First Known "Haole" Ascent: September 1862
Dear Sir;

In accordance with your request I will endeavor herewith to give you an account of the long talked of, but only recently executed, expedition to Waialeale, Nature's grand chef d'oeuvre on Kauai nei.

Permit me merely to premise that the mountain of Waialeale, although in former times frequently visited by the natives, had never until our visit been trod by the foot of a haole. A number of years ago the late Rev. S. Whitney endeavored to make the ascent, but his guides, purposely perhaps, lost their way in the depths of the forest, and he was glad to reach home without having accomplished the object of his journey, having been in some danger of starvation. No foreigner, to my knowledge, has since ventured to make the attempt.

We left Waimea at eight o'clock on Tuesday morning, Oct. 7th, and rode up through the cocoanut groves of the valley until we reached Kalaeokaua, where we turned off into the Makaweli valley. Our general course through this valley was about northeast; as we proceeded, the road,--to use an expression from St. Paul,--waxed worse and worse; the sides of the valley became higher and more precipitous, till they reached a degree of rugged sublimity which made them worthy objects of contemplation. After riding on seven or eight miles, frequently crossing the rushing water of the river by rock, neck-breaking fords, we entered the Kahana valley, whose waters making at this spot a junction with the Olokele stream, combine to form the Makaweli river.

Separating the two valleys is a lofty promontory, which according to native tradition, was anciently used as a puukaua(stronghold); one would think, looking up at its black mural sides, that it would be an exceedingly difficult task to scale them, even without any opposition in the way of showers of stones and firebrands.

The spectacular spot where Olokele and Kahana (right) streams join to form the Makaweli River. The lower rock is called Kaala. Perhaps the upper is what the author refers to as the puukaua.

A few minutes after entering the Kahana valley, on emerging from the shadow of a huge precipice, we came in sight of a natural bridge; the arch was well-proportioned and the span quite extensive, but being perched up near the top of the ridge it is doubtful whether it ever will become of any practical benefit to the traveling public.

Kahana Valley

We left our horses at a house about ten miles from our starting point in Waimea, and after having disposed of a very passable aboriginal dinner,--for it was now noon,--we set out on foot in company with our men and guides, who, joining us here, increased our number to twelve.

The narrow path led us on up it winding course, now across the pure, cool waters of the brook, and now into the deep shade of a Kukui grove, from whose airy branches the brilliantly dyed little songster whistled a merry "God-speed," or the awkward Auku gazed with wonderment in his yellow eyes.

The sides of the valley gradually approached each other and increased in height. Ever and anon we paused to take breath, and as we look upon the immense perpendicular walls almost surrounding us where "time had notched his centuries in the eternal rock," our souls would be filled with astonishment and awe,--when suddenly the appearance perhaps of a flock of wild goats midway up the precipice of a thousand feet above our heads, would dispel all feelings of a reverential nature, and cause us to lament our lack of a rifle. Sometimes we could see a goat as white as the snowy tropic birds which were sailing gracefully around him, standing on a projecting rock and placidly chewing his cud, apparently all unmindful of his exalted station.

After a march of an hour or two the trees, which hitherto had appeared only in isolated groves, formed a dense forest, with a wild tangled undergrowth of bushes and vines and heavy grass; the hillsides became less steep than before and green with vegetation. A walk of about five miles brought us to the pretty water-fall of Waikakaa (Waikaka Falls on USGS topo), which is perhaps one hundred and fifty feet in height,--we could only give its arrow-like flakes of white foam a passing glance as they descended with a quiet roar to the dark, deep waters of the round basin beneath, and then hastened up the steep hill, richly robed in a many-tined dress of green.

"'Twas oft so steep that foot was fain assistance from the hand to gain;" but the round bald top was reached without mishap, and we sat down for a moment to rest, the sun was sinking behind the blue western mountain ranges. A few rods further on by the side of the rocky stream we pitched our tent in an opening among the tree, which place is called "Kaipuhaa" ("The Dancing Calabash.")

While our energetic cook was making the tea and roasting a fowl on an extemporaneous spit for supper, we lay on the soft grass watching his proceedings or speculating on the probability of pleasant weather on the morrow; prospects were flattering, for it was a delightful evening;--"the sky was without a cloud and the winds were whist."

After supper, which was eaten by the flickering light of the camp-fire, we sat wrapped in our blankets beneath the brilliant stars and listened with admiration and wonder to the exquisite music which pealed out like a chime of distant sleigh-bells from every leaf above and around us. The still atmosphere was filled with an ocean of melody, swelling and falling like the waves of the sea, but ceasing not for a moment. The natives say we are indebted for this nocturnal entertainment to the land-shells, but, unfortunately for this interesting hypothesis, shell are very scarce in the region, a few specimens of the Helix, with one or two diminutive varieties, being all we could obtain; it is more probable that the music proceeded from some kind of insect.

