Monday, January 28, 2008

Mt. Lasu Climb - January 26, 2008

On January 26th, four of us set off to climb Mt. Lasu on Tinian. This has always been something that I have wanted to do. In my youth, I once climbed over 50 peaks in the Sierra Nevada mountains, in California, during one summer. I have also climbed Mt. Lamlam on Guam, its highest point. So, I also wanted to climb a mountain (okay, its really a plateau) on Tinian.

Before we started the hike, I had to make a quick detour to my house. I had forgotten my GPS unit and did not want to go on this hike without it. We would be traveling into unknown areas and it is easy to get disoriented in the jungle.

We started at the Japanese Defensive Caves site that is between Long Beach and the circle on Broadway, just before North Field. These caves were once a tourist site, but it is no longer maintained. The caves are at the base of the bottom cliff of Mt. Laso, which is about 75 to 100 feet high. In the picture are Erica and Judy standing in the bamboo grove that is next to the caves.

The cliff at the Japanese Defensive Caves is fairly steep and only about 20 or 30 feet high at this point. There are many ramps that can be followed to the top. In the picture below, Mitch is starting the climb up the cliff near the defensive cave site.

As we got above the first cliff, there was a short flat area, still with a slope, where we found a Japanese stone wall from World War II, in the picture below. At the end of the wall was an opening to a small cave that sloped down to a larger room. The slope was very steep with a narrow opening, additionally with a 6 or 7 foot drop at the end of the slope. I decided not to go down the slope, since I saw the larger room had an opening at its other end.

Below is the opening to the larger room of the cave discussed above. If you look carefully, you can see that a wall was built on the upslope side of the cave's entrance. This opening provided an easy climb down into the larger room of this cave complex.

Below is a picture of Mitch entering the larger room of the cave. Behind her, you can see the wall that is part of the cave's entrance.

There were not a lot of artifacts in this cave. Below is a picture of what we found in the larger room of this cave complex. All we found were the remains of a metal can, two aluminum pans, part of a rice bowl and some glass bottles.
Outside the cave was a pick head. Many of the defensive caves on Tinian were either completely dug, or enlarged, by the Japanese during World War II.

In the picture below are Mitch, Erica, and Judy standing just to the north of the cave that we had just finished exploring, with Judy taking a picture of me taking a picture of her. From here we walked around some rocks and headed up the slope to the continuation of the cliff we were climbing.

In the picture below, we started to climb the lower cliff again, just past the cave mentioned above. This cliff was the tallest and hardest to get up on the hike.
The climb up the cliff continues.

Finally, we near the top of the first cliff.

At the top of the cliff was a forest that was dominated by endemic understory trees, paipai and gulos. A short distance from the cliff's edge, the forest changed quickly into tangantangan secondary forest. One of the common plants in this secondary forest is donne sali, Capsicum frutescens. This variety of hot pepper is related to the Thai Bird's Eye Pepper, and is very hot.
I, and the other hikers, collect a few of the peppers as we hike. I usually place the picked peppers in my pants pocket and take them out when I get home. On this trip, because of the length of time we were out, the peppers in my pocket started to burn my leg. I had to get them out fast! I placed them in my waterproof box which I carry with me. When I got home, I emptied out the peppers and took the other items out of the box.

One of the other items in the box, with the peppers, was a Kit Kat candy bar. I placed it in the refrigerator, since it had melted on the hike. Later, my daughter found the candy bar and tried to rip the wrapper open with her teeth. You should have seen her face and heard her when her lips touched the wrapper. The peppers had deposited juice on the wrapper. The candy inside the wrapper was fine, and my daughter did enjoy it once she got the taste of the peppers out of her mouth.

As I lead the hike, I usually clear the path for the other hikers. This mainly consists of cutting vines, small branches and clearing spider webs. Sometimes I will try to tackle larger branches, especially if they are dead. Most dead branches are usually rotten, and one or two whacks with my machete will cause them to break.

So, I started to work on the branch pictured below. After 5 or so hits with the machete, I was about to give up, but Judy challenged me. Another ten blows with the machete, I was through the branch and had also cut the vines near the branch. After I walked past the the cut branch, the other hikers noticed a large boonie bee nest that had been on one of the vines I had just finished cutting. The nest is in the yellow circle in the picture below. The rest of the hikers made a wide circle around this nest. Luckily no one got stung here.

