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Atop the House of the Rising Sun: Day Break at Haleakala (photo: Dana Edmunds / Pacific Stock)
Vol.12, no.6
December 2009 / January 2010

 

Seven Summits (Page 5)

 

 

Kamakou

Elevation: 4,970 feet

Once more back on Maui, I head this time to the airport, to catch a twin-prop puddle-jumper to Molokai. I find myself wondering if there can be any surprises left, if each ascent can possibly be as distinct, as exceptional, as the last. I feel like I am getting a history lesson at every stop. As the plane lands, I recall for a moment my unfinished book—I had expected to be obsessing about it, and the fact that I am not has left me alternately worried and relieved—but then I am on my way back up to nearly 4,000 feet and marching into the Pepeopae Bog, a sump of primordial moss and ooze. I’m greeted by Dan Bennett, a Nature Conservancy docent, and asked to sign a release, swearing not to sue him or his organization if I should vanish in the muck. “It’s easy to get lost and easy to disappear,” Bennett says. “And people do, from time to time.”

 

The tallest peak on Molokai is Mount Kamakou, another thousand feet above us, but there is no trail to the summit and because of its fragile state, the Nature Conservancy actively discourages anyone from poking around. The next best thing is the bog, part of the larger Kamakou Preserve, which sustains more than 250 native plants, some ninety percent of which are found nowhere else in the world. To get me there, Bennett pulls off Highway 460 at the Homelani Cemetery sign and onto Forest Road, a baked dirt alley that fast turns into a muddy gulch. The higher we climb, the more we swim from side to side, careening off the dense hedge of herbs and roots and fungi lining our route. “The nice thing about this,” says Bennett, a retired high school math teacher and part-time potter, “is you can’t slide very far off the road.”

 

We park at the Pepeopae entrance, where a 1.5-mile boardwalk leads into the bog. Bennett offers me a walking stick, which strikes me as superfluous, at least until I take a few steps and discover that the boardwalk is more akin to a gangplank, squishing and bowing under our weight. Everything around us is seeping, weeping, as if a damp sponge were being held above the island. We have entered a wonderland of greenery: olive, emerald, lime, artichoke, wasabi. Jurassic fronds sprout and spiral, threatening to swallow our path. Even with a cane, I end up losing my balance, landing rear first in the peat. My good man Bennett asks if I need help, but I am laughing too hard to give him much of an answer. Halfway in, the forest suddenly parts, revealing a swampy meadow of stunted shrubs and sedge—the bog itself—before the canopy closes up again. “If you want night life, you have to go somewhere else,” says Bennett, prodding me to the end of the trail, where we catch a glimpse, through the brume, of Kamakou’s silhouette. “On Molokai, this is what we have to offer.”

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