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Captain's Bio

Originally I entitled this "Just When You Thought The Adventure Was Over." This was one of the most difficult wilderness trips of my life.

The Crown of Lemuria: a trek into central Kauai

Journal Entry: Thursday, September 10, 1987

The day has arrived for our quest to reach a tantalizing goal: the summit of Mt. Waialeale, wettest spot on earth, with the vast Alakai Swamp on its west side and a five thousand foot cliff as its eastern flank. No one has succeeded in reaching the summit for many years, even long before Hurricane Iwa left the swamp in a twisted jumble in 1982. The last attempt, made a year or two ago by a Sierra Club group, had to turn back about a mile and a half from the goal. We are taking a different route and have high hopes.

The reasons for the quest are twofold: to pay our respects to an ancient temple ruin near the summit; and to enjoy the adventure of reaching and standing on top of one of the great mountains of Mu, also known as the continent of Lemuria.

There are four of us undertaking this quest. Myself; Susan Pa'iniu Floyd; Basil H., a veteran hiker of 59 who was born in Hawaii and whose family has lived here for six generations; and Herman, a dog of very mixed ancestry.

At 5:30 in the morning I am on my way from Princeville in my 4WD Isuzu Trooper. My pack is stuffed with clothes in zip-loc bags, a jungle hammock, an all-weather blanket, poncho, knife, flashlight, rubberized binoculars, Sterno stove & cans, water filtering system, waterproof camera and lots of interesting food like trail mix, dried fruit, candy bars, Cup'o'Noodles, flavored rice cakes, canned herring, canned tuna, and canned sardines. On my webbed belt I have a machete and a canteen, and on my feet are lightweight canvas hiking boots. I feel I am ready for anything.

I pick up Susan a little after 6:00 am in Kapa'a. For some reason I never do learn her pack is about 10 lbs. heavier than mine. After loading her gear we take off to meet Basil and Herman at the Kokee Lodge in the high forest. Then we drive down the Mohihi Ditch Trail across the Elekeninui Stream, the Kauaikinana Stream (both with bridges) and the Kawaikoi Stream (no bridge), on past the Waiakoali Picnic Area and down byond the Sugi Grove Camp to a point just above the Mohihi Stream where we can park.

It is a gorgeous day, clear and dry, and the beginning of our trek takes us through a short tunnel of trees with lovely purple "Princess" flowers that give us both a ceiling and a carpet, and we are given an encouraging chirp by a black bird with white feathers on the trailing edges of its wings that none of us recognize. We cross the stream easily by stepping on stones, pass through a grove of Sugi pines, and follow a long, easterly ridge section of the Mohihi-Waialae Trail that is mostly wide and grassy until it turns south into the Koaie Valley. On the first ridgetop Basil contacts the NASA station by radio to let them know we are proceeding fine. Just before descending into the valley we try to contact them again, but the reception is too poor. Along the ridge Susan had been delighted to discover an abundance of fragrant mokihana berries which she uses for leis, including a rare variety in the form of a cross.

The descent into Koaie Valley is steep, rocky, slippery and narrow. but not too difficult at this time. We arrive by 11:30 am and feel very good about our progress. The Koaie Stream is picturesque, with lots of boulders and small falls, and the water is reddish with tannin from the ferns. Basil says he always drinks the water with no problem and we fill our canteens. The water leaves a slightly dry taste, but does quench the thirst. Koaie Camp, on the other side of the stream, is nothing more than a small clearing where someone had built a campfire.

The ascent out of the valley to the south is where it starts to get rough. This part of the trail has not been maintained at all, and whatever trail there had been is not only overgrown, it is also overlaid with trees that were blown down by Hurricane Iwa. It is impossible to tell a man-made trail from a wild pig run (there are many signs of wild pig), so we have to follow trail markers left by previous hikers who may have been backpackers, botanists, or pig hunters. And the markers (bits of plastic ribbon tied to branches) come in all colors: white, yellow, orange, pink and blue. For some reason we latch on to blue (it's such a sincere color!) as being the most significant and lay our hopes and lives on its direction.

With this ascent we begin our pattern for the trek. Either Basil or I lead, slashing away with machetes at uluhe ferns, uhi vines, lobelia stalks and dead branches that obscure the path and looking for the next marker that show we are still on the path (or at least a path). It makes everyone feel safe and secure when the leader shouts, "I see a blue!" Susan, usually in the middle, or whoever is following, occasionally (more frequently in later days) ties one of our own markers in bright yellow so we know itÕs our own trail, too. Actually, the blue markers are also the easiest to see in the forests and swamps. Even our bright new yellow markers can be missed when they are near yellowish leaves like olapa.

