Chapter 11

The Lay of the Land

 

A Walk on Christian's Cave Trail    8/7/82

After lunch on Sabbath we drove up to Pulau (the school property), and then walked down the Christian's Cave trail. The trail is strewn, this time of year, with all sorts of debrisfallen limbs, coconuts and fronds, prickly pandanas leaves, etc.and the floor of the trail is squishy with wet muck. We walked through the forest, and underneath the overhanging rock that sits beside the trail. This boulder is hugeabout 75 ft. long, by 25 ft high, by 30-35 ft. wide. It seems to have fallen from the cliff face under Christian's cave some centuries ago, but now provides a cave-like shelter under the eastern edge about 10x25x10 ft. high.

We continued along the trail, even though it was overgrown in many places and barely passible, until we reached the steep rock hillside that ascends Gannet Peak, sometimes known as "the Goat House" because so many goats live there.

To reach Christian's Cave we have to climb the steep rockabout 30 degree tiltto rise to an elevation of about 500ft. above the trail. We did not climb today because the wind was so high it would have been difficult to keep our balance.

Betty Christian describes the rest of the walk: 10/22/02

"From the base of the cliff it is a very steep climb among areas of grass, shrub, and bare patches of sloping rock where you have to wind your way, seeking for the best route up to the cave. Some people hug the base of the cliff as much as possible. Others who do not mind heights, go around the edge of the cliff and up to the entrance. The trek is not something you should attempt on a windy day!

"When you reach the top of the slope, you then have to make your way down a few crude steps cut in the cliff, and then along a narrow ledge to climb even further up to the entrance of the cave.

"A lot of people don't go this far. There is nothing on the left to stop you from falling 100ft or so to the bottom if you slip going up this narrow path. But the view from the cave is breath-taking.

"The cave is only a shallow scoop in the cliff, quite high, and with a relatively flat floor. Some people have gone up there to spend the night, and I remember going up for picnics as a child. We have also had youth meetings up there in years gone by."

 

Gannet Ridge   Aug 14, 1982

Martha and I decided to go for a hike out Gannet Ridge. We took both bikes and picked up Tom's four girls. I took three of themRae, Sheri, and Darleneand Martha took Jacqui and Joel with her. Gannet Ridge is the next to tallest peak on Pitcairn, rising 1000 feet out of the sea on the north west corner of the island. The road to Tedside passes through a gap near that point.

We drove our bikes to the gap, parked them, and climbed the steep wash/cliff at the side of the road to get up to the trail. It was about an eight foot climb, and Martha had a little trouble with it.

The beginning of the trail leads through 20-30 feet of dense underbrush, and then over a short path across a steep hillside. This opens onto the ridgewhich varies in width from about two feet to 10 feet, with a drop-off on both sides in most places. I didn't find it scary, but Martha admitted later that she did. In some places it was a shear drop of 25-30 ft., which then would have rolled a person down another dozen feet to the edge of a cliff 200-300 ft. high. A slip could have been fatal. The other side usually was covered with dense underbrush, but was just as steep and would have occasioned some nasty scratches and probably broken bones if the person who fell that way survived.

The trail on top of the ridge couldn't be more than a quarter-mile, but the going was slow because of the children with us, and because we felt it the better part of valor to be careful. It was not a level walk either, as the trail passed over boulders, and climbed up and down rock facesnone of the climbs difficult or more dangerous than any of the rest of the trail, but still time-consuming.

At the end of the trail we found a wash-out about 20 ft. across and It descended at a steep, but not impossible angle for about 50 ft. It leveled out near the bottom, giving a feeling of safetyat last. We stopped here for a while to enjoy the view.

From this vantage point, we could see all of Adamstown, which spread out before us in bold relief. We took several pictures of the place, and enjoyed talking about "Whose house is this or that." We could see the ocean on all sides of us, except for High Pointa rise about 3/4 mile south of us which rises to an altitude of 1100 ft.

A Walk Down Long Ridge    8/28/82

After church Betty and Martha talked about going for a walk in the afternoon. We decided that we would walk down Long Ridge on Tedside. So after lunch we took both bikes (Honda 90 trail bike and Honda 200 ATC) and went to Tom's house.

