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Spots on the Rock

Lost and found

Setting our sights on new horizons

  • 6 min to read

To clear the air: I am not a hiking expert. … Gasp!

Although I've written this hiking column weekly for the past 11 months, I want everybody to know that I do not know all hikes on Guam, nor do I always know the safest, most accurate routes to their destinations.

Right now, I'm an avid, average hiker at best. I write this column because well: 1) I'm a writer; 2) I'm a photographer; and 3) I've been on a majority of the hikes available on Guam, just not all.

With no certification or degree for writing hike guides, which does not exist – for your information – I write directions to hike destinations to the best of my ability.

I'm wholly confident in the majority of features but, of course, there are some hikes that are just harder to describe for a variety of reasons.

Trail troubles

Some trails are incredibly long and prescribe tons of dips and turns through foreign terrain. Others are just geographically complex and contain obscure obstacles beyond your imagination.

Especially on Guam, it's important to understand that all of our hiking trails are undeveloped and constantly changing. This means that, for the most part, human hands have not touched these trails and they are subject to the whim of the weather.

With the exception of a few small signs, likely in the form of colored tags attached to trees, you're on your own in Guam's wilderness!

An example of a developed trail would be Tagu'an Point, or "1,000 Steps," in Mangilao. The man-made staircase was developed to provide easier access to the northeastern coast.

The trail between Gun Beach and Fai Fai Beach in Tumon is another developed trail exemplified by the side railing and wooden staircase lining the limestone cliffline.

Aside from the ruggedness of Guam's hike routes, between the rainy season and the dry season, paths can transform from an overgrown jungle kingdom to a barren, burnt wasteland in a matter of months.

There are examples of this transformation all around the island, but most notably – for hikers – in the Nimitz Hill valley.

For most of the year, hikes to San Carlos Falls, upper Sigua Falls and Lonfit Valley contain a maze of towering sword grass.

However, as soon as a grassfire occurs, the jungle walls come down and a path that might once have crossed through sword grass is now barren.

Additionally, off-road ATV trails are a pain. I want to support other outdoor recreation, but jeep trails are seriously the worst and account for most misdirection I might describe for hikes.

This is seen most extensively around Tarzan Falls and Swim Hole in Yona, and near Channel 10 in Nimitz Hill – where Mount Chachao, Mount Alutom, Mount Tenjo and multiple waterfalls lie.

These off-road trails, more than anything, contribute to getting lost on hikes.

Rite of passage

So, why the need for all this hullabaloo about the condition of trails and my guide qualifications? Readers should know: You will get lost.

It's not my fault. It's not your fault. It's not the universe's fault. It's simply a rite of passage and a fact of life.

Even if I were to detail every pebble you might pass during the hike, or the foliage seen at a fork, there's no way for me or the universe to prevent you – only human – from getting lost.

While some readers might be rolling their eyes over being notified about something as juvenile as getting lost, there are others who will appreciate the wake-up call.

Lost is something you'll be many times while hiking, and in life, but we'll skip over that philosophy lesson for today.

Although getting lost can be extremely frustrating and potentially dangerous, we need to collect ourselves especially when up against a natural impasse.

"The truth is, we all get lost as we try to find our way. Perhaps the key is to stop, take a look around and enjoy the scenery as we go," said JaTawny Muckelvene Chatmon, author of "Getting Lost."

While Chatmon's book had nothing to do with hiking, her advice holds true. When you inevitably get lost, stop for a breather and enjoy the chapter as part of the journey.

The insecurity that latches on after being lost can be traumatic. It's easy to resort to our inherent human fear of the unknown, but we need to persevere.

Hike gone wrong

On one of the few free days a friend and I had together, we decided to hike to Tarzan Falls. Although I had been there as a kid, this would be my first time there in about 15 years, so it was practically new.

Seasoned hikers out there would highly question my misfortune, but truth be told, my friend and I were lost for more than three hours trying to find Tarzan Falls.

The worst part about it was that I was 100 percent confident I knew the way. My friend was assured, too. So we set out around 2 p.m. on a perfectly clear, sunny day.

In hindsight, at no point did I ever account for the trail changing. Despite the clear directions I found, nothing accounted for the recent construction of Guam Power Authority's wind turbine in the area.

