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Ship Logs

Attached by the Earth's Umbilical Cord
Gardner Pinnacles
Posted by Ann Bell Hudgins

September 14, 2002

We left the sandy isles of French Frigate Shoals last night and awoke next to the face of Gardner Pinnacles, the last volcanic remnant we will lay eyes on above sea level as we continue our northwesterly voyage.

Gardner Pinnacles.I had the impression that Gardner was just a big rock. I contemplated not going and felt my time could be better spent by staying aboard Rapture, the vessel that has become our home and office, and get ahead with my writing projects. As fate would have it I ate breakfast across from one of few people on board who had set foot on Gardner Pinnacles. I asked him what he thought of the place, he replied, "To be sitting on the top of Gardner Pinnacles is an awesome experience." His words changed my mind.

Fifteen minutes later I was headed out to sea in a rubber dinghy. Upon getting closer to larger of the two Gardner Pinnacles a curious Monk seal checked us out. Close by, two spotted eagle rays were mating as another was trying to 'get in on the action.' We were stunned at the physical beauty of the moment -- the stark contrast between the cobalt blue waters and the two black basalt pinnacles jutting out from the bottom of the sea. Less than a minute later our senses had to refocus. Wave sets and lack of flat space on the rock dictated our safety. Looking ahead we noted we would have to velcro our bodies onto a 45-degree rock face with only a few puka (holes) to hold on to. Two at a time we ejected from the boat guided by wave set intervals.

Once ashore we stowed our gear above the high-water line. Each step we took required careful planning to avoid brown noddy chicks. We soon realized the earth was not steady as it crumbled beneath the shear weight of our bodies. Methodically one by one Masked Boobies on Garnder Pinnacles. USFWS.we reached to the top and slowly sandwiched ourselves in a space about the size of a dining room occupied by 20 masked booby couples, eggs and chicks. They stared in disbelief. Humans don't come here often. After about 10 minutes everybody seemed to get used to each other's company. Then the comedy show began as the females loudly squawked and the males made a sound like a broken whistle. Much of the ruckus seemed to be focused on territorial rights issues.

From this vantage point we helped biologists count the birds. We noted on field pads whether they were adults, juveniles or chicks. Then we took a breather and relaxed enough to absorb the view. That is when an unexpected 'chicken skin' moment occurred. This rock is ancient. This is it! It is the last emergent volcanic remnant in the Hawaiian archipelago. To the northwest are low sandy islets encircled by coral reefs and underwater seamounts, to the southeast the islands progressively became larger. I was sitting on the top of a 200-foot pinnacle over 10 million years old that was attached like an umbilical cord to one of the most massive mountains on the planet. Eight hundred miles away Hawai`i island, more commonly called the Big Island, was continuing to grow as this small ancestral rock was fading away.

Climbing up Garnder Pinnacles. USFWS.In silence I wrote in my journal, then began the ascent. Along the way I noted we left human caused scars on the face of this rock. There were seams on ledges caused by the weight of our bodies. Birds were flushed and frightened. Imprints which were not natural to this special place. It was something I did not feel good about. It was enough to cause me to wake up the next morning and rethink my experience. Why did I go? Was it right? What was I trying to prove? Two maybe one biologist could have assessed the biological health of this place. Was it critical I go?

I know if I ever am blessed enough to see Gardner Pinnacles again. I will not want to go ashore. All I can hope is that I holdfast to the wisdom of this day. Many lessons can be learned and can be just as powerful from observing this magnificent symbol from afar.

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Ann Bell Hudgins
Ann Bell Hudgins


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