When we arose in the morning the thermometer stood at 55 degrees. Some of the party, evidently believers in cold water rashly plunged into the stream for a bath, but they immediately concluded that the temperature of the water was rather too near zero to be agreeable.

After breakfast our party shouldered their packs and set off once more on the journey; our path now took us up a long steep hill, in whose ascent more than two hours were employed. It proved to be the only 'long climb' we had to encounter on the whole route, the remainder of the way being over a great plateau, cut up at intervals by deep ravines. From its top we had a fine view of the surround country, while in the distance the verdant valley of Waimea, with its bit of a river, looked like an oasis in the desert.

Which side of the valley did they ascend. Almost certainly the west since an ascent of the east would have been steeper and would have immediatlely led them along a ridgetop at the edge of the amphitheater they later call Haleokunuu.

We waited a few minutes for stragglers to come up, and then lunged into the labyrinths of the primeval forest with which these high table-lands are covered, and from which we only emerged when within a short distance of Waialeale's summit. The trees consist chiefly of Lehua, although the Kauila, Ohia, Koa, and many other varieties are frequently met with. The trees throughout this forest are often covered to the depth of two or three inches with gray moss, and the ground is at frequent intervals heavily carpeted with the same material.

Our party could proceed but slowly owing to the thick under growth with which the path was overgrown; and it would have been much worse than it was had it not been kept partially open by the wild hogs which wander over these solitudes in great numbers, devouring an immense amount of Ki-root.

Kahana Valley

The decline of the forest birds of Kauai has accelerated since 2000. Even the much acclaimed effort to introduce puaiohi is apparently in trouble, with most of the captive raised birds dying soon after release. Recent research is increasingly "unpublished" perhaps because of political pressure at state and especially the federal level.

Kahana Valley

Two or three miles from our encampment of the previous night we came into a small open spot called Pukanaenae; it was here, our guide informed us, that Mr. Whitney stopped and ate his dinner while on the way to Waialeale(Satellite photos show several small clearings in this area). There were a number of little brown birds, resembling very much the Wren, hopping about among the bushes; their Hawaiian name is Akekee; the natives formerly worshipped them as the gods of the Kuahiwi, and to this day the ancient superstition cling to them that if one of the birds be killed a terrible tempest will burst upon the head of the luckless offender and compel him to beat a hasty retreat.

Our next breathing place was on the brink of a huge amphitheater at a place called Haleokunuu(could only be the upper Olokele Valley where it bends east); the scenery as beheld from this point was exceedingly fine; we looked down into the circular valley some thousand feet in depth and two or three miles in diameter, from the green sides of which number of silver cascades were falling.

To attempt to describe every object of interest and to portray every remarkable scene with which we were brought into contact would be tedious. We continued "marching on," now on the top of a narrow ridge, and then in deep gloom at the bottom of some dark ravine, at one moment clambering over the prostrate trunk of a deceased old 'Monarch of the Forests; and at the next, sinking up to the knees in a deceptive quagmire.

In one of the little valleys which we had occasion to cross, called by the aborigines Wailenalena, (Yellow Water) we found growing in great profusion in the stream and on its banks, a remarkable plant which appearing to be new to all the party excepting the Kamaaianas. It is called the Ape-ape, and in the length of the stalks,--which is often twenty feet or over,--and the size of the leaves, it bears some resemblance to the Ape, of which the natives suppose it to be a variety; still there is a great difference between the two plants. By an accurate measurement of one of the first leaves which came to hand we found it to be just six feet diameter; the leaf is round, and is attached to the stem in the centre, or as a botanist would say, is peltate; in exute it has no resemblance whatever to the Ape, but in this respect is very similar to a squash leaf. The flower is very unique, consisting of a stalk about four feet in length from which radiate the pedicils, each surmounted by a bright crimson flower about the size and form of a pea.

Later reports place Wailenalena stream further to the west. Hiking on the Alakai Plateau is claustrophobic, often with visiblity of only yards as you hike miles. Vistas are few. Without topo maps or aerial photos, knowing where streams began or led was extremely difficult. If you go downstream or upstream, you're likely to be waterfalled out.

By noon our party reach the cave of Keaku; it is situated on the eastern side of a narrow valley called Kailiili, about half way up the pali. As we seated ourselves in its cool shade to eat dinner we were interested by anecdotes related by our guides in regard to ancient Hawaiian kings and queens who had made this same cave their resting place while on a pilgrimage like ours.

