Time: around 8:48 Samoan Time
Place:National Park in American Samoa
The Initial Ascent
The National park in American Samoa actually compromises of a couple different locations. There is the island of Ta’u, and well as a coral reef area in Ofu and Olosega and a large section of land on Tutuila, the main island. The one that I am on. BTW, American Samoa consists of 7 islands, just FYI.
Most of the park of the island consists of mountains, steep mountains with lots and lots of overgrowth. Almost rain forest like and very native. However they do have trails, errr I mean A trail in the park. It’s actually an access road (and I use road loosely) that is roughly 4 miles (that’s what the park ranger told me) to the top of Mount ‘Alava (1610ft/491m) which a couple of antennae are located for TV and radio. Also there is a dilapidated tram/pulley system up there.
The road hugs near the ridge of the mountain chain. Actually it’s on the northern section of the ridge so with the tall foliage, most of the trail is in the shade, at least in the morning time. I was very anxious to get to the top to take some scenic pictures, plus maybe investigate a newer, trail that went down the north face of the mountain toward the village of Vatia.
I have my camera and extra batteries. I have my trail running hip bag with a full 20oz of Gatorade, as well as one that I am carrying. I put my Room and Car keys in safe pockets (as not to loose them) in my shorts. I have my Knoxville Marathon Finisher’s cap which is coolmax and extremely light as well as vented and a roll of Starburst, in case I need some extra energy… they won’t melt like chocolate and there has been no sign of anything related to a PowerGel or Gu.
So I start off on the ascent to the summit. I am motivated and ready to stop to take pictures. My goal is to see a flying fox, but given the time of day, I do not think that I will get to see one. I’ve been on this part of the trail 2 years ago, so I know what to expect and cruise along until I see a great vista or a little creature roaming around.
I did manage to see a frog hanging out in the water and managed to capture a picture or two. He was not moving just because of me… I haven’t seen them yet, but will try to include it for your viewing please.
I can tell by the foot prints in the mud that there have been some hikers in the past few days. Their prints are a lot deeper in the mud than what I am making, so I know that they are not ahead of me. Since it had rained last weekend, I knew there were certain places that retained water and therefore had mud. Most of which I missed on the way up.
A rotted tree had fallen across the road/trail and I did my best to get the bulk of it out. By the looks of it, some termite-wood eating creature made mince meat out of it.
I finished the Gatorade that I was carrying about 3/4 of the way up. I didn’t want to leave it on the ground and thought that there might be a trashcan at the top. The ascent to the top was not that difficult, there were a couple of hills, but only one was something that would have been a steepness that I would not have seen in Knoxville.
I made it to the top of the mountain and stopped for a rest and to take pictures. Still feeling pretty good, I decided to look at the continuing trail that went down the other side of the mountain.
There was a Fale (Fah-Lay), which is a tribal open air hut, at the top of the mountain and could only imagine what kind of special meetings were held here. Or maybe this is where the Mother In Law stayed on her visit. I dunno.
Total Elapsed Time: 1 hr 35 minutes
The difference in the type of trail is instantaneously recognizable. Instead of a nice gradual (most of the time) 10ft trail, you are immediately at the top of a 8ft drop off. Your guide to help you down is a set of ladder (think fire safety ladders) with a 1″ rope with knots tied in it to help you down. The ladder is made of large sets made out of some plastic type material, it’s slippery when wet or when your shoes are muddy. The easiest way to get down is to scale down the hillside like Batman and Robin using the ladder rungs like stairs.
At first, the ladder/ropes are 8′ drop on a 50-60 degree vertical. Then as you scale down, the drops become 20-30 feet with a 80-90 vertical. I am still feeling pretty good. I have a 20oz of Gatorade left and I am now on new territory.
While you are still towards the top, part of the trail narrows to 2-3 feet wide with a drop off on either side. I wasn’t scared at first because it doesn’t seem that dangerous with all the foliage around, you don’t “see” the drop off. But then a little opening appears and you see that it’s about 100 feet or so to the ground that your body would end on. Of course there are plenty of trees that would help cushion your fall or knock you unconscious so it wouldn’t be a straight swan dive from a 100feet.
As the descent moves down a gently part of the ridge, the ladder/ropes become less and less. There are even some level areas that are rocky, but their level… YAY. There were a few White Terns that were flying pretty close to where I was and so I decided to squat down and try to capture them with the camera. Before I could get it out, I saw a Flying Fox! It glided right over where I was, I doubt that I would have caught it with it being blurry had I been ready, but I had seen one! It was pretty Big for a bat! But I try to get some pictures of the Terns. I can’t tell with my view finder if the pictures are turning out okay. I guess I should just trust technology.
The terrain changes as I go further down the mountain. The trail, which is well marked and cleared is easy to follow, there is no mistaking where you need to go. Sometimes the trail is very rocky, but nothing you have to climb over, then others are fairly soft with soil.
I am about 1/2 way down the trail when I can start to hear the ocean waves. Also, all of a sudden, I see this snake type creature on the trail and it looks very long. But, it’s not moving. Oh, it’s not a creature at all but a cable of sorts that is running from “somewhere” down the mountain. I don’t think it was being used anymore because multiple times, I found it cut or spliced open.
The part of the trail changed again. What was the rainy forestry type of scenery, was now filling up with more wooden trees with branches as opposed to coconut trees and palm trees. The trail is now very similar to what you find in the Smoky National Park. The trail has become windy on the decent down, it’s about 4-6 feet wide, well marked and I can start to see buildings.
The village down here is called Vatia and for all practical purposes, it’s pretty remote. It has a very nice beach, but it’s 20 minutes from Pago Pago and it is just residential. As I get closer I can start to hear Roosters crowing. I am also being exposed to more sun and less shade and that is taking a toll. After all I have been out there for over 2.5hrs with heavy climbing.
I get pretty close to the village but now I am in the sun almost all the time. I check my Gatorade and realize that only have about 1oz left and won’t have anything more until the car, some 2.5hrs away!
So I make a decision. I decide to turn around and go back. I don’t need to be in the sun and make my way down to the town and wander around looking for something to eat and drink. I’m pretty tired at this point and my toe is hurting from planting it during the descent. I have slipped a couple of times, but nothing were I have fallen on my butt.
So I turn around and visualize myself on the summit underneath the cover of that Fale and drinking the ounce of gatorade before the decent to the car.
Total Elapsed Time 2hr 47min