Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Along The Rainbow Trail To The Temple Of Mu

A number of years ago on Kauai a friend and I hiked the Rainbow Trail from Princeville, around the Makaleha Mountains, up to the 2000-foot trail summit of Kualapa, and down a ridge between the Keahua and Uhau 'Iole valleys to the Arboretum west of Wailua. This trail roughly follows an ancient Hawaiian foot trail that went from Hanalei to Koloa, well inland from the coast. Although the trail is more well known as Powerline Trail because the original trail was used as a guide for setting up the towers to carry electrical power from south to north, I call it the Rainbow Trail for several reasons: 1) it starts by a forest of rainbow eucalyptus trees in the south; 2) it ends overlooking the Hanalei River and Bay, a famous birthplace of rainbows; and 3) because of the full spectrum of colors displayed by clay deposits all along the trail. The condition of the trail, by the way, is that of a very, very badly eroded dirt road. It is the height of folly, as many people (even locals) have discovered, to attempt the trail in a vehicle without four-wheel drive, and even then some of the holes are too deep to traverse, especially after heavy rains. It can be tricky on foot, too.

On that first trip with a friend, however, the weather was very dry, and as we were striding along a couple of miles from the end of the trail our attention was attracted to a strange pile of rocks on the other side of the Keahua Valley, about three-quarters of the way up a hill to the right of the cleft containing Kapakaiki Falls. I say strange because they had the appearance of two very large black boulders leaning against each other, with what seemed like a cave entrance below them. The boulders were exceptionally large and unlike any others along the whole trail. The hill was too low and eroded for them to have fallen from anywhere, so they must have been remnants from the gigantic, 20,000-foot volcano that used to be Kauai. It was the idea of a cave that fascinated us most, though, and we talked about coming back some day to explore it.

In August 2001 my Navy Seal son Dion and his wife came to visit us on Kauai. He wanted to go on a hike, so I suggested we take the Rainbow Trail and scout the area with binoculars to see if the assumed cave was even approachable. Another friend, Thierry Pfau from Switzerland, joined us, and so we three set off from the Arboretum side for what I expected to be a short jaunt. This time, however, the undergrowth was lush and high, recent rains made Kapakanui and Kapakaiki Falls exciting to look at, and it had been several years since I'd been there, so we hiked almost to Princeville and back before I walked to the base of one of the new power pylons and spotted the big black boulders in the late afternoon.

A careful survey with binoculars made the place seem even more intriguing. The boulders appeared to be held in position by a straight-edged pillar under each one, about a third of the width of the boulder and made of a different, lighter material. It also appeared to me through the binoculars that the left-hand pillar was carved to represent a woman with breasts and at least one arm, her left, crossing over her body. Dion and Thierry saw the same effect. Also, the apparent ravine they were sitting in had no visible water flow during a time of heavy rains, and no visible stream bed below the boulders. I knew that these impressions were probably caused by an over-active imagination propelled by wishful thinking and late-afternoon shadows. Most likely the boulders were left over from a time when the mountains of Kauai were much higher, and the water flow was simply not visible from any of our viewing angles. Because of these impressions, however, and as an act of fancy, I dubbed the location the "Temple of Mu." We had a lot of fun speculating on the prospect of treasure or even an underground city from an ancient civilization before heading home.

Late the next day my adventurous son suggested that we try to reach the "temple." My adventurous self said, "Why not?" and our adventurous friend, Thierry, was excited by the prospect. So, without much thought, and without much preparation, we left early the next morning for the Arboretum. On the way to the trailhead there were omens we couldn't decipher, but which made it clear that this would be more of a spiritual quest than a simple hike. For instance, as we drove along Kuhio Highway we saw an older Hawaiian man dressed in a black kihei and carrying a tall staff walking on the shoulder as if he were an ancient kahuna on his own quest. And as we approached the lookout an owl, my Hawaiian family's aumakua, flew over our heads and down into the valley.

Dion's wife and mine accompanied us to the pylon from which we had the best view. A more careful and detailed binocular survey revealed that the "pillars" were most likely just rock and earth material at the end of the ravine that the boulders were resting on, and both Dion and I thought we could see a wall of earth just a very short distance into the cavity made by the boulders. It seemed even more like a couple of old boulders blocking a natural ravine. On the other hand, one of the boulders seemed to have a channel carved into it, and and we were already there after all...

We took a quick look at the terrain. We would have to descend a fairly steep slope on our side to the Keahua Stream and we picked what looked like a feasible route down to an open field. On the other side of the stream we identified a finger ridge that didn't look too bad, and which could lead us directly to the boulders. We figured it would be a six hour round trip. Plenty of time to make it home for dinner. "Oh what fools we mortals be."

