This is Eric Knudsen's(1872-1957) account of three treks to Waialeale about a century ago. He was a Kauai rancher, legislator, lawyer, Harvard grad., etc.
Ka Awa Ko
The road leading to the top of Mount Waialeale is a long and difficult one, generally a slippery and rutted one as well. It begins at Waimea and winds up and up until you reach the four-thousand-foot level, but then on it heads up against the northeast trade winds and rises gradually until the five-thousand-foot summit is reached.
One day, I decided to ride up to visit my cousin, Francis Gay, who was staying at his summer camp (Kaholuamano probably- WM)far up the road to Waialeale. When I arrived, I discovered he had company; his brother-in-law, Charley, was staying with him. After my arrival, we spent a lot of time hunting wild cattle and had a great time.
When I had been there several days, Charley suggested one morning that we make the trip to the top of Mount Waialeale. I was enthusiastic and anxious to start as soon as possible. Only my cousin seemed lacking in enthusiasm. Finally he said he guessed he wouldn't go, for he had been to the summit about ten years before, and once was enough for him. However, he did not dampen our spirits and we decided to the make the trip anyway, taking two of the native boys along as guides. Their names were Kualo and Malamaiki. These fine Hawaiian boys had made the trip with my cousin before and knew the hazards along the way. We took our blankets and supplies needed for a three-day trip and started off … Two hours' ride from camp and we were in a dreary belt of forest. On one side of the trail was the deep gorge of Kahana; on the other, shallow gulches and dying trees and logs, and swamps full of long, coarse grass and ferns.
We … soon found the trail toward Waialeale … It was peaceful, but gray and drear. The ridge we traveled was narrow and we moved slowly. On one side was the deep valley dropping away several thousand feet to the river that flowed through it. On the left was swampy, undulating country full of large trees, dead logs, and tall grass.
… Kualo, our guide, led on. We rode a mile or so further into the mountains and then had to tie the horses, as the ground had become too soft and boggy for them. We found a little dry rise and there we left them, after we had gathered armfuls of grass for them to eat and given each one an affection pat or two. Shouldering our packs, we entered a dismal, swampy area. The trail that had been blazed by my cousin and the Hawaiian boys ten years before was almost overgrown with moss. Kualo had great difficulty in following it. Every few minutes we would lose it. Then I would stand by the last blaze and send the men ahead to find the next one. The trail would then have to be cut open before we could proceed.
It took a long time, but at last we came into a little valley. The bottom of the valley was open, but was lined on both sides with tall lehua and lapalapa trees that shut out the light. The day was overcast and although it was not raining, the place was gloomy and dismal, and I began to think we were in the wrong valley. It was most depressing. My pack was beginning to feel heavy and we had had four long hours of tramping and cutting. It seemed as if we were getting nowhere.
Kualo, however, kept slashing away through the tall ferns and suddenly Malamaiki shouted, "There it is." And sure enough, up on a slope to our left, cut into a cliff, we spied the cave(Keaku Cave).
Everything was all right again. We had reached our camp site. We could sleep in a dry cave, thank goodness. And cook our meals in comfort. We dashed through the ferns, climbed the slope and threw down our packs. Our troubles for that day were over at last!
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, we were off for the top of Waialeale. The day was clear. However, Malamaiki rolled up his big raincoat and put it on his shoulder. Kualo said, "What for you take that heavy pack? No more rain today. Two hours up, one and a half hours back, more better leave it in the cave.
But Malamaiki replied, "That's all right, Kualo, but everyone say Waialeale number one wet place. I no like get wet."
We followed the river to a waterfall, climbed up, and were soon on the slope leading to the top. The trail was more open and required little cutting, and after a while we came out into open country and could see the top of the range above. About half-way up the trail, we passed two odd-looking columns of bright red clay. They were about eight feet tall and looked as if they did not belong there, but as though someone had built them. How had they come there? I pondered the question as we passed them. There were a strange sight in that isolated spot! On we went, down into a small valley, on to its end, and then we were right at the brink of the five-thousand foot cliff. Around one small hill, and there lay the little lake that is always rippling with the wind, Waialeale. It looked cold and lonely. Now we were on top of the famed rain mountain. It was clear on top, but to the east we could see nothing below but dense clouds.
I had had enough. I was ready to start back, but Kualo said, "Come, you haven't seen all. You must see Ka Awa Ko."
He led me to the end of the lake, and there, cut into a small lava mound, he pointed out a perfect little altar. "This altar is dedicated to Ku, the God of War," he said. "Those who come here must lay a sacrifice or offer to Ku to keep him in a good humor, for if he gets angry with you, he can make things very bad."
