Kaua’i: Secret secret, I’ve got a secret

This will be a first post in many detailing the Button’s first real vacation in some time. Where did we decide to go? Just about the exact opposite of Lubbock. It reads almost like an SAT question:

Lubbock is to ________ as: desert is to ocean, lleno estecado is to mountains, dust storms are to rain storms, howdie is to aloha, home of Pres. Obama is to home of Pres. Bush…

The answer is, of course, Kaua’i!

Our first day on the Island we decided to go up Waimea Canyon, one of the natural wonders of the USA. While not as big as the Grand Canyon is is perhaps more epic as the changes in elevation are compressed so they seem more impressive. The canyon is at places over half a mile deep but much narrower then its larger cousin and splashed with beautiful greens, reds, and shades of black from the vegetation and exposed lava layers. Frankly, the “Grand” Canyon is going to have to step up to compete with this, maybe add some gimmicky glass overhang to “make it seem more real”… oh wait THEY ALREADY DID. Pshaw I say.

So we headed up the canyon in our tiny Ford Focus, amazing views appearing and disappearing far to fast to capture on camera. Our destination is an “unofficial” trail with the appealing title “Ditch Trail”. It is so unofficial that it’s trail head is marked by a rain boot.

In retrospect, the use of a rain boot was an ominous warning, akin to "yar, here be rain and dampness"

In retrospect, the use of a rain boot to mark the trail was an ominous warning, akin to “yar, here be rain and dampness”

Now, that picture makes it look like we just found it, easy peasy. This was not the case. Behold, the path we took:

As seems to be a habit of ours (perhaps not ours… “mine” might be more accurate) we got lost. Our guide book, quite possibly the greatest guidbook for Kauai ever, suggested stopping about 1/4 of a mile before the trail head if your rental car is not 4 wheel drive. Well, Ford Foci are decidedly not 4 wheel drive and since you can only stop 1/4 of a mile before the trail head when you know where the trail head is we ended up stopping about 1.25 miles before the trail head. This gave us ample opportunity to, yet again, take the path less travelled (because it is the wrong path). You can see our detour in the map above if you click and drag it so the drop down menu isn’t covering the beginning.

After a good 1.75 miles of walking on dirt roads we eventually found the trail which starts on the map above right where our path turns sharply south. Our detour had dampened our spirits somewhat but almost immediately after heading down the trail we realized that it was entirely worth it.

Can you imagine the watering bill for this place?

Can you imagine the watering bill for this place?

After heading down a path that can only be described as “verdant” we happened upon a beautiful mountain stream with a small pool.

Not 5 minutes after we passed a hand with a sword rose out of the water...paused for two minutes... then sank back down while "I'm getting too old for this shit" could be heard gently in the breeze.

Not 5 minutes after we passed a hand with a sword rose out of the water…paused for two minutes… then sank back down while “I’m getting too old for this shit” could be heard gently in the breeze.

From here on out the trail got considerably more treacherous, largely because we were walking along a steep canyon edge in the rain along a not-so-well-maintained trail. Turns out, wet grass is slippery.

I don't understand... water... falling from the sky?

I don’t understand… water… falling from the sky?

This hike would have already been awesome, but what happened next make its greaterness increase. We stopped to clean out our Keens in a stream…

In WWI soldiers would be paired with "foot budies" who made sure that they regularly checked to make sure that their feet were clean and dry. That is not what we were doing here.

In WWI soldiers would be paired with “foot buddies” who made sure that they regularly checked to make sure that their feet were clean and dry. That is not what we were doing here.

We look up and what do we see… SECRET UNDERGROUND RIVER!

The river Styx.

The river Styx.

****************************Insert Geekout********************************************

If nothing else, this calls for a little research. While it is certainly possible that this is an underground river… more then likely this is a man made tunnel. So, I did a google search for water tunnel Kauai and what did I find?

What is it called when you spend an innordinate amount of time scaling, rotating, aligning, and masking two different maps?

What is it called when you spend an inordinate amount of time scaling, rotating, aligning, and masking two different maps?