Before we started I chanted in Hawaiian to the spirits of the place, requesting their cooperation and help, and I am extremely glad I did. The wives wisely decided to go shopping and we three adventurers ambled along the trail, looking for a place to start. Soon Thierry plunged into the jungle and down the slope, followed by Dion and myself. Within the first twenty-five yards my pack came open and I lost all my gear, but Dion retrieved most of it (my binoculars are still up there as of this writing). Downward we went through mud and monstera (one of the thorny, imported scourges of the wilderness), guava and 'akala (a thorny, Hawaiian raspberry with delicious fruit as its saving grace) to a steep creekbed that we followed until we realized it was clearly going in the wrong direction. Then we headed across our "open field" which turned out to be a tall, thick mesh of sword fern, uluhe fern, and 'akala bushes. Dion tried to break a trail, but it just wouldn't break. Balked by a cliff, we went uphill again and - two and a half hours later and only halfway to the stream - we had lunch by a dead tree left over from Hurricane Iniki.

Somewhat refreshed, we trod on uluhe fern across the face of a cliff and slipped and slid down a short ridge to the stream. By this time I was exhausted, and after an all-too-brief rest we clambered up the far bank through forest and fern and found ourselves at the foot of the finger ridge we had seen from the trail far above and behind us. So up we went: Dion first, Thierry, and finally me, lagging way behind. The ridge was steeper than we had expected and now I was glad for the presence of the ferns because their tough roots gave me something to hold onto as I painfully pulled my way up.
At the top of the finger the ridge got very narrow, with the valley end dropping off quickly to the right and the mountain end heading left like a roller coaster, then curving to the right and up to Makaleha. In front of us the ridge fell in a steep slope to a small hanging valley, and about halfway up the other side, almost directly across from us, were the giant boulders. Unfortunately, we were now seeing them at an angle that gave us a view from the left which was obscured by a smaller boulder, so we couldn't see the "entrance."

The narrow ridge to the left was covered with ferns, of course, and part of it looked very steep. After that, however, it looked reasonably level as it followed the perpendicular cliff on the right side of Kapakaiki Falls, which were not visible from where we were. Further on was a small finger of the ridge that sloped down to the big boulders. My body absolutely refused to go any further, so I sat and waited while Thierry and Dion tackled "Rollercoaster Ridge." Some time later Thierry came back, saying that his body had no interest in attempting the steep part.

Dion plodded on, slowly following the ridge up the steepest part, along the dangerous cliff face, and down the finger toward the boulders. Halfway down the finger he stopped for awhile, then came all the way back to our resting place without reaching the boulders themselves. He explained that he had given himself a half hour to make the final trek, and when that was up he decided that to go any further would take far too long. It was now four-thirty in the afternoon and we were still at the top of the finger ridge in the middle of the wilderness. Even so, from our current vantage point we could see far down the Keahua valley to the outline of Sleeping Giant, and even to the ocean beyond.
Now the three of us made a critical choice. Looking across the valley we could see the signs of our fern-supported cliff crossing and our slippery slide to the stream. We could also see the Rainbow Trail and the power pylon we used as a lookout point. They looked tantalizingly near, but we knew that the climb up that slope would be very difficult. I estimated that we could make it to the trail in 2-3 hours once we reached the stream bed. On the other hand, there was the Keahua valley stretching peacefully now to our left. The valley bottom was covered with dusty green hau trees, and I knew what a tangle they could make over a stream, but to Thierry and Dion it looked better than the slope. I argued for the slope because it was shorter, but even though I pride myself on being a good wordsmith I used exactly the wrong words in my argument. "The slope is a known quantity," I said. "It's difficult, but we know we can make it, and even if it takes a little longer than we expect we know we can be home before too long. The stream is an unknown quantity. It will definitely take longer and we have no idea what we will encounter. We could be hiking into danger." Whoops! Too late I noticed their eyes glazing over. "...unknown idea...encounter...danger..." I forgot that I was talking to adventurers. Outnumbered, outvoted, and outclassed, I willingly went along with their decision to follow the river.

We made it to the stream bed by five-thirty and immediately began walking the rocky bottom. Fortunately, the recent rains had been light and the stream was relatively shallow. I should mention that by now we had run out of fresh water and the stream did not look or smell potable. Our walking quickly fell into a routine: Dion would usually lead, Thierry was next, and I would stumble along far behind. At some point they would wait for me, and as soon as I caught up they would take off again. The stream had a routine, too. First there were shallow rapids, followed by a deep, quiet pool, followed by rapids, followed by a pool, and so on. As I expected, hau tree branches broke the monotony quite frequently, criss-crossing the stream above and below the water and turning it into a maze. Very rarely were there any walkable banks and we made use of them whenever possible. The hau trees were not continuous, however. Long streches of the stream were bordered by ferns, pu'ohe'ohe (Job's-tears) and guavas. Whenever we came to a pool that we couldn't go around we had to carry our packs on our shoulders and wade as close to the edge as we could. Often we waded up to our chests through such pools. Once, when a pool was blocked by impenetrable hau branches I had to wade across the width and the water came up to my neck. That was a shallow one.

