Pohakupele Ridge
An account of the last known ascent of Pohakupele Ridge to Waialeale Lake in 1874


The central peak of the island of Kauai, although it does not rank among the most elevated of our Hawaiian mountains, being only a trifle over 5,000 feet in height, is nevertheless from its unique character, a highly interesting object.

From the fact of its summit being less easily accessible than most of the mountain-tops on the islands, it has been ascended but a few times by whites. First in October, 1862, by Messrs. Rowell and Johnson and the writer, from the Waimea side. The next ascent was made in March 1870 by G. N. Wilcox, A. H. Smith and the writer, on the Wailua side; and of this expedition it is proposed to give here a short account.

We left Lihue on the morning of Monday September 14th, about 9 o'clock, and passing near the lower and upper Wailua falls, we soon entered the valley through which flows the northern branch of the Wailua river. Here our narrow trail led us for several miles through groves of guava, bamboo and lehua, interspersed with open lawns of fern and luxuriant grass. This whole country, stretching away for miles to the southward, and embracing all the region drained by the Wailua, is one of the finest hunting grounds on Hawaii nei for wild cattle or hogs. When the jungle of ferns and trees became too dense for horse back travel, we left our steeds in charge of a boy, and proceeded on foot up the valley till nearly sunset, when we pitched our tent near the "babbling brook."

High, forest covered ridges rose on either side of the valley, limiting our vision of the outer world to the white clouds which were sailing overhead. On a roaring fire at the tent door we boiled our coffee and roasted sundry delicate joints of venison which had been shot just before reaching camp. The next morning after an early breakfast the men again shouldered their heavy haawes of provisions and clothing and we resumed our tramp up the narrow gorge; now leaping from one moss covered rock to another in the bed of the stream, perchance wading through its cool, clear waters, and amau and ferns of smaller proportions in endless variety. After a mile or two of such travel we reached a spot where the stream divided, and on the spur between the two branches we began our climb.

The guide went ahead, hatchet in hand and cleared the pathway which had not been traveled for our four years and was consequently very much overgrown with vines and underbrush. It was about noon when we reached the junction of the spur we were ascending with the main ridge. After a short rest and a little refreshment we went on along the narrow road, now up and now down; a vast abyss on either hand.

Soon we arrived at the foot of the steepest climb on the whole route. The ridge rises abruptly at an angle of about 70 degrees to the height of over a thousand feet. Were it not for the thick tangled growth of trees and vines and bushes which cover this pali it would be utterly impossible to ascend it. But for every step one takes there is a route or a branch, or a slender sapling, or a swinging vine just overhead within reach of the hands. Such mountain climbing as this is magnificent exercise. Half the time the body is lifted perpendicularly by the arms alone, thus bringing into play the muscles of the arm and chest, and there is not a muscle of the body but is called upon to do its share of service.

About half way up this pali we passed a large overhanging rock which is known as the Wahinemake. Tradition informs us that a woman once lay down and died under its shadow from the effects of cold or exhaustion. We now entered the region of perpetual moisture, and light intangible clouds occasionally enveloped us for a moment and then floated on up the mountain side. Everything was covered with a grizzly moss to a depth of two or three inches which had a sponge-like capacity for absorbing water. Upon seizing a branch which had the appearance of being as large as a man's arm one would find a stick an inch in diameter in his and would feel a deluge of icy water pouring down his sleeve.

The sound of dripping water is the one uninterrupted sound of these elevated forests. We were soon wet to the skin; - a condition in which those of us who had no change of raiment, remained until we reached home again. When, after several hours of exhausting labor we gained the top of the bluff, it was after five o'clock, and we perceived that it would be useless to attempt to reach the regular camping before dark. So we cleared off a place where the ridge was about ten feet in width, and erected the tent beneath the lehua trees.

One side of the tent rested on the brink of a perpendicular precipice hundred of feet in depth, and the other side was so near to an almost equally frightful gulf as to prevent all passage back and forth. As we were engaged in the necessary preparation for the night, bright-eyed apekepekes inquisitively flitted around us chirping their astonishment at the strange intrusion, and the sooty o-o, perched on the topmost boughs, with apparent nonchalance, whistled pokeokeo. There being no standing water here our men resorted to the expedient of collecting a quantity of moss from the trees from which they wrung out several quarts of coffee colored water, which tasted much better than it looked.

Wednesday morning we left is place, the name of which I am compelled by delicacy to suppress, and after abut three hours of laborious travel through a tangled jungle arrived at Punamaliu which is the ancient camping place. The ridge is here broader, and although the pali on the south side is perpendicular and of tremendous depth, on the north side and slope is more gradual. The ground along the ridge for a distance of several rods has been carefully leveled to accommodate the banana leaf huts of the natives. The place derives its name from several small pools of deliciously cool water which are kept always full by the rain and clouds.

A short distance further on is a pali call Naalewalewa (The hanging roots), where we were obliged to climb up a ladder on the tangled pendant roots of lehua for a distance of thirty or forty feet. In this elevated region one meets with new forms of vegetation unknown below. Among these alpine plants the most striking perhaps are the lapalapa and apeape. The former is common to the group, and in favorable localities becomes a large and handsome tree. Its chef peculiarity is its leaf, which flutters and vibrates with the slightest impulse of the air like those of the aspen. The juice or gum of the tree possesses a peculiar fragrance and was formerly used in the manufacture of kapa for perfuming the fabric.

Apeape has a long stalk which sometimes attains the length of thirty feet. The leaves, which are circular, and are often six or eight feet in diameter, grow from the end of the stalk upon a stem several feet in length. The flower stalk shoots up from the midst of the leaves to a height of abut four feet and from it radiate numerous pedicels, each bearing on its tip a brilliant scarlet blossom abut the size of a pea. Whenever there is an abundance of moisture trickling down the face of the pali, there may be seen the huge round leaves overlapping each other for hundred of feet up and down the precipice like the scales of some vast green fish.

Just before reaching the top of the mountain the road passes along the ridge which separates the heads of the Hanalei and Wailua valley. The spot is called Namakanihoopuoho, because here the winds from the two valley unite, and with a war-like thunder rush through the narrow defile or gateway by which we enter upon the grassy, mossy, boggy undulating plateau of Waialeale summit.

There are no trees upon the top of the mountain but the ground is covered with a variety of plants, conspicuous among which is the ohelo of which there are acres. At the foot of the hillock which is regarded as the highest point of the mountain, lies the pool which gives the mountain its name.

From this pond flow two never failing streams, - one to the west side of the island through the Wainiha valley, the other to the east forming the incipience of the Wailua river. A few rods from the pond on the summit of a swelling mound there is a small platform of stone and earth, in the center of which stands on end a small oblong stone, which from time immemorial has been worshipped as a kupua or an embodiment of the guardian genius of the place. The ground around it we found thickly strewn with silver coins and glass beads of every form, size and color, which had been deposited there by p8lgrims of former times as offering. The name of this mountain deity is Kaawakoo.

Wednesday night and all day Thursday the rain pored and the wind blew a howling tornado, compelling us to remain in the tent. Friday morning still fund us enveloped in the murkiest king of fog, and we sadly began our descent without having had a view of the country below and around us. Four hours of slipping and sliding and jumping and swinging and tumbling fund us at the stream at the foot of the mountain, and just after dark we reached Grove Farm bruised and lame and scratched and cut and torn, our clothes in tatters, and our enthusiasm for mountain climbing assuaged for the next five years. G.H.D,

PS I must not forget to explain that the venison alluded to above was obtained from a dear little goat.

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