Sunday, December 23, 2007

Mt. Lasu Hike - December 22, 2007

On December 22, Saturday, four of us set out to explore the Mt. Lasu area. I used to take my BI201, Natural History of the Mariana Islands, on part of this hike, and I had just explored more of this area with James Carmichael on a private hike two weeks ago. I knew that we would find a lot of remains from World War II, and walk through some great limestone forest.

The drive up to the Mt. Lasu Shinto Shrine was fairly uneventful. The road had not been cleared for awhile and was really overgrown. This area was a popular tourist site (and may still be), but it has not been maintained for a long time. In the picture below, you can see Stacy, Yoko, and Mitch (Mitsue) starting on the hike to the cliff line below the top of Mount Lasu. Mt. Lasu has three cliff lines. I have only explored the top and bottom one. It looks like a hike to the middle one is in order for the future.

Traditionally, a visitor to the Mt. Lasu Shrine follows the steps to the main shrine where there is great view of Tinian and Saipan. The shrine was overgrown and the view was blocked by small trees growing along the cliff's edge. In the picture below, you can barely see the steps that lead up to the main shrine.

Right next to the Shinto Shrine is a small man-made hill. I had always thought it was a gun emplacement, but I later saw pictures of this hill, from World War II, with it holding a Japanese radar antenna. When this area was cleared, you could see a large flat round metal base sitting next to the west side of this hill. Today this metal base is covered with vines and not easily visible.

From the shrine, we headed south, following the ridge line. There is a great little saddle on the ridge that always gets a breeze, which was not needed today because of the steady winds. This saddle used to be open limestone forest, but a typhoon knocked down many of the large trees, and understory plants have grown up making it difficult to walk in certain areas. In the picture below is Mitch near the saddle.

After the saddle, we head back along the ridge line toward the shrine. As we started to leave the saddle, I happened to find a cluster of flowers that I had never seen before (in the picture below). This cluster was coming from a vine that normally grows in the tree tops.

The reason why we headed back toward the shrine was because I was looking for a tunnel that goes through the ridge. It is well hidden by a berm and you have to look carefully for it. Below is a picture of Mitch, Yoko, and Stacy about to enter the tunnel.

The entrance to tunnel is fairly steep and you have to watch your footing fairly carefully. In the picture below is Mitch in the steepest part of the tunnel. Once you are past the entrance, the floor of the tunnel is fairly flat.

Below are Mitch and Stacy walking out of the other side of the tunnel.

From here, we headed a little to the north to look at a cave which is very near the tunnel. On the way to the cave are some 6-inch shells. Most likely these are from U.S. battle ships, shot at the Japanese during the invasion of Tinian from World War II. In the picture below, Yoko is taking a picture of Mitch as she stands next to a shell.

The cave, next to the tunnel, is also man-made. It opens up into a good size room. Below, in the picture, are me and Stacy standing next to the entrance to the cave.

Usually, I would walk down the steep slope with my NMC class to a Japanese road that leads back to the shrine. But, today we were here to explore, so we headed south, around the slope to get clear of the rubble from the construction of the tunnel and cave. The picture below gives a good idea of how steep the slope is.

Just to the south of the tunnel are two caves and two flat platforms. Just to the right of Stacy, Mitch, and Yoko, standing on one of the platforms in the picture below, is a small man-made cave. I am standing on a second lower platform, while taking this picture, which leads to a second cave.

On the second platform were some metal support, as shown in the picture below. They seem to have a swivel base, and also attachments that would allow what they held to be swiveled up and down. I really don't know what they were used for. Next to the supports were what might be some 3-inch shells. They might also be some type of rollers, but I didn't look too closely at them so as to be able to really tell what they were.

Also on the platform where lots of bottles from the Japanese, left here most likely during the battle for Tinian in World War II. In the picture below, you can see Mitch and Yoko coming out of the second cave.

A little ways from the two caves discussed above, I found a little stone wall, which led into a tunnel. I decided to crawl through the tunnel and everyone else followed me. It is amazing what you can get people to do when you are the leader. Below is a picture of Mitch in the tunnel. It was a fairly tight crawl.

Below is a picture of me, taken by Mitch, outside the tunnel taking a picture of her. A lot of pictures get taken on these hikes!

After the tunnel we came upon a huge stone wall. You can see me in the picture below standing next to the wall, getting ready to find my flashlight to explore the cave that is most likely behind it.

I was a little disappointed with the cave behind that large stone wall. It was fairly small with one tiny room carved out of the cliff in its rear. Most likely it could have held 20 soldiers during World War II, but it would have been very crowded. In the picture below are Stacy, Mitch and Yoko in the small cave behind the stone wall in the picture above.

As we walked along the cliff line, we kept finding stone walls and what looked like craved platforms made by the Japanese during World War II. Most were natural shelters in the cliff line, but a few had man-made additions. Below is one of these additions to the a natural shelter. This one was fairly small and may have held two people.

Besides being steep, we ended up in some places were we had to climb down a few cliffs. You can see one of these small cliffs that we climbed down in the video below.