The rest of the pattern is one of slogging through or around mud bogs and climbing over or under logs. Going around bogs is preferable, but not always possible. The next best is using moss and grass clumps along the edge of it and chunks of wood in the middle to reduce the sinkage. Sometimes, though, what looks like a solid clump is a thin layer of nothing, and down you go. Even in the worst weather, however, no one goes in deeper than knee-high. Whenever possible we climb over logs, but the bothersome ones are those too high to climb over and too low to get under comfortably. The worst are the tangles where we have to crawl under. Through a bog. In heavy rain.

By evening of this first day we have been climbing almost steadily in a southeasterly direction, though we did cross a long level area. All of it was in thick swamp/forest. Finally we find a reasonably level area on a long slope and set up camp. Basil puts up his shelter of four joined garbage bags, and Susan and I set up our hammocks with our ponchos making a shelter between them. My wife, Gloria, had made us a lunch of chicken sandwiches, but we hadn't really stopped for lunch, so we eat them for dinner along with cookies, grapes and pineapple. Then we hit the sack. The hammocks are fairly narrow, but with careful maneuvering it is possible to shift from side to side without falling out. Sometime in the night it begins to rain, nice and hard. And sometime in the night I feel a cold pool of water forming at the base of my spine. The hammock tent fly is not waterproof - it is leaking at the seams where the mosquito netting was sewn on. I hang in as long as I can, and finally have to get up, sopping wet, and huddle under the ponchos with my all-weather blanket wrapped around me for the rest of the night. It is a very long night.

Journal Entry: Friday, September 11, 1987

Morning. Still raining. Breakfast is a cup of hot blackberry Jello and a few mouthfuls of Anahola Granola. We break camp and head southeast.

Huge tree ferns. Tree limbs that spill water when you grab them. Moss-covered logs that soak your groin as you climb over them. Either a moss or a fern that looks like a cluster of worms. Lots of small centipedes. Elepaio birds, with fearless bright eyes who sit two feet away and question our presence here. Sawgrass that cuts your hands when you grab it for balance. Rain coming down so abundantly that we can cup our hands and drink skywater along the trail. Banks of clay, yellow and gray. Narrow ridge trails and lots more bogs and logs. Bright red thimbleberries that quench the thirst.

We cross two fast and narrow streams, probably the Halehaha and the Halepaakai.

Another camp on a slope. Susan and I use hammocks as ground cloths, an all-weather blanket underneath and a wet down sleeping bag on top (even sopping wet a down bag keeps you warm), with a poncho for rain cover. So tired we go straight to sleep without dinner in soaking wet clothes with our boots still on. The night stays dry and the Moon even comes out.

Middle of night - a growling near our shelter. We are apparently camped near the den of a wild boar and he doesn't like it. Herman comes out and with a little reassurance from us, barks the hog away.

Journal Entry: Saturday, September 12, 1987

Not exactly well rested, we eat some dried fruit and head in a more easterly direction, still following blue markers. The day stays mostly clear. Many more bogs and logs, forests and ferns.

Finally we reach a break in the forest. Ahead is a meadow bog covered with the low-lying lehua-maka-noe. We are at the top of the Alakai swamp and the feeling is good that we will reach our destination. We cross this bog, then several more bogs and forest swamps till we decide to leave our packs and make our last straight dash for the temple. After a long, hard trail it is late afternoon when we hear a growing roar and soon find ourselves at the edge of a two-thousand foot pali (cliff). Walking over a ledge made of matted fern roots we come to a stream and cross it about twenty feet from the edge where it falls three thousand feet straight into the deep canyon below. We continue walking till we reach a high point and climb a fallen tree. From there we have a magnificent view. To the south is the Hanapepe Valley and the Koloa Gap which leads to the sea. To the southeast is the massive landslide which occured not long ago at the head of the Olokele Canyon. And to the east is the peak which must be Waialeale, not more than two miles away. The stream we crossed must lead to Keaku Cave, which is right on the trail to Waialeale. And now we discover that we do not have the time, the supplies nor the strength to go any farther. At the high point here I plant a powerful symbol known as the Eye of Kanaloa to radiate aloha from the center of the island.

On the way back to our packs my body breaks down from stress and poor nutrition and only Basil's taro/banana mix and my shaman skills help me get back.

We all change into dry clothes at camp, have a sparse dinner, and tumble into our shelters. It rains all night and by morning we are soaked again.

Journal Entry: Sunday, September 13, 1987

Morning. No rain while we break camp and Susan and I share a Cup 'o Noodles cooked on the Sterno stove. Delicious and hearty. We head home, hoping we can make it by tonight.

