Monday, September 13, 2010

Kauai, Part I

I'm still here! And although I'm not still in Hawaii, I do want to finish up posting about my summer. Jenny and I left Hilo last Saturday morning, connected through Honolulu, arrived in Lihue, Kauai around 11 AM. We first went and picked up our rental car: she was a real beauty.

After picking up the car we stopped at a delicious noodle place for lunch, Haimura Saipan, and then we drove north for our first hike in Hawaii, a steep 2-mile jog up Nonou Mountain. The hike wasn't super scenic and it was HOT, but the views of the rest of Kauai were pretty good.

After hiking we drove north to Princeville and hiked down to a nearby beach for some snorkeling and to watch sunset. The snorkeling was great- the reef extended hundreds of feet out, there weren't many people there, and we saw a half dozen turtles and tons of fish.

The sunset was really spectacular too:

We finished up our day with some Brazilian food in the town of Hanapepe, and then a drive up to Haena where we spent the night to get ready for our hike down the famous Na Pali Coast the next morning. We were woken up the next morning at 6 by rangers asking us where our permit was. My guidebook said that permit enforcement in county parks was lax in Kauai, and since you have to get them by mail six weeks in advance didn't bother. Fortunately for us, the ranger just charged us for the permit and then offered to write us a permit for the other night we were staying at a county park (Wednesday night).

After our somewhat rude awakening, Jenny and I hiked the half mile down the road to the Na Pali Coast trailhead. The Na Pali Coast is an insanely rough 10-mile stretch of coastline along the west coast of Kauai. The area has two beaches: one at the trailhead and one at the end of the 11-mile Na Pali Coast trail in Kalalau Valley, a valley only accessible by the trail and helicopter. The trail itself winds along steep coasts and then into deep hanging valleys, valleys that don't end in beaches at the ocean, but cliffs. Jenny and I hiked 7 of the 11 miles, and it was pretty spectacular.

We also did a 2-mile side hike to a 120 feet waterfall. It was scenic, even with all the people around...

After we got back to the car ("Ole Blue"), we drove back along the northern coast past all 8 of Kauai's famous one lane bridges. Each side has a waiting line on it and after every four to seven cars, the cars on the other side of the bridge are allowed to pass. Fortunately traffic was never so bad that there was much of a wait at the bridges, and the bridges have stopped the resort development along the North Shore since the bridges can't handle heavy loads.

We finished the day with a thin crust pizza in Koloa on the South Shore and then drove up 4,000 feet to Koke'e State Park on the southwest side of the island to camp for the night. More to come on the rest of our Kauai trip soon!

Only a couple posts left!

Friday, September 3, 2010


Finally! I'm going to explain what exactly it is we've been doing with rats for the past couple weeks. As I mentioned in my earlier post (July 26th), the goal of the project I'm working on this summer is to examine how the invasive species Rattus rattus (the common rat) affects the food web structure of native forests here in Hawaii. We spent the first 5 weeks collecting insects to get a pre-rat control insect diversity and concentration level. Next summer, whoever is working on the project will begin eliminating rats from 16 of the 32 kipuka. Part of the work we're doing with rats this summer is a test rat exclusion; in an isolated kipuka that isn't part of the project, we're attempting to see how effective we are at eliminating the rats. It's miraculous no one broke any fingers over the last two weeks- two to three times a week we go out to the kipuka, see if any rats have been killed (and collect them if they have been: eww!), and then replace the bait and reset the traps. On an average day, I reset about 50 snap traps, so in the past few weeks I've reset nearly 200 of them. And no broken fingers!

I've also been fortunate in that on the days I've checked the traps, we've only caught one rat. Lucky Jenny, has had the "opportunity" to witness the demises of the other 13 rats we've caught. Since the first day, we've only caught 2 or 3 rats and lately we've started catching rat's prey, mice. Turns out there were way fewer rats than anyone predicted in the kipuka (or the rats are really smart)- I predicted that we would catch 85. Oops. The final process is putting out tracking tunnels, little ink cards baited with coconut to attract rats, to see if there are anymore rats hiding out in the kipuka, which we did earlier this week.

Our other task with rats has been much more exhausting. Since we're eliminating rats from some kipuka, it's important to know if rats travel outside of and between kipuka. Otherwise, killing the rats in one kipuka may simply prompt other rats nearby to come in and replace the dead rats. To do this, we've been attempting to capture rats in live traps, place radio transmitters on their necks, and then go out once a week and see where the rats are in the day and at night, with the hope of learning how much the rats move.