When I was hiking with James, we discovered a large cave. We finally got to this large cave and found a lot of stuff around it and in it. Here is a wheel hub that is slowly be surrounded by a nunu tree, Ficus prolixa.

At the entrance to the cave are some strange pipes, about 6 feet long, that have a spiral along their outer edge and a pointed tip. They almost look like drills, but I really don't know what they are. If anyone does, please let me know.

Inside the cave are a bunch of bones. In the picture below is Yoko inside the entrance of the cave. By Yoko, in the picture below, is a femur bone form a cow (on the rock near her knee).

Below is a picture of a skeleton from a cow that got into the cave and died. You also can see roots that hang down form the roof of the cave. This area of Mt. Lasu was divided into cattle ranches in the 1990's and earlier. As we hiked, we would come upon old barbed wire fences that had not been maintained for a very long time. Most likely the cow that died in this cave wandered into it a long time ago.

Besides the skeleton, there were a lot of pipes and 3-inch rounds in the cave, which are visible in the picture below.

While hiking, I sometimes would leave the group to climb up to the cliff to see if there is anything interesting. Usually I am only gone for five or ten minutes. One time after I went exploring, as I got back, everyone was sitting down having a snack, as you can see in the picture below. I had been gone less then five minutes.
We continued on a litter farther along the cliff and found a few more stone walls, but not much else of interest. So, I decided it was time to turn around and head back to the shrine. We dropped down to a more flat area below the cliff line, where the hiking was a little easier. This area was mainly limestone forest, with some secondary forest intermixed with it. These forests also had a lot of small understory trees in some places. These understory trees were mainly gulos and paipai.

In some places, especially next to umumu trees, were strange saprophytic plants blooming. I really don't know what these plants are, but they spend most of their life living under the leaf litter, absorbing the breakdown products from the decaying leaves. The only time you see these plants is when they flower. In the picture below you can see a lot of these plants blooming.

Below is a close up of the flowers of the saprophyte plant. You can see the small white flowers that this plant produces.

Below is a picture of the largest umumu tree, Pisonia grandis, that I have ever seen. The umumu is the largest tree found in the limestone forest. This one had three main trunks and must have been 20 to 25 feet across.

Below is a picture of me next to the tree, pictured above, to give you an idea of the size of this tree's trunk.

As we walked back to the shrine, I found the old Japanese road (at least I think it was made by the Japanese) that goes up to the shrine. There is even an old Japanese toilet next to the road! I did take a picture of it, but it didn't come out too well, so I will not be posting it.

Once we got near the shrine, we left the road to walk below the cliff that is near it. We found an old crane near the road. I really don't know if the crane was used by the Japanese or Americas. A picture of crane is below.

Below the hill that held the old Japanese radar antenna may be the antenna itself. You can see some of this antenna in the picture below. It is hard to see the wire grid that was on the metal frame, but it is there. The mesh was about four inches square. Near the antenna was something that look like a gear and axial assembly, that can be seen in the bottom picture below, which may be part of the mechanism that turned it. There were also a lot of other metal parts laying around in this area.

After visiting the crane and radar antenna, it was a quick walk up to the shrine on the old road. At the top of the ridge, there was an old cattle guard. Below are Yoko and Mitch standing on the guard. That is why I really don't know when the road was built. Most likely it was an old Japanese road that was used by the Bar-K ranch. The Bar-K ranch was owned and operated by Ken Jones from Guam during the Trust Territory days. To learn about Ken Jones, follow this link to an article in Time Magazine (click to see article).

From the cattle guard, it was a quick walk back to the Shinto Shrine. One of things that the vines, weeds, and grass have not covered up at the shrine is the marker in the picture below. I really like the tortise shell design on the bottom of the marker. Now if I can get Mitch to tell me what the marker says. (In a comment to this posting, Mitch says the marker has written on it "Lasu Shinto Shine".)

Below are Mitch, Yoko, and me standing next to the marker in the picture above. It was not too bad of a hike and I am not wet for a change. Of course, this is the start of the dry season and the hikes should be dryer for the next few month. Maybe, it is time to start exploring caves.

I would like to thank Mitch for some of the pictures in this posting. As for the boonie bee count, it was none. We all lucked out, especially me. I walked right through a vine that contained a nest, disturbing the bees. Luckily, Yoko saw it and stopped. There was even a second nest right next to the first one. I think those were the only nests we saw on this hike.

The next hike will be on December 29th, Saturday. We will drive into the first atomic bomb assembly building. From there we will hike north through secondary forest looking for the two other assembly buildings. Afterwards, we may visit Lamlam Beach, one of the American invasion beaches during World War II. This should be a fairly easy hike over level terrain. We will meet at 8 AM at Grace Christian School as always.

Everyone is welcome on these hikes.
Please feel free to join us.


Mitch said...

The marker says "Lasu Shinto shrine".

The Hiker said...

Thank you very much Mitch. I had always wondered what that marker said.