There were many large open areas on the terrace between the upper and lower cliff of Mt. Lasu. Most likely these are the remains of cattle pastures. I hate to walk in the open areas because of the difficulty of getting past the weeds, grasses and vines; much more difficult walking than in the forest. Also there are a lot of plants with spines, like lantana (Lantana camara) and pakao (e.g. Minmosa invisa). I believe the Chamorro word "pakao" is applied to any woody vine that has spines, but the Chamorro-English Dictionary, by Topping, Ogo, and Dungca, says it applies to the plant Caesalpinia major.

In the picture below are Mitch, Erica and Judy in one of the open fields, with the forest that we had just come out of in the background.

The following picture shows us in the same open field as above, but heading toward the upper cliff of Mt. Lasu, which can be seen on the middle left side of this picture.

In the picture below is the upper cliff of Mt. Lasu, from the open area pictured above. If you look at the dip in the middle of the cliff, there are flame trees, Delonix regia, which are near the Shinto shrine at the top of Mt. Lasu.
As we left the open area, and after a short walk through the secondary forest, we soon were in limestone forest near the upper cliff. One of the things, which I noticed near our path, was a piece of metal sticking out of the ground with a shinny aluminum thing on top of it (see the picture below). I think it was a bomb, but I am not sure and I did not play around with it.

Finally we got to the cliff. I thought we might still have to climb it, since my GPS said we had another 150 to 200 feet to go to get to a cave that is near the base of the top cliff of Mt. Lasu. I told every one to take a rest while I explored, to try to find out where we where. I headed north along the cliff and happened to notice a foxhole that I sort of remembered from previous hikes. I took a look at my GPS and it now said I was about 70 feet from the cave that I wanted to go to. I was very surprised and happy at the same time. It meant that we didn't have to climb the cliff and I knew exactly where we where.

I quickly walked back to the rest of the hikers and told them the good news. As we walked to the cave which I wanted to show them, we passed a large shell that you can see in the picture below with Mitch standing next to it.

Finally we made it to the first cave I wanted to show the hikers. I had marked this cave on a previous hike to this area with my GPS. Below is a picture of all the hikers on this hike, Erica, Mitch, Judy, and me in front.

You can not clearly see it in the picture above, but the picture below shows why I wanted to go to this cave. It is full of 3-inch Japanese shells from World War II. You rarely find this many shells in a cave. I encouraged everyone to NOT enter this cave. You can't predict what these old explosives will do.
A little ways from the shell cave is the "window" cave. This was the second cave I wanted to show the rest of the hikers. This cave has three windows in it. If you look carefully in the picture below, I have circled two of the windows. The window on the right has nunu (banyan) roots growing across it.

The third window is built into a wall that blocks the large opening to this cave. It can be seen behind the vines and branches in the picture below.

After a little clearing of the undergrowth, it is a lot easier to the see the window in the picture below, with Erica looking out of it. Above the window is a board that is used as a support for the rocks cemented above it.

The picture below is a view of the wall, with the window in it, from inside the cave.

The picture below shows the middle window (the one covered by nunu roots) from the same point where I took the picture of the wall with the window in it.

The video below give a 360 degree view of the window cave.

After visiting these two caves, we headed south along the cliff, past where we had rested. I wanted to find the old road that led to the shine at the top of Mt. Lasu (see the December 22, 2007, hike). As we hiked towards the road, we passed the remains of the old Japanese radar antenna from World War II, which was near the Shinto shrine on Mt. Lasu. Part of the remains can be seen in the picture below.

The picture below shows some of the metal plates that held the wire mesh in place on the radar antenna.

Below are some insulators that were found with the Japanese radar antenna remains. They are about 8 to 10 inches long.

Next to the road that leads to the shrine is an old crane. In the picture below, I am sitting next to it, most likely checking on our position with the GPS.

At the top of the old road is a cattle guard, see the picture below. It looks like it is made up of old railroad rails. The Japanese had an extensive train system for moving sugar cane around the island before World War II.