It rains on and off all day. Bogs and logs, forests and swamps, more and more of the same. I have more energy today, but my feet are really hurting and I'm going very slowly. Now I must use my mind to talk to my body and keep my energy moving so that I can move at all. Somewhere around midday we follow a blue ribbon that takes us off our trail. By the time we realize we are on a different trail we have gone so far that we decide to follow it anyway, hoping it will take us to the Waialae Trail. There are plenty of blue ribbons and we continue to be hopeful until the trail takes us into a valley, across a stream (probably the Waiau) and back in a circle, going nowhere. At this point the only feasible course is to backtrack all the way to our last recognizeable yellow ribbon from the trip in, which we do. From there we trek past Friday's camp until almost sunset and establish a new camp, still far from home. For dinner I have one dried peach. Too tired to eat or fix any more. I use other skills to speak to the clouds and the night stays dry.

Journal Entry: Monday, September 14, 1987

Today we are definitely homeward bound, but the Alakai Swamp wants us to keep strong memories, so it rains abundantly all day. I try to influence the weather with all my skill, but the momentum of the rain is too strong, although the sun peeks through it briefly several times just to let me know it still loves me. My feet are a mass of pain and I know that Susan is exhausted and hurting, too. Basil is getting exhausted - he has said this is the worst trek he has ever been on - but he is a very tough fellow.

Because of the rain, the state of the trail, and my own condition, I often have to call out to the others to make sure which way to turn at a junction. And not infrequently I amble down the wrong trail and have to backtrack, even though I'm following the perfidious blue ribbons.

Beyond the trees we catch glimpses of other ridges and many red- stained waterfalls. A hawk flies by us, a tropic bird shouts at us, and the elepaio keep up song and chatter.

It seems like an extremely long time, but at last we reach Koaie Stream. It has swollen, but is still passable on the boulders. We cross and climb the steep rock trail on the other side, and at last we are back on the wide part of the Mohihi Trail. Home feels a lot closer, but both Susan and I have to use a lot of shaman techniques to keep going. At the top of the ridge Basil tries the radio again, but no luck. We can get San Diego truckers from 2500 miles away, but not a NASA tracking station five miles distant. No matter. We will be home tonight. At some point along the trail we hear helicopters above the low clouds and wonder why they are flying in this area.

The main part of the Mohihi Trail is a lot longer than any of us remember, but by late afternoon we finally reach the Mohihi Stream. It is very swollen with the rains. Basil, far ahead of the rest of us, crosses and leaves his pack by the truck, then crosses back and brings Herman over, then crosses back to wait for us. While he's waiting, Herman swims back and Basil thinks about throwing him in the river. By the time we arrive the river is higher. Basil tries to help Susan across, but both of them are almost lost in the torrent, so we decide to wait until the water level is lower. For an hour or two we wander around in the rain and drizzle (I'm still working on stopping the rain) and Basil discovers an ancient Japanese pear-apple tree, full of ripe fruit. The skin is bitter, but the flesh is hard and sweet and the fruit is as large as a big Delicious apple. A pair of koloa - Hawaiian ducks - fly up from the river.

At last the water has lowered somewhat, so Basil takes a rope and ties it to a tree on the other side, and I act as anchor as he first takes Susan's pack across, then helps Susan, who is almost lost in spite of the rope. Finally I tie a bowline around myself and Basil anchors me as I come very carefully across. The current is so strong it is difficult to move my feet forward and find secure footing. Then Basil goes back across and gets Herman again. It is now just past sunset.

Another walk that seems too long and we all reach the Trooper. It feels so good to toss in the packs and get inside. We are so wet that the windows steam up and we have to use the defroster. The heat is wonderful.

The Trooper starts up fine and we drive to Kawaikoi Stream, which was a trickle the first day we crossed it. Now it is raging knee-high and too dangerous to cross with the falls next to it. So we sit in the dark for five and a half hours until I can hear that the sound of the water has a lower tone. B. H. checks and we can cross, so we do.

Journal Entry: Tuesday, September 15, 1987

At 12:30 am we cross the stream and I think the adventure is over, but no, we now have to negotiate a narrow, muddy, uphill road next to an open ditch, and after that there is a narrow canyon road where we have to avoid slamming into the sides. Thank you, God, for 4WD and my driving skill.

We actually reach Kokee Lodge, let Basil and Herman off and say our farewells quickly. Susan and I continue down the mountain. On the way a big owl follows our path directly until it disappears into the night, and moments later a family of wild pigs crosses the road in front of us.

We reach Kapa'a without further incident and I let Susan off, then head straight for a 7/11 and scarf down a hamburger and a Dr. Pepper so I can stay alive on the way to Princeville. At 3:30 am I scare Gloria by pounding on the door and she eventually lets me in. The adventure is concluded when she calls the police and fills out a report to say the missing persons have returned and they can call off the helicopters. All that's left is healing my feet.

The quest was unfulfilled and the crown of Lemuria still awaits a pilgrimÕs visit, like a haughty princess awaits a suitor who must prove himself worthy before being allowed in her presence.

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Copyright 2002 by Serge King
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