The hardest part has actually been catching and collaring the rats. In some kipuka we haven't even caught rats, in others, the rats have been too small or they've killed by predators before we could collar them, and sometimes the stress of being collared has been too much for the rats. Additionally some of the rats we've captured and collared have stopped moving deep in the lava- they've either been killed or shaken off their collar. Below are a few pictures of the collaring process:

We first anesthetize the rat, and then while it's knocked out, we weigh the rat (to make sure the collar isn't too heavy), put the collar, and take some measurements on the rat.

Day-tracking the rats is fairly easy since the rats are nocturnal- during the day we're simply tracking down the location of their dens. We tune into specific rats' frequencies with our receivers and keep walking till we find where the signal is the strongest. The biggest surprise has been in one of the kipuka where we learned after frustratingly searching for a couple hours that the rats dens are sometimes up in the trees.

Night-tracking is the 'fun' part. The rats are active, so approaching them isn't an option. Instead Jenny, Devin, and I get close enough to get a strong radio signal, spread out, and then take a GPS point and bearing on where the signal is strongest. Afterwards, Devin imports the bearings and location into a piece of software and it spits out a 95% confidence interval of where the rat was. Things are rarely that simple though. Since the rats are active at night, we're often tracking a moving rat which causes the location of our signal to change drastically, and the topography of the kipuka and matrix causes odd distortions of the radio signal, making things even more difficult. And there's all the human error: Oh! I'm supposed to read the number on the bottom of the compass to get the bearing? Oops, I forgot to take a GPS point!, and Hmm... our bearings don't intersect.

The moral of the story from tracking and controlling rats this summer is science is never perfect. We way over-estimated the number of rats and capturing and keeping track of the rats has been way harder than we imagined. Regardless, we are learning more and more about how rats function in the kipuka and matrix, and that's science!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What a Weekend. Part II

Continuing where I left off from our epic weekend, Jenny, Annie, Jean, and I got up Sunday morning and began a leisurely drive along the Hamakua Coast north of Hilo. After about two hours we arrived at the famous and rugged Waipi'o Valley near Honoka'a. Waipi'o Valley is the first of nearly ten incredibly rugged valleys that are cut side-by-side along the northern coast of the Big Island. Here's a view from the lookout at the top of the valley:

After enjoying the view from the top, we began the walk down a terrifyingly steep road, averaging a grade of 25%!!! Not a road for the faint of heart or anyone with a two-wheel drive car for that matter. I tried to get a picture summing up just how insanely steep this road is, but I don't think my pictures do it justice (just like the cables up Half Dome- those things are WAY steeper and more terrifying when you get there...)

At the bottom, we walked to the nearby black sand beach where Jenny and I spent thirty minutes debating whether or not to cross the Waipi'o Stream (more like a river if you ask me) at the beach and then actually swimming across. Unfortunately my fear of crossing the stream meant that I was too afraid to take my camera across with me, so I don't have any pictures of the other side. In my defense, the crossing was tricky: I tried to cross in the rapids first, but I didn't make it very far without shoes and since I couldn't tell how deep it was. Next I tried closer to the ocean, where I was scared off by the river dragging me out toward the ocean and the waves pushing me in. I finally settled on just swimming across upstream which was definitely the best option.

After we crossed, Jenny and I walked a half mile down the beach and then scampered about a half a mile up the trail that leads to the next valley so that we could get a view back across Waipi'o Valley- you can (barely) make out the trail in the picture above, cutting across the cliff about halfway up in a sideways V. The view back across the valley was stunning; we could see the 1200 ft Hi'ilawe falls off a side spur of the valley and several other falls cascading into the valley. My lack of a camera was quite a bummer. After we caught our breath at the viewpoint, Jenny and I hiked back down, re-swam across the river, and hiked back up the (crazy steep) road. We got some really nice views as the sun set on our hike back up, and I snapped a great shot of the Rempel gang.

On our way back to Hilo we stopped at Tex's Drive-In in Honoka'a for some malasadas- apricot, guava, raspberry, and bavarian creme. I never get tired of those things, though it's hard to imagine having a bad malasada (they're just deep-fried dough and sugar after all). We got back to Hilo late, where Jenny and I whipped up a delicious dinner, including one of my favorites of the summer: pan-seared Ahi. Mmm.