Tom decided not to go, so we divided the kids on three bikes5 kids and 3 adults on the 3 bikes. The ground was still a little muddy in places, but I made it up on the "90" with little trouble. At one point I discovered that 2nd gear was not sufficient, so I quickly shifted back into 1st. When I lifted the clutch, the bike lurched and the front wheel lifted about a foot off the ground. It shook Sheri up  a bit, but I didn't lose her. Martha had a similar problem, and nearly dumped Jacqui off our ATC!

We all finally made it safely up to New Road where the road cuts through the crest of Gannet's Ridge and goes down to Tedside. We parked our bikes and walked the rest of the way on foot.

The trail leads through some low brush and out Long Ridge. From the beginning it descends at an alarming rate. For a while we did more climbing down the rocks than we did walking, but the views were terrific. We took 26-35mm and 10 Polaroid shots during the afternoon.

After we had descended the second steep hill the going was not as difficult. We saw another party of eight people walking out Gannet's Ridge like we did two weeks ago, and they hollered at us and waved. The terrain drops off steeply on both sides of the ridge, and sometimes the trail was only 3-4 ft. wide, so we had to watch our step. Joel didn't seem to have any fear, but just stayed with the kids.

When we reached the end of Long Ridge, we climbed down the precipitous side. I had to help Martha almost every step of the way when we were climbing either down or up steep places. She would either hang onto my shoulder, my belt, or my hand.

The trail led along the edge of a cliff that dropped off about 200 ft. into the ocean―for part of the way a rock shelf lay at the bottom. We tried to stay away from the edge so we wouldn't accidently stumble into the void.

At the Western Harbor which the cliff overlooked, we stopped and enjoyed the view as we munched on oranges and drank water. I climbed down the cliff a ways and walked over to a big rock so that Martha could get me in one of the pictures. There is a spring above this cliff and fresh water was running over the edge, forming a small dripping water falls and a fresh water pool below. Betty told us that the people sometimes come here to swim so they can shower in fresh water afterwards.

Below the cliff was a ledge of black rock about 100 ft. long and 25-30 widevery flat. It had a couple of pools in it, and ended quite abruptly in a 2 ft. drop into the ocean on the south side. The sea was quite boisterous today, and would come up onto the ledge. The water would run off the edge in a steady waterfallvery beautiful. I also enjoyed watching it after most of the water was drained off. A new wave would sweep over the rock in a thin, foamy layer creating an ever-moving advancing ark across the surface of the black rock. Breathtaking! The sun was low in the west, and it made shimmering patters on the ripples of the water.

We decided to climb up the valley instead of going back up the ridge. It was a steep climb through low brush and over rocks. Martha was tiring (I was surprised that she had made it this far without showing more strain.) We stopped frequently for her to rest.

We rested at one place in a banana grove where large volcanic rocks lay all around. Martha sat on one of them. We saw there a beautiful bunch of Sydney bananas that were almost ready to ripen, but we left them because it was Sabbath.

Tom met us before we reached the Tedside road. He had come to see how we were doing and had driven his ATC down to the point where we would come out on the roadmuch to Martha's relief!

Turpin―a giant sea turtle that lives on the islandwas in a banana grove near the road, and the children had fun sitting on his arched back. When they tried to feed him bread though, he hissed at them. Joel was afraid at first, but finally allowed Jacqui to carry him over to the turtle and have his picture taken astride it.

We climbed the Tedside road about 200 ft., and then stopped for supper. Betty had brought buns and vegetarian patties. At one time during the meal Tom said, "Aren't you sorry you came to Pitcairn?" I answered, "No, we love it here."

 

Tautama Valley   (Sunday 9/19/82)

While hunting for wood to use on the New Boat (described elsewhere), I went with the men down into Tautama Valley. We rode the tractor out to the ridge, parked it and walked to the edge. I had only worn a T-shirt, and the wind was brisk and chilledI had to hold onto my cap in order to keep it from blowing away. I had a small basket, with some fruit and soft drink in it, and my 35mm camera.

Steve started right down the hill toward the valley about 500-700 ft. below us. Jacqui, Ron, and Trent followed close behind. I took a picture of the valley, and then followed. Most of the men were going to wait up top until Steve determined if any Burau trees were in the valley.

Tautama is quit isolated from the rest of the island, and the Pitcairners seldom go there any more. In fact Jacqui11 years oldhad never been down.

