In order to hike to the waterfalls at Six Waterfalls you have to get permission from the family that owns the land. All land in Pohnpei is privately owned, so you can’t just go tromping through. The front desk of the hotel couldn’t get a hold of them and told us that our best bet was to just drive out to the waterfalls and look for the proper person out there.
90 minutes in the bed of a pickup truck later, driving down a dirt road on the opposite end of the island, we come upon a thin shirtless man carrying a machete and a rice sack bag.
“That’s the guy we’re looking for,” said our guide from the hotel, Billy.
After Billy spoke to him in Pohnpein, Sheldon, agreed to take us on the hike. He just said we’d have to go pick up some rope in case of a flash flood.
Billy explained that 6 Palauans had died a few years back during a flash flood and that the rope was just a precaution.
“Great,” I thought to myself.
Worth every minute: Our guides were Billy and Sheldon.Sheldon told us it was a 90 minute hike to the first waterfall. We did it in 45.
Going down: The first portion of the hike lasted 45 minutes. We went up, down, up, and down through hills, ravines, and over streams. There was hardly an inch of solid ground. We were either walking on slippery rocks, tree roots or mud.The trail to the first waterfall was rough, but not treacherous. Pohnpei is more mountainous than Saipan. Its topography is more like the Northern Islands. We traipsed up and down through hills, ravines, and streams. There was not an inch of firm ground the whole way. Our footholds were either mud, slippery wet rocks, tree roots, or mud. Did I mention mud? The going was slow, but nothing compared to what we would find when we arrived at the waterfalls.
Forest Photos: Yes, it was green.The jungle at these high altitudes was lush. Like the cloud forests of Costa Rica, green was growing on green was growing on green. Vines growing up the trunks of trees were covered in moss. Fern trees reached to the top of the canopy. Bromeliads, orchids, and vines hung from tree branches and littered the ground where branches or whole trees had fallen.
On the hillside adjacent to the first waterfall somebody had planted sakau and bananas. As far as I could tell the closest house was a brisk, muddy 45 minute walk through the jungle. Why plant your sakau so far away?
Green, green, green: The vegetation, especially the tree ferns reminded me of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve in Costa Rica. I think Laurie got sick of me saying that after about the 14th time.Along the wall above the waterfall was a cave. As I inched toward it a hundred small bats dropped from the ceiling and scrambled out into the sunlight. Oops, didn’t mean to disturb you, guys.
The first waterfall turned out to be the smallest. Water poured out from a stream above, fell about 50 feet, pooled, and then continued its journey towards the river.
Cascades: This is the second waterfall. I think this picture captures a sense of how big the waterfall is and how much sound the rushing water makes.The next few waterfalls were right around the corner, all of them cascading straight into the river.
This section of the hike, the portion where we saw the waterfalls, took us straight up the river. The river ran through a ravine with high walls on either side. We tried to stay dry if we could, but most of the time we were getting our feet wet.
Ankle deep: I thought this is how wet I would get. Wishful thinking.The river banked back and forth as it winded its way up the mountain (or down the mountain depending on your point of view). Rocks clustered on the inside of each bend, while the outside of each bend was usually a vertical wall. It was easier to trek up the river on the inside of each bend, which meant we had to cross the river at every other curve.
Crossing was always treacherous. Every step required my full concentration to keep from falling down. Stepping on the rocks without slipping was impossible. With every step I wedged my foot into a crevice or between two rocks. The water was never deeper than mid-thigh and wasn’t moving very fast (but it was moving), but a single slip on the rocks below and I would have eaten it. My non-waterproof camera would have eaten it, too.
Making it look easy: Our guide, Sheldon, seemed to have no trouble with the slippery rocks.We went back and forth across the river in this manner for about 75 minutes, passing the second and the third waterfalls along the way. When we reached the fourth waterfall we stopped for lunch. I found a nice round dry rock and pulled out my ham sandwich. It was about 12:30.
Lunch time scenery: We ate our lunches at the foot of this waterfall.Lunch ended 30 minutes later just as it was starting to rain. We walked right by the fifth waterfall when we came to it. Nobody wanted to risk getting their cameras wet in the monsoon.
Proof I was there: I didn't take too many pictures of myself, this is one of the few.We continued crossing back and forth until we reached a point in the river where it narrowed and coursed between two vertical walls, not 10 feet apart.
There would be no walking across this section. Our guide, Billy, informed us that it was time to go for a swim.
Our other guide, Sheldon, carried our cameras to keep them dry while we dove in and swam upstream towards the final waterfall.
We were not disappointed.
The final waterfall, which I have unofficially christened Six Waterfalls Cathedral, is in one of those special places fashioned by the hand of God.
Worth the swim: I don't think this photo captures how amazing this waterfall is.The sense I got from the area was that of an outdoor room. The walls through which we swam rose ever higher, widening towards the middle, but tapering towards the end, where a magnificent two-tiered waterfall gushed out of an opening in the granite.
In place of stained glass windows was a mosaic of ferns and moss covering the entire rock face. Instead of pews, black river stones blanketed the ground. In place of an altar and a crucifix stood the waterfall, bringing life to the cathedral and everything downstream of it.
Then it was time to go.
Since we swam in, we had to swim out.
Emerging from the water on the other side I suddenly realized I was about to hike back a good 20 lbs heavier. Each of my boots was soaked through and all of my clothes from my socks to my t-shirt were drenched. We were also already three hours into the hike, and my legs were feeling every ravine we scaled during the hike in.
We did not go back the way we had come in. We spent less time on the river, which was great because the hillsides aren’t as slippery, but burned because we spent two hours climbing up and down hills and ravines.
We got back to the truck just short of five hours after we started, where an ice cold Fanta and a 90 minute truck ride back to a hot shower awaited me.