A special shout-out to Annie and Jean, without whom our adventurous weekend wouldn't have even been possible (or nearly as much fun)!

It's hard to imagine, but this is our last week in Hilo; only a few more days of work and then Jenny and I are off to Kauai Saturday morning!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What a Weekend. Part I

Jenny and I decided to finish our time on the Big Island with a bang this past weekend: Mission Accomplished. I must warn you though, this entry has so much awesome stuff in it that there are a ton of photos.

Things began Thursday night, when Jenny, Tad, and I headed up to the kipuka to do some night work (I promise I'll explain what it is we're doing sometime), a long, cold, rainy 6 hours. As we wandered around the kipuka a front moved in, providing 6 hours of less-than-30-ft visibility and chilly gusts. At least we all looked happy at the start of the night...

Things actually went really well considering the weather, and all in all, I'd say it was a (somewhat) fun, successful night.

Our big adventure began Friday around noon when Jenny, her sister Annie, her mom Jean, and I headed up Saddle Road to drive over to Kona for the night dive with the Manta Rays. After a couple hours we arrived in Kona and boarded the boat to go see Mantas!

The dive itself was definitely the most surreal part of the weekend. The Mantas were first attracted to the area by the lights from the Sheraton Resort in Kona shining into the water and attracting Manta Rays' primary food source, plankton. After years at the Sheraton, the Rays mysteriously disappeared and were missing for months, until they were found by the airport in Kona, again attracted to the lights. After the Manta Rays settled in at the airport, the dive operators devised a way to attract the Mantas every night by having divers descent 40 feet to the bottom of the cove and shine lights upward and having snorkelers on the surface direct their lights downward, creating a column of light to attract plankton and their predators: Manta Rays! Jenny and her family got the snorkeler perspective while I scuba dived (is that really the past tense?). Before the dive I did manage to snag a shot of a Manta attracted to our boat by its lights:

Down at the bottom, the Manta Rays barrel-rolled and twirled around the divers, even brushing through my hair with their wings a couple times. The video on the website of our dive operator gives an idea of what the Manta dive is like, although I must warn you, the music that plays during this video is truly terrible: All in all, 11 Manta Rays showed up Friday night, ranging in size from a tame 8 feet across to nearly 13 feet across.

We spent Friday night in Kona, partly because I couldn't leave Kona for 12 hours after my dive because all of the roads out of Kona ascend above 2000 feet! Saturday morning we went to nearby Kahalu'u Beach for some snorkeling. "Beach" is a somewhat misleading term, because although Kahalu'u certainly has awesome snorkeling, the "beach" consists almost entirely of rocks, which aren't so nice for a warm nap. We did get to see tons of fish, an eel, and even a turtle, so no complaints here (though I know that last statement may have seemed like a complaint...).

After an hour or two at Kahalu'u we headed south and stopped at world famous Kona Joe coffee to try some of their famous coffee and get my caffeine fix. Kona Joe's coffee is grown on trellises like wine to maximize sunlight exposure and enhance sweetness or something like that; their coffee bar and the accompanying view were the highlights of the stop. Consequently, I may have missed some of the finer points of Kona Joe's growing methods.

We left Kona Joe's and after (a jittery) two hours, we arrived at the southern-most point in the U.S., the aptly named Southpoint. Here, after a few moments of gathering courage and forgetting my desire to live, I jumped...

... 40 feet off of the cliffs into the bluest, clearest waters I've ever leaped into- from any height. The fall really wasn't too bad; I only had time to ask myself what the hell I was thinking for about the last half second before I crashed into the water with fairly decent pencil form. 5-10 nervous, heart-thumping minutes later, Jenny joined me:

I particularly enjoyed Jenny's little jig of the top. After getting it together at the bottom, Jenny and I climbed back to top, a path that involved swimming into a little cave, waiting for the waves to wash us up onto a ledge, and then scrambling back up to the top.

After I took another plunge (slightly more painful than the first), the third musketeer, Annie, took a leap. A cruel trick of gravity lead to the slightly unfortunate result documented in agonizing frame-by-frame fashion below:

The dreaded butt-flop, a result which though exceedingly painful for the past several days, will make a great story someday (easy for me to say). Definitely a 10/10 on that splash though.

After the most dangerous activity of the summer, we trekked 2.5 miles out to Green Sands Beach, just east of Southpoint. The beach is green because of the weathering of olivine-rich basalt. Regardless of the geological mechanism, the beach was certainly one of the coolest beaches I've ever seen.