The going was rough from the start. The hill was so steep, and the trail almost non-existant, that I had to dig the edge of my shoes into the soil, and look for outcrops of rocks, and plants that would give me some footing. I slipped only once, and that when the soil gave way under my weight. I was never scared. I was constantly scanning the valley below for picture angles, and stopped several times to shoot.

Since I was going slowly, and stopping to take pictures, the rest of the party got way ahead of me. In fact, by the time I reached the valley floor, I couldn't see or hear them anywhere―they had disappeared into the dense foliage. I wandered around, looking for, and shooting some of the fantastic scenery―perpendicular cliffs rising 500 ft. right out of the breakers, multicolored foliage, etc.

After I had taken the pictures I wanted, I began to look for the others. I was stopped several times by the dense Lantana brushso thick you couldn't comfortably walk through it. I kept ducking under and around trees and low limbs. I soon found myself in a jumble of twisted, interconnecting tree limbs. I have never seen such a place beforea literal obstacle course, or a maze that takes considerable concentration to find one's way through it. And yet I could see for quite some distance. I began to hear voices ahead, and I steered toward them, finally finding the others.

Steve was not with them, but soon came from over the hill. He told me that just ahead was a place where Polynesians had once manufactured stone implements. I went over the hill to find it.

I found a grove of large trees, spaced widely apart, providing a large shaded place about half the size of a football field. It would make a great outdoor amphitheater, or camping place. I was enamored with the large treestwisted, old. I took several pictures, even though the light was at a premium.

At the edge of the area grew a grove of banana trees, and I wandered among them for several minutes. I found a small bunch of tiny bananas that were ripe, and cut down the tree with my knife, retrieving about a dozen bananas that would be two-bite sized. I began eating them, as it was about lunch time.

[Banana trees only bear one crop and then die. From their roots comes a "baby" banana tree that will grow and produce another bunch the following year. But it takes them longer if the old tree still stands. So when harvesting bananas the islanders cut the tree down.]

As I emerged from the banana groveback into the big tree groveI began looking down at the ground. Chips of stone were everywhereevidence enough that the natives had indeed been working in this area. I went back toward the place where the others were cutting trees and, while looking down, I found a stone adze that was not polished, but had been chipped to shape. Later Dean and Trent went back with me to see the place.

The island men cut several trees and shaped the ribs on the site, since they had to be carried on their shoulders up the steep trail out of the valley. While we were working down in the valley, a crew worked topside to make a trail for us so it wouldn't be so hard to get out of the valley.

When we came up we found that the foot-wide trail made the going much easier. The crew had cut steps into the trail where it was very steep, but the steps were too high to be walked easily. We made it up, though with frequent rest stops.

 

Spectacular Waterworks Display at St. Paul's   9/20/82

I walked down to Niger's Edge [pronounced NY-jer; in front of the Mission] and looked at the ocean. I saw that large swells were coming from the south and sweeping in on us from the north after swinging around the ends of the island. They were hitting the rocks of Down Isaacs [the rock ledge below Niger's Edger] with such force as to shake the ground. I walked down the pathway to the second switch-back so I could get a better look.

When I got back to the house, I asked Joel if he wanted to go with me for a ride . . . . We picked up my jacket at the tractor shed and went down St. Paul's. As we came abreast of Down Rope, we saw the huge breakers rolling in, and we stopped to enjoy the view.

"We went on to St. Paul's, and parked our ATC. I walked to the edge overlooking the pinnacles at St. Paul's. The heavy swells were doing fantastic things with the rocks, sending swirls of flashing spray up to 75 feet into the air, and dashing it in all directions at once. there is no other way to describe it than to compare it with a fourth of July fireworks' starburst. I tried to capture it on film, and yet I know the picture will not do the thing justice. There is just no way to show, or to photograph, a spray of water that would shower down on an area the size of a foot-ball field!"

 

A Gully by the Hill of Difficulty 9/20/82

We went down the hill to a place where a culvert allows water to pass under the road called the Hill of Difficulty.

We parked there, and climbed up the gully that comes out at that pointup toward Shiplanding Point.

