Planet Haolewood

A toolbox, a change of underwear, and a surfboard.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


The inhabited portion of Kauai is shaped like a donut. In the middle or the island, its summit nearly always shrouded in clouds stands Mt. Wai’ale’ale whose 451” of annual rain fall make it the wettest spot on earth. It’s really what’s left of the rim of the crater of a once massive volcano that has been extinct for thousands of years. The terrain in this central part of the island is a quagmire of cliffs and swamps all of it overgrown with thick vegetation. More recent arrivals to the island have followed the ancient Hawaiians’ example and stuck to the coastline.

All the towns in Kauai are found near the ocean and the only road connecting them circles the perimeter. There is no way through the mountainous interior. If you want to get from one side of the island to the other, you go around. Some roads lead part way inland and Kuomo’o road will take you as close to the base of Mt. Wai’ale’ale as you can get. It winds up through the forest before the pavement gives way to a rough dirt road. At the end of the dirt road is the trailhead where I went hiking yesterday.

The central part of the island has captured my imagination. It is truly an untamed wilderness. It’s there, but you can’t get to it and you can only catch glimpses of its edges when the clouds part but what you do see is a wonderland of lush mountains and innumerable waterfalls. Beyond those waterfalls lies a huge swamp at over 5000’ above sea level. The mystery is irresistible.

It’s unlikely I’ll ever get to the top of Mt. Wai’ale’ale but there’s still plenty of island to explore. The trail I sought was not maintained and there were no signs to point me in the right direction. Within five minutes of starting my hike I was lost. Tracing trails so faint they could have been pig trails around in circles, I crossed the same bog three times in mud up to my knees only to end up right where I had started. After an hour bushwacking less than a quarter of mile from where I had parked I was about ready to quit when I finally found the real trail. It wasn’t much of a trail; the brush crowded it from both sides and I had to stoop as I hiked to keep my head from hitting the branches which closed overhead like a tunnel. But it led me along a beautiful hike up the mountain and through the lush, jungle-like landscape. For 2 and a half miles I thrashed before arriving at my destination. If I had turned around and gone back at that point I would have had a challenging and beautiful five mile hike but I hadn’t come that far just to turn around.

There’s only one sugar cane operation left on the island but cane used to be king and in the 1920’s someone built a mile long tunnel through the mountain to get water from all those beautiful waterfalls to their plantation. The irrigation tunnel is no longer used but it’s still there and I had come to explore it. Standing at the mouth of the tunnel I starred into the blackness and saw a tiny point of light. That point of light became the focus of my attention for the next half an hour as walked through the tunnel. The light I saw was the other end of the tunnel. As I approached it, it became larger while the light from the entrance became smaller. It seemed to take a very long time for the point of light to become larger. I’m not prone to claustrophobia or fear of the dark but this was pushing it.

And then the batteries in my flashlight went dead. Did I mention that I was alone? I know people who like hiking but I couldn’t think of anyone who I could count on to see this expedition all the way through. (Where’s Brain when you need him?!) I told myself the situation wasn’t so bad. I had thought to bring extra batteries. They were in my backpack. All I had to do was find them and put them in my headlamp –all 4 batteries with the + and – ends oriented correctly- without being able to see. I also noted it was important that I not drop them into the ankle deep water at my feet. Breathe deeply, work carefully and in a few moments it was done. The beam of light sprung to life and I was on my way toward the light at the end of the tunnel.
On the other side of the tunnel I ate lunch in a beautiful canyon at the headwaters of the Hanalei River –the same Hanalei where Puff the Magic Dragon frolicked. As I ate I thought a lot about batteries. The spare batteries I had put in my headlamp were rechargeable and rechargeable batteries have a finite capacity to be re-used before they loose their ability to take a complete charge. I wondered how old the batteries were. I pondered the question of just how completely fucked I would be if my batteries ran out again. There was absolutely no other way out of this canyon and I hadn’t seen another sole all day. I had no map, no compass, no extra food and no cell phone service.

And there was still another tunnel left to explore. To understand why I was interested in the second tunnel let me quote from the Ultimate Kauai Guide Book’s description of the end of the second tunnel. “Scoot up and you’ll emerge in a Shangri-La that will make you giddy with joy –a cathedral of 200 foot sheer walls so steep they actually lean INWARD. Water drips from above creating an exotic backdrop. To the left is a pounding waterfall. The setting is unbelievable and worth all the effort you went through to get here.” I’m not even quite sure what Shangri-La means but it sounds pretty fucking good!

But my experience with the flashlight going out in the first tunnel had left me wary. I decided I would just see if I could find the entrance to the second tunnel and then decide whether to proceed. I found it without difficulty. In a pathetic attack of wishful thinking, I put the old batteries back in my headlamp and half-convinced myself that the feeble yellow glow could get me through. I figured I might as well go a hundred yards into the tunnel just to see what it was like. I didn’t really need a flashlight near the entrance anyway. The moment of truth had arrived. On the one hand I had no spare batteries and I did not even no for certain if I had enough life in the rechargeable batteries to get me back through the first tunnel let alone enough to make a round trip through the second tunnel and make it back through the first. On the other hand I had come so far already and “Shangri-La” was SO CLOSE. I had been fortunate enough to come on a sunny day. It rains a lot in that part of the island. Who knows when I would have this opportunity again. What would you do?

Well, I turned around and went home. Shangri-La will have to wait for another day and next time I’m going to bring a suitcase full of batteries.


At 7/27/2006, Anonymous Sara said...

What a great story! I think you made the right choice, and now you have something to look forward to next time!

At 7/28/2006, Anonymous Brain said...

I'll go with you next time I'm there, but only if you agree make that face again.

At 7/28/2006, Blogger BOR-ee-us said...

If I look a bit freaked out in the picture it's because I WAS! I Took that picture at about the half way point -before my batteries went dead. I wasn't trying to make a face. I wonder what I looked like when I realized by batteries were dead.

At 7/29/2006, Blogger Mags said...

Wow, sounds gorgeous! I absolutely love Hawai'i. It's one of the very few places where I feel completely at home and comfortable in my own skin.

What about those flashlights that don't need any batteries - I think you just shake them. That might be good to bring along, although I have no idea how good infomercial flashlights are.

By the way, I LOVE the name of your blog! So clever!

Thanks for stopping by my blog too and for leaving a comment. Much love to The Hoff!

At 7/29/2006, Blogger BOR-ee-us said...

A shakeable flashlight might be a good idea but you know what would be even better? KITT! I could zip through that tunnel in no time at all AND have the company of an effemninate computerized buddy. I bet Kitt's batteries NEVER go dead.

At 8/03/2006, Anonymous emile said...

i'll bet shangri-la looks even better in october... i've scared the shit out of myself climbing vertiginous peaks with you, seems like crawling through dark, clausterphobic spaces is just a natural progression. both possess the fear of death and reliance on equipment. what a perfect adventure.

At 8/05/2006, Anonymous otto said...

you can't get lost in the tunnel as long as you keep walking forward! lol...courage my friend...I wanna see some pictures when you reach the mystic kindom of shangri-la


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