At two o'clock, invigorated by food and repose we set off again, leaving all our men but four to spend the night at the cave and follow in the morning. The forest became wilder, and the country more broken than ever; not far from the cave we descended into a deep ravine and traveled in the bed of the stream for about a mile, sometimes jumping from one moss-covered stone to another at an imminent risk of slipping heels over head into the chilly water, and sometimes wading with complete abandon through the sparking fluid, where it was not over our knees in depth, to the inevitable deterioration of shoe leather. On leaving this stream we ascended once more to the highland and traveled directly east. The guide showed us the spot where a man, in attempting to cross over to Hanalei alone, was overcome by exhaustion and the cold and had lain down and died.

The smooth sloping sides of Waialeale soon greeted our delighted eyes, and in a short time, in crossing the Wainiha stream, we said "au revoir" to the old woods, and found ourselves on an open plain, which had a gentle inclination to the west, and was covered with coarse grass; here and there were clumps of bushes,--principally lehua and ohelo,-- and scattering everywhere were wild flowers, some of them vying in beauty and delicacy with the rarest gems of the garden. In low and swamp spots a small variety of silver sword was growing in such profusion that the ground seemed almost covered with a mantle of snow. This whole vicinity would be, as was remarked by one of the company, an interesting field for the explorations of a botanist.

After crossing the windings of the Wainiha twice more our guide told us we had better pitch our tent, as we could find no better camping place further on; we had been expecting to gain the summit before dark, but he assured us that it was still a long ways off, and could not be reached by daylight. He either lied to us or else had forgotten the distance, for we were quite indignant the next day by the discovery that it was only a ten minutes walk; however the poor fellow had worked hard all day opening the path for us, and was half dead with fatigue, and that was perhaps a sufficient excuse for his prevarication.

We had been just two and a half hours en route from the cave. All the ground about the summit, being so frequently drenched with rain, and so perpetually enveloped in heavy, damp clouds,--is of quite a boggy nature; except on the tops of the little knolls one can hardly step without sinking ankle deep in the yielding soil. Shoes proved to be a worse than useless encumbrance for they would soon become filled with mud and serve to retain the dampness; some of our number therefore discarded them altogether. All future travelers to this region who have any antipathy to cold feet are hereby earnestly advised to provide themselves with water-tight boots.

We selected as dry a spot as we could find to the leeward of a protecting bluff, and there, by collecting branches of trees and huge fern leaves, made an elevated floor for our tent. The thermometer this evening stood at 52 degrees, which was the greatest degree of cold we experienced during the whole expedition.

About midnight we were awakened from sleep by the sound of the rain driving against the tent, which was flapping and straining in the fitful gusts of wind, as if it would fain tear itself from its fastenings and skedaddle over the hills.

Our four men, who had built a little shanty on the brink of the stream, of Ape-ape leaves, were compelled to abandon it,--as they could not induce it not to abandon them,--and come and seek shelter with us; they were completely soaked and were shivering wild cold.

Thursday morning dawned, dark and gloomy; the rain had ceased, but thick clouds of mist were driving by. About an hour after daylight the rest of our men arrived from the cave; they immediately set to work to build a fire for the purpose of thawing out the poor guide, who was so benumbed with cold that he could scarcely stir.

At ten o'clock, although everything was still enveloped in a dense fog, we started off for the summit. Our route led us east among the round hill with which the tops of the mountain is interspersed; these hills, which are generally less than a hundred feet in height, appear somewhat like volcanic cones; they seem to be composed of disintegrated lava, and their sides re sparsely covered with coarse yellow grass.

"Aloha Waialeale Ka Kuahiwi o Kauai." Such is the beginning of the ancient mele which pilgrims were formerly accustomed to sing on reaching the highest peak of the mountain, which is Waialeale proper; at its foot lies the fabulous lake from which it takes its name. "Rippling Water," the origin of many a wild tale, lay before us; it proved to be a very small pool, and a very large humbug; we endeavored to gaze upon it with the enthusiasm which its celebrity demanded, but could only be enthusiastic in our disgust.

It is of a regular, elliptical shape, its two diameters being respectively forty-seven and forty-two feet;--in short, it appears much like an ordinary fish-pond. The chief outlet is the Wainiha stream at the north-west end; the ground is so extremely level along the course of this stream that it flows for a long distance without any perceptible current, and the water would apparently flow just as well the other way. There is another outlet at the south-east end of the pond; it consist of a ditch, said to have been dug by the natives in some former generation, and conducts the water east to the edge of the tremendous pali, from which the pond is distant but a few rods. This little stream trickle down among the fern and grass is the Wailua River in embryo.

Thus this crystal lake in miniature is the source of two large streams which empty themselves into the ocean on opposite sides of the island.