The turbine, seen prominently from Cross Island Road, was built over a part of the entrance to Tarzan Falls in 2016. As a result, any directions I'd find would be useless for the first 10 minutes of the hike, but I didn't register that.

Instead, my friend and I continued through the jeep trails just beyond the entrance to Tarzan Falls, thinking we'd somehow, someway stumble upon something familiar in accordance with the pictures we found online.

It was hilarious, quite literally something out of a survivor documentary. We'd get excited over a rock that seemed familiar or the faint sound of trickling water.

However, the rocks would always be rocks, and the trickling water would always be small, irrelevant brooks.

Entering our third hour of roaming rustic mesas, we'd seriously become delirious. It was about 5 p.m. and we'd been hiking in the afternoon heat, but now with a reserve of water and a bit of insanity.

You had to be there.

My friend would perk up at the faint caws of birds in the distance, thinking it meant they were near water.

Meanwhile, I was still studying, analyzing every rock we'd left unturned and every tree that was remotely of interest.

In the span of three hours under the hot sun and after traveling multiple miles, we'd become self-proclaimed geologists, botanists, geographers and every other kind of expert we needed to be to have faith we'd get there at some point.

And we did!

After retracing our steps a hundred times, scoping out the scene from dozens of overlooks and traveling in every direction to the ends of the Earth, we made it.

Warped world record

What started as a confident, easy, breezy 30-minute hike turned into a more-than-three-hour excursion, lost in Guam's wilderness, dazed and confused.

Nonetheless, we were aching for the cool rush of water and the feeling of finally conquering Tarzan Falls. We didn't put the work in for nothing!

At long last and on our absolute last shot, too, we decided to try one final route that looped along the fence line of the new, cursed wind turbine.

In another 20 minutes or so, we made our way down a final slope before hearing a rush of water in the distance. We got excited, but looked one another in the eye with suspicion. It couldn't possibly be it, could it?

We quite literally sprinted downhill and as we gained ground, what appeared as a mirage from afar grew larger and larger.

Finally, we reached the river and top of the falls. We screamed!

My friend in disbelief and myself almost in tears, the moment was an out-of-body experience. We were sanctified by the sight of water and uplifted by the sound of it flowing. I'll never forget it.

While it was the greatest triumph of the day, we quickly realized the sun was fading. It was about 5:30 p.m. and we were at least a good 40 minutes from where we parked. A bummer, for sure.

Uncertain of how to get to the base of the falls, we took what little time we had to explore the upper levels of the waterfall, climbing down ledges and playing in the smaller waterfalls.

We wrapped up in another 20 minutes, somewhat content with the accomplishment.

For having been lost in the circumstances we were for what felt like 40 days and 40 nights in a desert-like scene, making it to the waterfall was a record set in our warped world.

Communion with nature

On the drive home, I inevitably contemplated our feat. Back in the "real world," I couldn't comprehend why we didn't just give up sooner. Three hours wandering aimlessly? Really?

I couldn't find answers for myself, so I let the curiosity go. Human nature, I supposed. What I did find enlightening was the odd enjoyment of the journey.

Looking back, while we modestly mentioned the heat, our ever-accumulating mileage and the frustration of blatantly being lost, we weren't exactly miserable.

That's when a couple of things dawned on me that day. Hikes, by nature – wink, wink – put people in a position to not only be in communion with the natural environment, but also the people with whom they journey.

Secondly, a shared, good attitude can make all the difference along the hike – especially if you're lost.

So, if you've decided to go on a hike with friends or family, you're already set up for a good time.

Despite the heat we know all too well on Guam, multiple slopes and a few other challenges, hiking with good company is a remedy in and of itself.

There's something about being in the open outdoors, exposed to the unspoiled beauty of nature.

Whether it's the sunlight on your skin, the sight of blue skies, rustling trees and flowing water, something out there organically sets the tone for a good time.

America author and Alaskan hiker Christopher McCandless understood this sentiment, and I believe it's one that can resonate with all hikers.

"The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure," McCandless wrote.

"The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."

While he takes it a lot more philosophically than I personally care to, he hits the mark.

An outdoor excursion is a natural opiate for mankind, and while getting lost is never ideal, we should not only trust in the endless horizons before us – we should enjoy them.


The Scoop coordinator, Spots on The Rock columnist and Life documenter. Email: Follow Tihu on Twitter and Instagram at @tihualujan.

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