I stood looking at this ancient altar, built by whom and how long ago who could tell? How many people had placed offerings on it, I could only guess. That it was dedicated to Ku, the god of war, was most appropriate. It certainly was a battle to reach the place, and in the olden days when the natives traveled wearing only a mako, it must have been an ordeal to face the rain and cold of that dreary spot. Kualo passed his hand over the altar. "There is nothing on it," he said. "Sometimes visitors leave coins as offerings."
"I am sorry," I said. "But I have no coins with me, in fact, nothing that I could leave as an offering."
"Then let's get going, Kualo answered. "It looks black."
And calling to the others, we started back. And that remark must have made Ku, the god of war, mad. Suddenly clouds began pouring in from every side, swirling and spinning around us. Everything was blotted out; we could hardly see ten feet in any direction, and we drifted before the roaring wind, "You are going too far to the right," I yelled at my guides. "Go to the left!" but they insisted they were right. I stopped. Charley waited with me in a little hollow. And then the rains came! Malamaiki opened his big raincoat, and he and I took shelter together. Charley refused to join us. "I like it," he called, laughing.
But harder and harder came the rain. It was a real cloudburst, and soon I saw Charley begin to shake. We pulled him in with us and warmed him. I kept looking to the left. Suddenly a rift came in the fog and, for a moment, I saw the small valley and the ridge on the opposite side, and the two red clay pillars. I pointed my hand at them, and they vanished. "Hold your hand like I did," I told one of the boys. "And answer me when I yell."
And I ran into the fog and rain. It was like trying to run in a blacked-out room. But I finally found the clay columns and our footprints in the soft earth full of water. I yelled, and was answered. Soon all of us were together once more, with the exception of Kualo. I called again. A faint answer came, the Kualo's voice in the distance, saying, "What's the trouble?"
"No trouble," we replied. "Come. This is the way out."
"Impossible," came the answer. "The road is somewhere over here."
"All right," I yelled back, "but we are by the two red clay pillars, and here are our tracks. We are going back to the cave. If you want to stay up here all day, that's up to you. We are off. I will wait three minutes and then go."
"Wait! Wait!" answered Kualo. "Perhaps you are right." I waited, and soon he appeared like an apparition through the fog.
"Ta hu hu?" he asked. "How did you find it? Let's run!" We ran down the ridge and through the woods. The stream was a roaring torrent. We jumped into the basin below the waterfall, scrambled out, and didn't stop running until we were safely back in the cave.
The return to camp was easy the next day. I thought I would never try Waialeale again. Now I understood why my cousin had refused to go with us. But how often we change our minds. Some years later, a young man named Pickup asked to go with him, as he had been sent to read the rainfall in the new rain gauge (circa 1911 -- WM) that had recently been placed atop Mount Waialeale. He was such a pleasant fellow that I consented, and the two of us went up.
Remembering about Ku, the god of war, and his altar named Ka Awa Ko, I selected an offering I thought might please the god. Never having bought a gift for a war god before, I was a bit uncertain, but as I bought some smoking tobacco, I seemed to know at once what would please him -- a little red tin of Prince Albert. Just the thing. I picked it up and put it in my pack.
When we reached the top of the mountain, thick fog was blowing over it. We had a little difficulty locating the rain gauge, but eventually found it.
"Over five hundred inches," said Pickup. "Not bad for eight months." Then I showed him the little lake and introduced him to Ka Awa Ko, the little altar dedicated to Ku.
"Ku," I said, "great god of war, I am Elika, son of Kanuka, Accept this little tin; it contains a very delicious smoking tobacco. I know you will enjoy it. Mai hu hu oe iao."
"What are you saying?" Pickup asked.
"Silence," I whispered. "I am asking Ku to be good to me the next time I come here, and not to be angry with me!"
Pickup laughed. "You heathen," he said, and we left the spot and ran back to our camp in the cave.
A few years later, I made the hazardous trip again with a party. The weather was beautiful. Not a cloud in the sky; the air was soft and cool. On the open ridges we got a wonderful view -- huge white rocks I had never seen before sparkled on the ridge. It was glorious and I took the to visit Ka Awa Ko. There was the altar, but my tin of tobacco was gone. Ku had come and taken it away. I told my story of the offering, then stood by the altar and thanked Ku for his favors. It was clear and beautiful in all directions. We could see the rim of Waimea Canyon and the old volcanic cone of Puka Pele, while out in the ocean, far, far below, like sparking gems lay the three island: Niihau, Lehua and Kauai.
Ku was good to me. So, my friends, if you to decided to take a trip some day to the top of Waialeale, carry a small offering with you, and place it reverently on the ancient altar of Ka Awa Ko, sacred to Ku, the ancient Hawaiian god of war.