The gully is filled with rocks, twisted trees (similar to at Tautama yesterday), pandanas with dead pandanas leaves all over the floor of the gully. It was tough going, being quite steep, and like an obstacle course. We climbed about 100 yards before we came to a sheer cliff, going up about 500 feet. It was sandstone-soft, and sculptured by the wind and rain. Very beautiful. The trees stood back from the face about 10-12 feet, and the light was soft. The overall impression I got was one of tranquility. . . .

 

Downrope Adventure

The day dawned bright, clear, and sunnya perfect day in every way. Joel and I decided to go for a ride on our Honda 200ATC. We passed the generator sheds at the Edge and rode up Jim's Grounda steep road that extends east from Main "Street." At the top of the hill we turned left onto St. Paul's Road that led down toward the easternmost point of the island.

After about half a mile, the road descended sharply for a ways and then leveled off. We soon drew up to the crest overlooking Downrope, lying at this point about 200 feet below us. Downrope received its name from the fact that in the early days the only way to reach the bottom was by climbing down a ropehand over hand.

"Would you like to go down," I asked.

"Yes," returned Joel.

We'd never before been down to the seashore at that point. I didn't realize the implications of taking such a trek alonewith a four-year-old in tow.

The beginning of the trail proved deceptive. It slanted away from the road at a respectable angle, giving promise of being a somewhat passable trackmore or less like the path at Down Isaacs in front of the Mission House. But before we'd gone far the good "trail" became a steeply descending foot-wide ledge carved into the side of the cliff, with nothing below but . . . plenty of air and . . . rocks. Clearly we'd taken on a dangerous assignment. I'm often slow on the uptake, so I didn't feel the danger of the steep "path" at once.

The descent became even more treacherous, and at times seemed almost vertical. We inched our way along narrow ledges and gingerly used hand-cut steps that someone had thoughtfully chiseled into the bluff. I went first and helped Joel along behind me. By the time we realized our danger, we had descended about halfway down the precipice, and the path had evolved into an . . . an exercise in cliff hanging. By this time we had abandoned all reason: we kept going.

Before we left our ATC I had wrapped a can of soda in a cloth and tied it around my waist so we'd have something to drink when we reached the beach. But as we neared the bottom of the cliff, the can broke loose and tumbled down the steep incline to the bottom, landing among the rocks.

Why didn't it burst? I wondered.

The trail leveled out before we reached the sand and I started to sit down for a restand to recover from fright.

"Get the soda, Daddy," Joel pleaded:

No rest now, I mused as I clamored over the rocks to fetch the can. It had sustained a great deal of damage, but remained intact. We sat on a rock and enjoyed our soft drink before we continued.

We stood on a C-shaped stretch of sandthe only sandy beach on Pitcairn. While Joel waded in the shallows at the water's edge I surveyed our surroundings.

Beautiful, I breathed.

Behind the beach stood a few palm trees at the base of the rock wall. Then sheer cliffs rose to a maximum height of 600 feet above us. They'd been carved by wind and rain for hundreds of years, and the eerie shapes on their surfaces seemed exaggerated by the shadows of the sun's angled rays. Magnificent!

Joel and I scouted the beach for about 45 minutes. We climbed over the rocks at the far end, and examined ancient cliff-writings of pre-historic islanders. Scholars and anthropologists come from around the world to see these Polynesian hieroglyphics. We found several black, glass-like pieces of rockscalled obsidianand a number of kinds of shells. The two halves of one small bi-valve were still hinged togetherin perfect condition.

Alas, the lowering sun signaled the time to return home.

Pandanas palm leaves littered the trail, and their edges were lined with little thorns.

"Daddy," complained Joel, "the prickles hurt. Carry me."

Joel, always went barefootedwearing what some laughingly refer to as his "emergency boots." He also felt tired, so I carried him on my back.

As we began to ascend the cliff, I shifted him around to the front. Looking up now I got a better view of the cliff we'd descended only an hour ago. The steps were cut about 12-15 inches apart, and with each rise we moved only about three inches forward. I would have felt much better if we'd had at least two other adults with us, and ropes connecting us in case of a misstep. But that luxury was denied us on this trek. This was no afternoon walk. Welcome to mountain climbing!

But we survived without guides or ropes, and once again stood upon the heights. When at last we reached our ATC, we slumped down against one of its wheels, and downed another soda.

"I can see now why they call it Downrope," I mumbled.

We'd discovered that, even today, the use of a safety rope would seem the only sane way to reach the beach below.

Chapter 12