A short hike from the cattle guard was the Mt. Lasu Shinto Shrine. Someone had cleared the area a little since my trip here in December to this area. In the picture below is the foundation for where the house for the gods would have stood.

The picture below shows the view from just behind the shrine. This is the area that we had just walked through, with the open fields and tangantangan secondary forest.

Just to the north of where the picture above was taken is a small man-made hill. This hill is the highest point on Mt. Lasu. It was the base for the radar antenna that was previously discussed in this posting. The picture shows all of us on the the top of this hill, and the highest point on Mt. Lasu.

On top of the radar antenna's hill is a round cement structure. It is hard to see in the picture below, but Judy is standing on the edge of it.

Laying against the west side of the radar antenna hill is the base plate for the antenna, which has the electric motor used to turn it. In the picture below, Judy stands next to the base plate.

Since Judy said she had not been to this shrine before, I took her to the Japanese sign for this Shinto shrine. It is almost mandatory that one has their picture taken next to this sign when visiting this site.

After visiting the shrine, it was time to head back to my truck at the Japanese Defensive Caves. We had to cross a lot of open fields to get back, more than we had on the way up. There was one field I refused to cross because there were too many tall lantana plants in it. I hate lantana. Below is a video of the upper cliff line of Mt. Lasu that I took from one of those open fields.

As we neared the lower cliff, I became a little worried because I knew it was a hard cliff to find a way up or down on. At the edge of the cliff, I told everyone to take a rest stop while I looked for a way down. I walked to the edge of the cliff to look for a way down, but it must have been over 50 feet straight down and not climbable.

Then I remembered that my GPS makes what are called tracks; this is an electronic trail that the GPS creates. About every minute or so, the GPS stores a reading of its current location. I took a look at our track on the climb up to the top of Mt. Lasu and saw that we were about 150 feet north of our previous trail. I decided to try to get back to this trail since it had been possible to climb the cliff at that point.

I went back to the group and we started to use the GPS to find our old trail. As I walked toward the old trail, I kept angling toward the cliff and looking for a way down. About 40 feet form the path which we had taken up the cliff, I thought I saw an easier way down. I took a quick look at this new way down the cliff and decided to give it a try. It proved to be a lot easier to get down the cliff at this point than the one we had used to get up the cliff.

I kept following the path of lease resistance down the cliff, until we had gotten to the flat area below the bottom cliff of Mt. Lasu. We ended up a little bit north of the truck in a bamboo grove. Mitch and Judy are in the middle of the grove in the picture below.

As we walked in the bamboo grove, we came upon a large cement structure. This structure may have some connection with the old Japanese railroad used to transport sugar cane.

Just above the cement structure, pictured above, are steps that led up the cliff to more Japanese caves. Erica, in the picture below is at the top of the steps, near a Japanese wall from World War II.

The picture below is taken from inside of one of the caves, towards its entrance, with Judy's legs just visible in the entrance.

The picture below shows Erica, Mitch, and Judy behind the stone wall that protected the openings to the various caves in this area.

A short walk from the caves, we were back to where we had started.

This hike took a little longer than I thought it would. We didn't get back to the truck until 2:25 PM. After this long hike we all were fairly tried and happy to get back to town.

I also learned that there are only two cliffs from the Japanese Defensive Caves to the top of Mt. Lasu. I had been told that there were three cliffs, but we never saw the third one. Either we missed it or it does not exist.

As for the boonie bee count, it was two on this hike. I got stung twice at the same time, and Mitch got stung two different times. After awhile you start to get used to the stings, but they still hurt and are a surprise when they happen.

Next week's hike will be to the latte site at Long Beach. The hikers on this trip have not been to this site and requested I take them there. As always, we will meet at 8 AM at Grace Christian School. See you all there.

Everyone Is Welcome To Join In On These Hikes.

1 comment:

Fish Out of Water said...

Loved reading this and the other blog posts on the hiking. My late father served on Tinian as a radar operator and in the early 90's, when I was living in Japan, I took him back. Unfortunately the roads were bad and we only had a used Nissan to get around the island with. He really wanted to go back to Marpo wells, where he was stationed.