Darkness came sooner than we wanted, making a tangle of hau trees up ahead look like an inky black cave. When it got really black Dion pulled out his flashlight and guided us. Somewhere in the middle of the night the batteries gave out and I provided one of those intense, cobalt blue key lights that worked extremely well. However, Dion used it very sparingly from then on, and most of the time we marched along by starlight or no light at all, with the blue beam being used only to silhouette low hau branches or warn us of otherwise invisible pools. I remember Venus appearing so bright I hopefully thought it was a headlight at first, and later a brilliant quarter-moon came up, swam in and out of clouds, and passed over. Finally there was a lightening of the sky that I took for the glow of a town, but it was only the sun rising. With a shock I realized we had been hiking through the stream the whole night long.

We knew we were heading toward the stream crossing at the Arboretum, and always hoped to see it around the next bend. Sometimes, however, we wondered if we were on the way to Po'ipu. As the morning wore on I was so dehydrated that my throat closed up when I tried to swallow and I started having dry heaves. I searched for a tributary of any size that might have clean water, and when I found one that looked clean and smelled clean I went ahead and took a few swallows, telling my body to assimilate what was good and eliminate whatever wasn't.

I was in much worse shape than either Dion or Thierry, being much older and lazier than either of them. I was exhausted when we started the trek along the stream and my energy level went down from there. Once, during the night, a small part of my mind suggested we quit, but all the other parts chimed in, "We don't do that, ever." Still, I had to reach beyond myself for the strength and skill to go on because willpower wasn't going to be enough. I drew on several basic shamanic techniques to help me survive.

The most useful of all was la'a kea, the conscious use of my energy field. For this, I imagined my field extending beyond my body and connecting to the energy of my environment - rocks, water, plants, stars, etc. Then I called on this field to draw on the energy of the environment for its needs, and to do the walking for me. As long as I remembered the field was there, doing its thing, I was fine. However, the longer we trekked, the more my mind tended to wander, and that was dangerous. When I was fully in the present moment, letting my energy field do all the work, I walked effortlessly and with balance. But if my thoughts strayed out of the moment I would stumble, and sometimes fall. Three falls could have been very serious, but I employed the famous "Repetition" technique (a.k.a. "Mindblower") quickly enough so that pain dissipated right away and injuries were averted. The second most useful technique, however, was a simple affirmation to help keep my mind focused: "Solid footing, here and now" was a chant that brought me back to balance and presence over and over and over again.

Some curious things happened late into the night. For one thing, I had two persistent hallucinations. One was of purple flowers that I saw on all kinds of bushes, and the other was of red dirt or mud that I saw sometimes on bushes and sometimes on whole stretches of stream bank, making it look like a cliff where there were really hau trees. Once the mud looked so real as I stood in some pu'ohe'ohe that I had to reach down and touch the leaves to make sure the mud wasn't really there. Another perception was of bright energy particles in the air, but I don't consider that a hallucination because Thierry also saw it and I have seen it before. In addition to phenomena with eyes open, both Thierry and I had similar experiences when we closed our eyes even briefly. On some occasions we both saw beautiful geometric patterns in brilliant colors. They reminded me of the "Eye of God" patterns used by some Native Americans. On other occasions both Thierry and I experienced intense "dreamlets" when we closed our eyes and we had to force ourselves to keep our eyes open in order not to get lost in other worlds. One time, however, deep in the night, Dion had led the way across a point of bushy land to avoid a pool. As I approached the spot I saw Thierry standing and apparently waiting for me as usual, so I climbed ashore and stood next to him. He said Dion had gone on ahead to find a way around, so I waited, too, slipping in and out of dreamlets and patterns. I also hallucinated that Dion was standing next to Thierry consulting a GPS device to determine where we were. After what seemed like a very long time I said, "Maybe this would be a good place to wrap ourselves in a poncho and go to sleep." Thierry said,. "Where did Dion go?" At that moment we both saw a flash of blue light signaling us to come forward. As it turned out, Dion had been calling and signaling us for a long time and neither of us noticed because we were mostly in a dream state.

With morning my own energy came back to some degree, but it seemed like we were still plodding on in a never-ending story. Finally, Thierry pushed ahead while Dion stayed close to me because I was going more and more slowly. And at last the miracle occured. Dion, up ahead, signaled to me that we had reached our destination. There was the concrete roadway of the Arboretum, covered by the waters of the stream, and there was Thierry, video-taping our final emergence from the wilderness. We had been fifteen hours in the stream; it had been twenty-five hours of almost non-stop hiking since we started. Our hands were full of thorns, our arms were covered with angry red scratches and welts, and our feet looked as if they belonged to corpses. Nevertheless, we had made it, without serious injury and without getting sick. We were tired and hungry, but alive and essentially well. I thanked the spirits for their help. The trek had been extremely difficult, physically and mentally, but in spite of numerous opportunities no one was badly injured; in spite of the hardship no one complained or got upset; in spite of the recent storms it hadn't rained the whole time we were out; and, most miraculous of all, in spite of all the standing water there weren't any mosquitoes. We celebrated with gratitude, warm water and ice cold beer.

And out there in the wilderness, the Temple of Mu still stands untouched.

For photos of this journey go to