Above is a overlay of our hike path and a map published by the state of Hawaii detailing the Kokee ditch irrigation system. Our path is in red and the arrows point to the location on the map where we found the secret underground river (click on it, the image will open up in a new tab and you can zoom in a bit). What do you see? The “ditch hike” follows the Kokee ditch irrigation system for the portion where it is buried underground. It turns out that this trail was created in 1923 by workers as they dug, created, and then covered up this tunnel. Since that time volunteers have maintained the trail since it is quite unique and has some incredible views.

So, the entire time you are on this trail you are essentially following an underground tunnel. What was all this effort for (in 1923 there was only one way to dig in this kind of terrain, people power!)? Sugar.

From Wikicommons, uploaded by user Milei.vencel.

From Wiki-commons, uploaded by user Milei.vencel.

Specifically sugar cane which needs sunny and wet conditions. Kaua’i has both of these, just not in the same place.

From hawaiigaga.com.

From hawaiigaga.com.

The south west coast gets tons of sunshine and is nice and flat but gets little water while the middle of the island gets lots of water, much less sunshine, and is very much not flat. Luckily, the middle of the island is also very high so we can dig some tunnels and let gravity work its magic. This worked very well until Hawaii became a state and the US labor laws made in un-economical to grow sugar cane (or pineapple… ) any more. Not-so-fun-fact, the workers that were exploited for over a century were from a large variety of asian countries (China, Japan, Korea, Philippines, and more) because the plantation owners were afraid of their workforce being too homogeneous and thus, too easy to organize. The article further states that the native Hawaii’ans were too few in number (yay for imported diseases) and unwilling to work since they could subsist on fishing and foraging. Fascinating and sad history.

All that to say, the secret river was not really river. It is a collapsed irrigation tunnel originally intended to bring water from the very wet interior of Kaua’i to the very dry but sunny west coast. It still does this and very effectively, though the high labor costs of the island have prevented large scale agriculture since about the 1980’s.

*****************************************End geekout*************************************************

After getting over our discovery we continued on, alternating between scaling large trees in our path:

Ok, it happened once... but it was pretty cool.

Ok, it happened once… but it was pretty cool and I took full advantage of the situation to show alittle ankle.

and being stopped in our tracks by amazing views through the canopy.

Epic.

Epic.

There is an optional spur you can take on this hike that leads you out along a ridge into the middle of the canyon. This spur is not for those faint of heart … where heart = heights and faint = ‘fraid. It starts off beautifully as you walk along a ridge populated by old trees. Since they are far more exposed to the elements (and water doesn’t stay long on top of a ridge) you are instantly transported to a different region of the world.

Can a tree be wizened?

Can a tree be wizened?

Then fairly quickly the sides drop away, the trees thin out and you are in the middle of the canyon.

No no, go a head. I'm just going to hang back here to take a picture. I am certainly not taking deep breaths and resisting the urge to belly crawl to safety.

No no, go a head. I’m just going to hang back here to take a picture. I am certainly not taking deep breaths and resisting the urge to belly crawl to safety.

Thankfully, there was a sign to let us know when to stop hiking because I would have totally kept going.

Behold, the wonders of Kaua'i

Behold, the wonders of Kaua’i

I too decided to take a picture with the sign.

Wonderful sturdy sign... you will keep me safe... right?

Wonderful sturdy sign… you will keep me safe… right?

We paused here for a bit, butts solidly planted on the ground, to enjoy the view of the canyon and a waterfall while we ate lunch.

This isn't so bad afterall.

This isn’t so bad after all.

We eventually headed back, leaving the Ditch trail about half way along its length taking a mixture of roads and other trails to get back to the car.

It might not look like much, but after walking on rain slicked precipi for an hour this is the freaking yellow brick road.

It might not look like much, but after walking on rain slicked precipice for an hour this is the freaking yellow brick road.

All in all, we couldn’t recommend the hike more. Even if we did get lost, fear for our lives, and get soaking wet :-).

Hotness checking the guidbook to make sure we are headed in the right direction.

Hotness checking the guidbook to make sure we are headed in the right direction.

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