On the southern bank of the Wainiha stream, at a short distance from the lake; there is a gently swelling mound on whose summit is laid a platform of stone, ten feet square and about one foot in height; in the middle of this structure there stands on end a long, narrow stone which is supposed to be an embodiment of the guardian genius of the place. Until within a few years, it has been customary for all visitors to Waialeale to make a propitiatory offering,--consisting generally of a string of beads, or a piece of money, to this idol, which bears the name of Keawakoo( Also Kaawako or Ka'awa'ko). The earth around it is thickly strewed with beads of all kinds, from the clumsy aboriginal ivory carving, to the fancy article of foreign importation; with sacrilegious hands we pocketed a few as relics, to the apparent regret, however, of the natives, who looked upon them with a kind of superstitious awe.

All the time that we had been on the summit the clouds of mist had not ceased to drive past like smoke, rendering everything indistinct, and causing a man at the distance of a few rods to loom up, huge and shadowy, like the ghost of a giant. No wonder this realm of solitude and fog was peopled by the ancients with supernatural beings.

If we looked off from the brink of the eastern precipice, whose perpendicular height is several thousand feet, nothing was to be seen but an ocean of cloud, so illuminated by the sun as to appear like a boundless field of the whitest snow beneath our feet. It was a very fine spectacle, but it was not what we had come up so see, so we impatiently south for consolation, until proud Madame Waialeale should deign to bestow a smile upon us, by employing ourselves in searching for new forms of vegetation amongst the numberless varieties of ferns and other plants which here abound.

Plants of all kinds seem to assume new types and character in this elevated climate' this was especially noticeable in regard to a tree called the Lapalapa. On the way up we had noticed it, a large elegant tree with wide-spreading branches, and very peculiar shaped, serrate leaves, of a light glossy green color;, the slight breeze was sufficient to set these all in motion, and as one side of the leaves is of a much light shade than the other, their violent fluttering and vibrating without any apparent cause, was a curious sight. But here on the top of the mountain this stately tree had dwindled down to an insignificant bush, the shape of the leaves was entirely changed, and their serrated edge had become smooth.

After dinner, which we ate at the encampment, everything seeming fair, we again returned to the summit, which to our immense delight we found perfectly clear. A glimpse into Paradise could not have given us greater pleasure than the magnificent prospect we now beheld through an usually clear atmosphere. The whole of Puna was spread out like a map before us, and an exquisitely beautiful landscape it was. Ao perfect a combination of dark forests, and shimmering streams, and smooth plains, and verdant hills, and blue ocean, is rarely seen; everything was in harmony,--there was nothing to offend the taste. Wailua was directly in front of us, with its graceful ranges of little mountains and round topped hills; the mansion of "Wailua Falls" was barely discoverable among the groves of trees, and the cattle yards and Hao hedges of the place helped to mark it.

The Wailua Falls Mansion near Wailua Falls was the first attempt at building a resort on Kauai. Alas, it is long gone.

Nearer to us was the Wailua river, shining and flashing like polished silver from its stony bed. On the right lay the emerald can fields of Lihue, and sturdy Hapu with its range of hills. On our left, ridge after ridge stretched away toward the north, the whole densely covered with forest, to the extensive pasture lands of Kealia, and beyond to the minute blue obelisks of Kalalea.

We gazed with increasing rapture on this glorious scene for about five minutes, when the jealous old Goddess enshrouded herself once more in clouds and darkness, and hid it from our sight.

But although the eastern view was invisible, the western was still unclouded and magnificent; the whole of the western portion of the island lay spread out in quiet grandeur, rugged and for the most part densely wooded. At the northeast was the Wainiha valley, with its blue precipitous sides, forming a yawning gulf so deep that no bottom could be seen from our point of observation. Many miles away in the west the might pali of Puukapele and Halemanu was strikingly apparent, stretching like a stern impassable barrier across the island, from sea to sea.

On the south could occasionally be discovered through the rifted clouds, the parched plains of Hanapepe, bounded by the white lines of surf. Enclosing was the great ocean, immensely broad, and darkly blue, with the horizon high up toward the zenith. On its placid bosom in the distant west rested Niihau with its surrounding group of satellites. Across mid-channel the deckling sun had made a dazzling path-way of the brightest silver, forcibly reminded one of the golden streets of the Apocalypse.

The mathematician of the party had brought up mercury and a sextant for the purpose of ascertaining the precise height of the mountain, but the brief duration of sunshine, and a visible horizon, prevented him from reaching as great a degree of accuracy in his observations as would have been desirable.

About four o'clock we struck our tent and set our for the lower regions; we reached the cave of Keaku by sunset, where we spent the night. We arrived at Waimea a little after noon the next day, feeling richly repaid for the toil of the journey, but satisfied that much remained yet unseen, and determing that we would try it again next season. D.V.

Kahana Valley
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