He lowered his camera bag and rope, then slowly crept toward earth, the female io glaring at him all the way. Then she began to preen. "I gave up shooting the U.S. Open for this," said Kluetmeier, panting but ecstatic. "Was that ever the right thing to do."
In camp, we broke out our last package of dried apricots to celebrate. The adventure of the morning was memorable, but so too was the heartening realization that although the io might be vanishing, it is not because of any dwindling desire to survive. "Mike Scott actually worried about our driving those bellicose birds from the nest by getting too close," said Kluetmeier. "If anyone was driven away, it was us."
So we had our prize, quite likely the best photographs ever taken of the Hawaiian hawk. All we had to do was escape the entangling forest with them. We set off down the transect, got to where we had scouted without difficulty, and then the country rose against us. Masses of eluhe fern and ohelo berries covered treacherous a'a. The fern was as much as 15 feet high, and only the holes torn in it by the foregoing biologists convinced us it was passable. We slid into slimy pits, we crawled on our stomachs beneath the trunks of great fallen trees, upon which grew other trees. