in the Midwest November is generally miserable, although today we did have clear skies with a 29 hour old moon revealing itself briefly before slipping away below the horizon.

I hope we haven't seen the last of your summit photos, and look forward to seeing whatever you choose to share of the island in general. Mahalo for sharing them - and glimpses of life at the summit - with us here.

Tom said...

Keera - sneaking up there from Hilo means getting up at 3am - not sure I'm going to do that too often! I'm sure I'll find a way though...

Gigi - not sure yet. In a post a little while ago I asked for ideas because my blog is dominated by summit photos and wasn't sure what to do next. Unfortunately I see my job getting busier over the next few months with little spare time, but on the other hand think I might be traveling more, so perhaps an opportunity there.

Hope you can make it to MK one day. I do give the occasional free tour and would love to have you come along. My email address is in my profile page, so please feel free to drop a line.

Andrew - seriously, the breakfasts are wonderful after 13 or 14 hours at the summit! I know they're extremely unhealthy but they are good!

As for speeding daycrew, there's one observatory that's a particular problem. I won't mention names, but it's not Keck!

Horsemom - did you work on the summit when you lived here? The traffic on the mountain has increased a tremendous amount since 1996 (that's the year I moved here!) and the dirt road is maintained much less than then, so it's always an interesting drive up there these days!

And thank you for your kind words as well, I really appreciate them. Hopefully I'll have things to say about life on the BI for a while yet! We'll see...

Boo - oh, you know us Brits - definitely a touch of sarcasm! November has to be the most miserable month in the UK. The clocks change so the evenings come earlier and it's not quite cold enough to snow in most places, just very cold and windy drizzle. All the Autumn colours have gone and it's just grey and damp soul-sapping coldness. Not a good time to visit!

And thank you also for your wonderful comments. I've a few more summit photos to share from a few days ago and I'm a generally optimistic guy, I think I'll have some more to share in the future! Let's keep fingers crossed...


PS. I'll be in Arizona in a week's time. I was there in November a few years ago and remember that it still had autumn colours then. Hopefully I'll get a chance to take a picture or two!

Unknown said...

unfortunately, during my recent observing run at UKIRT, i was served *all* of those meals that you wont miss at hale pohaku :( there were other tasty meals though!

Anonymous said...

No, never worked there, I was a little young and underqualified:) I grew up on the Big Island so we would often take the Saddle Road to get to Kona and your remark about the convoys just brought back memories.

Tom said...

Horsemom - have you had a chance to drive the Saddle Rd recently? It's the best highway on the island now! Well, apart from the construction area and the last few miles to Waimea (but even then it beats what there was 15-20 years ago).

It's stunning how much better it is now, and you can even let some maniac overtake you without being driven into the lava rock!