early morning at the heliport
We had a couple rainy rainy weeks of fieldwork here on kaua‘i. It began with four days being a human sponge in the alaka‘i swamp. We went up there with friends from Koke‘e Resource Conservation Project and the Nature Conservancy to hunt and kill weeds in the native forest. The alaka‘i is claimed to the be the wettest place on earth (I think there are a couple other places that get as wet – like the eastern Caroline Islands in Micronesia, or maybe one or two valleys on the low southern flanks of the Himalaya) – but it certainly lived up to expectations.
classic alaka‘i cloud forest
From about 2 hours after the helicopter dropped us off until we hiked our soggy butts out of the bush 4 days later, it went from downpour to drizzle to steady pissing rain back to downpour. For the planet’s highest swamp – perched at over 4,000 ft on the edge of the Wainiha Pali (pali = cliff) – where all the moisture carried by the trade winds collects, condenses, and descends, these were typical “habitat days,” really.
hammocks are beautiful things in a swamp - dry nights off the ground
We were living in the clouds. By day we traversed the inredibly intricate topography with GPS and compass – navigating deeply divided creeks and streams passing through cracks in the ancient volcano, crossing the patchwork of grassy bogs knee-deep in mud and walking/crawling/falling/scrambling through the thick eflin cloud forest. Our first day “targets” – invasive trees marked for death on our maps during a helicopter survey – were only 1.5 km from base camp yet it took us 5 hours just to reach them.
from the helicopter - looking over the Wainiha pali northeast to Hanalei
After a full day in the forest we’d all converge under the little tarp at base camp (there were 11 of us altogether). As our campsite sunk around our feet, we’d talk and laugh, shiver to keep warm, and try not to touch our skin to the sopping wet clothes still on our backs. Good compay for certain but in truth we all were only waiting for dinner – hot, lovely dinner. Then it was off to our tents or hammocks to strip off the wet work clothes and crawl into sleeping bags.
the edge of the alaka‘i swamp along Wainiha valley
Sleepy time was deeply appreciated, for after a night of blissful coziness we all knew we’d have to get up, get out, and put back on the same sopping wet clothes, rain gear, and boots in the cold morning. I had an extra pair of field pants. They taunted me each morning, but what would be the point? We were sponges. It was ankle deep mud just to get to breakfast. And moments later we were soaked to the bone. Just keep movings and at least we stay warm sponges in the swamp.
As horrible and inhospitable as the weather and habitat were, we just laughed it off – all smiles…
And the following week our last limahuli trip came and went this past week. We spent another couple rainy days and nights sweeping one of the drainages in Upper Limahuli Preserve – climbing the ridges and dropping down to pick off the last of the remaining nasty weeds. With the winter rains, the season for invasive plant hunting is coming to a close up there. There is word about some trips to mark out a future fenceline around the upper valley, but budgets are tight everywhere and helicopter rides aren’t getting any cheaper.
As always, enjoy the fotos – post comments!! I need reason to keep writing these silly things.
the terrain behind upper Limahuli valley
natalia, emory, merlin and me
the native hydrangea - Broussaisia arguta or kanawao
another grey, rainy day in the forest
flying out along the Na Pali coast with our pilot Ken