We finished out the day with a drive to Volcano for some of the island's best Thai food at the Thai Thai Restaurant, and then stopped by Volcano National Park for a look at the caldera at night. It turns out the caldera glows!

It was much cooler in person I assure you. Sunday was another awesome day, but is perhaps a little too much for this entry, so tune in for What a Weekend, Part II coming soon!

Wow! What a weekend! And what a teaser! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Mauna Loa Summit: 13,679 ft
Miles hiked: 43
Elevation gained: 9,699 ft
Standing on top of the world's most massive mountain: Priceless.

Here's a few more summit shots for good measure:

Now, as to how we got to here...

Jenny and I began packing Thursday night. Since we didn't have access to a stove, we had to bring all dry food, and consequently we had a TON of food.

We woke up at 4:30 Friday morning, planning to catch the bus to the Volcano National Park visitor center that departs Hilo at ten after 5, only to discover that the buses weren't running because it was a state holiday (I bet you can't name it): Statehood Day. What a bummer. We gave up and decided to try again Saturday morning, and instead went to work for the day. After another night of packing and carbo-loading, Saturday began much better. We caught the bus and arrived at the visitor at about 6:45, where a sympathetic Park Ranger let us in before opening to get a permit. After he wrote us a permit for one night at Red Hill Cabin at 10,000 ft and then one night at the Summit Cabin at 13,200 ft, I made a nearly tragic mistake: I asked, "Why is there a road closed arrow on the map next to the Mauna Loa Trailhead Road?" To which he responded, "Oh! Actually that road is closed because of the potential for visitors to start fires. You can't do this hike at all."

Two weaker (or perhaps more law-abiding) souls would have packed it in right there, but not Jenny and I. In addition to having no way to get to the other trailhead to hike Mauna Loa, we also had no way to return to Hilo until 6 PM, so we did the best (and most legal) option we had: we decided to play dumb. "Wait, you mean this road is closed?" "Oh! You mean this isn't the road to the beach?" and my personal favorite, "The ranger just said the road was closed. We're actually on the shoulder." Fortunately we didn't run into anyone, so we didn't have any need for our [bad] acting skills. At noon we got to the trailhead, where we also ran into the last people we would see for 48 hours.

Saturday afternoon we trekked 8 miles from the trailhead to Pu'u'ula'ula, also known as Red Hill, at 10,035 feet. About 9,000 feet or so we passed the last living creature we would see till Devin and Tad picked us up Monday morning:

No, not me. The tree.

Red Hill was how I imagine the surface of Mars- exceedingly red. We got to see a really spectacular sunset from the top of the hill before retreating into the cabin to escape the freezing temperatures.

Sunday morning Jenny and I shivered out of bed, ate a cold breakfast, thawed the spigot on the water tank, and then began our 16 miles for the day. The ranger warned us that the water tank at the summit was empty, so Jenny and I chugged a quart at breakfast and then filled everything we possibly could with water. The highlight of the first 8 miles to the caldera was the variety of lava types we saw. We saw Pele's Tears, glassy hunks of lava blasted out of the caldera, oxidized red lava, and "golden frothy pahoehoe" (I'm quoting from our guide here).

We also got to see the start of a forest fire on the slopes of Mauna Kea, which created a huge plume and is still burning.

At about 2 o'clock we arrived at the summit junction, where we ditched our packs and made for the summit at 13,679 feet. The summit was an exhausting 2.5 miles from the junction, on the far side of the caldera. The size of the caldera was staggering- the cliffs in this picture are several hundred feet tall.

After resting on the summit for a bit, we began the 2.5 mile hike back to the junction and then the final arduous 2 miles to the summit cabin, all the way around the caldera at 13,250 feet. After arriving at the cabin, Jenny and I unpacked, ate as much trail food as we could handle (not very much at this point), and settled in for a night at 13,000 feet.

It turns out breathing at 13,250 feet requires breathing through your mouth to get enough air, so Jenny and consequently woke up very thirsty with chapped lips. After a quick breakfast, Jenny and I walked back to the trail junction and then scampered down the 3.5 miles to the Mauna Loa Observatory at 11,150 ft, where Devin and Tad came to our rescue.

What a trip. Everything worked out like we had hoped, and the only major damage was done to my boots...

Only two more weeks of work left in Hilo! I'll write that post about work soon. I promise.