My Kauai hiking adventure activity this past Saturday began reading the online edition of The Garden Island, at 4 am. You may ask, What on earth are you doing awake at that hour? Perhaps its my years in sugarcane farming here on Kauai where for 9 months of the year the operation hummed 24/7 and field work started at 6am. Now, checking email and Facebook posts have replaced the logistics of transporting an 8 ton planter to the top of Hukipo Ridge overlooking the town of Waimea on the Westside of Kauai. Rising early is a comfortable vestige of my past, and crazy as it may sound to quite a number of people, I enjoy the morning solitude.
It was in the Island Calendar that I found an invitation to hike the Honopu Trail in Kokee with the Sierra Club at 9 am that morning. What a fun way to see a part of the island that has been my home for 30 years. I need to come clean, I have not hiked a trail for 20 years, sure I visit Koke’e State Park twice each year when guests arrive, but that only constitutes stops at the Kalalau lookout and the Museum for a snack and a postcard to prove I made it to the top.
Immediate and jumbled thoughts race through my head. Do I have the proper shoes ? Whats the weather going to be like? What am I going to eat? Can I walk that far? What about my knees? This mania is normal for me as I enter Warp 5 of my morning fueled by two cups of Kauai coffee and a hunk of chocolate. Which, by the way, is a match made in Heaven that should be recognized by all four major religions.
Wait ! There is a name and a number in this invitation to call and regardless of where you went to school, its just past 6 am and that works out to 25% of the day is already history. And whomever this Bob Greene fellow is that will lead the expedition, he has got to be awake. On the second ring I get this early morning cautiously timid “Hello”, and I proceed tell Bob my thoughts on participating in the hike and some of my trepidations as I have not been walking much. His retort was, ” What- a- ya mean that you don’t walk much? This is a strenuous hike and a key ingredient to hiking is walking”. Immediately I am on the defensive and I respond with, “well, no, I can walk, and I consider myself to be in pretty good shape for the shape I am in, and I seriously doubt that someone will need to carry me out”. I could sense the tone in Bob’s voice, it was guarded and he expressed concern about this hike. I told him I was going to chance it and I looked forward to meeting him at 9 am in the Kokee Lodge parking area. I heard a resigned OK as if to mean, “I tried my best and that’s all I can do”.
Kokee that morning greeted me with a belt of cool wet air that tried to dampen my enthusiasm for the journey as I hurried over to meet a group dressed like hikers. I met Bob Greene in the parking area along with his co leader Bob Nishek. Bob Greene is retired and lives on Kauai and is an active member of the Sierra Club who leads hikes into Kokee every two weeks. Bob Nishek, is employed by the National Tropical Botanical Gardens in Kalaheo, a walking treasure of information on native and invasive plants of Kauai.
There were 10 brave souls that were anxious to hit the trail and get warm. Before we departed there was a signup sheet and a collection of five dollars for non members. A short introduction and Bob Greene gave us a run down on a few of his rules and that he would be in the lead for the trek and Bob Nishek would follow in the rear to make sure that every member was accounted.
Once we were underway we warmed up and started to focus our eyes through the mist at the dizzying shades of green. I have read that in the Eskimo language they have many words to describe the color white. Now I understood. The walk starts out comfortably with only a few leaps required over roots and fallen trees crossing the trail and adding some excitement. The trades were bringing a pleasant cool breeze occasionally highlighted with rain and after an hour we were rewarded with glimpses of the blue Pacific with Makaha Ridge and the island of Niihau on the horizon.
I trailed in the back of the pack to speak with Bob Nishek about the health of Koke’e. We spoke of some of the challenges that face this Kauai treasure. To my surprise he mentioned illegal logging of the few large Koa trees remaining since Hurricane Iniki in 1992. There was quite a bit of news several years back when people were prosecuted for cutting native trees to sell, under the guise of salvaging the fallen timber caused by Iniki. It is now illegal to harvest even the downed trees.
Even some tree species that are visually stunning in landscapes at lower elevations have taken up residence in Koke’e. Others like the Acacia, from tropical America and Aurcaria Sp. from New Caledonia were introduced in the 1930′s by the Works Project Administration (WPA), to provide work locally during the Great Depression. These aggressive non natives crowd at the understory growth, leading to losses of native species at ground level.
Damage caused by feral pigs was extensive in some areas, the pigs in their search for worms and insects tear up the land and create a perfect seedbed for invasive weeds that are everywhere to the trained eye. These aggressive ornamental grasses (Pennisetum Sp.), Fountain grass and Feathertop, that are creating havoc in pastures from sea level to 1200 feet are thriving in Koke’e at 3000 feet in elevation. These grasses produce abundant amounts of seed and are not palatable to ungulates. This adds further pressure to the ecosystem by limiting the amount of food choices and ultimately forcing the wild goats and deer in Koke’e to feed upon more palatable vegetation, some of which are endemic.
Koke’e has 35 species on the US endangered birds list, some of which are considered the most endangered in the world. There are several reasons for their decline, the loss of habitat, environmental conditions, and the Anopheles mosquito. Mosquitoes were first documented in the early 1800′s when it is believed that whalers visiting the islands emptied their freshwater casks on land and the mosquito larvae flourished. Mosquitoes transmit avian malaria and is the leading recognized cause for plummeting bird populations in Koke’e.
The skies cleared during our two hour walk to the ridge top where we had lunch, shared stories, and were inspired with the remarkable vistas that were lying below us. The trip back to the truck was quieter and the climb out easier with the trail drying remarkably quick under the afternoon sun allowing for better footing. The round trip took approximately 6 easy hours, at the end of the day photos of the group were taken and we all knew a great deal more about Koke’e than when we entered.
For details on hiking with the Sierra Club while on Kauai visit their site at, www.sierraclubhawaii.com. You can also find them on Twitter @sierraclubhi
I would love to hear about your hiking adventures on Kauai.