Measuring rain at the wettest spot on earth

Editor’s note: On Dec. 3 the Kaua‘i Museum celebrates its 50th anniversary. Museum leaders have chosen 50 stories from exhibits, collections and archives of the museum to share with the public. One story will run daily through Dec. 3.

LIHU‘E — Recording rainfall is the job of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Water Resources Division.

The yearly trip to the summit of Wai‘ale‘ale was a source of high and perilous adventure ever since the task was first attempted over 100 years ago.

It first tackled by the survey’s District Engineer W.F. Martin in 1910. He trekked up the 5,080-foot mountain and placed a 50-gallon, galvanized can in the clearing overlooking Wailua. Four months later J.E. Mendes found it overflowing. So, in 1911, D.E. Homer carried a container that would measure 124 inches of rainfall up the jungle trails to the mountain’s summit — and it, too, was too small.

W.Y. Hardy tried next. He installed a 300-inch gage in 1915 and it overflowed. Next he put in a 600-inch gage which lasted a couple of years and in wet years was found to be overflowing. The history books fail to mention the party of local men that went along to carry the gage guided by Hulu Taniguchi, a cowboy at Gay & Robinson’s Makaweli Ranch. The trail would disappear just days after passing through.

Then in January 1920, District J.E. Stewart, Ben F. Rush, then chairman of the Board of Harbor Commissioners, and Hardy took the 990-inch gage up the mountain. It worked all right until it buckled and started leaking from being tipped over to empty. Max H. Carson, the next district engineer, solved that difficulty in 1928 by installing a 900-inch, reinforced container that could be drained through a valve in the bottom.

The next gage installation in 1938 was a day-to-day recording device that had to be split into 50 pound packs for the journey, the last leg on foot from the ranger’s station over the tundra-like summit. Hubert W. Beardin, an experienced mountain-climbing member of the survey force on Kaua‘i, dropped dead of a heart attack 300 feet from the summit. Carson left the party and went back down the mountain hoping to engage a helicopter to bring down the body. He had seen one demonstrated at an armed services display. He learned that the only machine available then had an operating ceiling of only 3,000 feet. It could not fly to Kaua‘i without a convoy and none was available.

Eddie Taniguchi, son of Hulu, later an assistant ranch foreman, formed a party of 16 men at Waimea — goat hunters, cowpokes, policemen and firemen, to undertake the task. These experienced mountaineers had no more than the usual problems going up to the summit. Bringing a body down was another matter.

It rained the whole way, making the whole process very difficult. The trail is so rugged the party had to travel down streambeds. They crawled under and over fallen trees. In some places they formed a line and passed the body along from hand to hand. By dusk they had not yet reached the ranger’s station where they had left their horses and mules. Some wanted to abandon the body.

Eddie insisted they stay with the body, build a fire and spend the night without shelter, or continue on. Eddie was the only man who could find his way out of the mountains in the dark so the men elected to stay and follow him.

He chose to continue traveling and the party made its way into Waimea at 10 the next morning.

Today the rain gages are digital and helicopters take the engineers up to do their data collection, but the amount of water still defies imagination — 40 to 50 feet a year annually.

Measuring rain at the wettest spot on earth

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