When 14,000 Feet Looks Small

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When I visit Hawaii and see Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa on the Big Island and Haleakala on Maui, I feel like my eyes are playing tricks on me. On clear days, you can see the summits from near sea level, these mountains don’t look like they’re over 5,000 feet above sea level. Take a look at the above photo. That’s a photo of Mauna Kea that we snapped on a clear morning. We were probably at an elevation of 100 feet above sea level. Does Mauna Kea look like it’s nearly 14,000 feet? Has anyone else ever noticed this optical illusion?

4 comments
  1. I am glad you are not the only one to make the observation that Mauna Kea looks short from a distance. When I have stayed at the Naniloa Resort in Hilo, I would see the mountain from my window, but it looked more like a tall hill instead. Maybe it’s because it has a gentle, smooth slope instead of jagged, rocky slope.

  2. I can’t say that I’ve had that same situation, but maybe that’s because Haleakala climbs up to higher elevations in a short distance than anywhere else in the world. It could also be that I’m used to seeing the West Maui mountains from just off shore on a whale watch, for example, and in that case, they just tower over the resorts along the coast.

    Similarly, though, I sort of freak out when you make that drive up Haleakala and it doesn’t seem like much at first until you make that first stop around 7,000 ft and take a good look at just how far up you’ve made it.

  3. @ Chris – You’re right…it does look more like a hill than such a tall mountain.

    @Keahi – that’s a pretty philosophical observation. I like it!

    @ Kris – your eyes must be better calibrated than mine because the last time we were on Maui, there were a few times when Haleakala was fully visible and I kept thinking that it didn’t look like 10,000 feet at all.

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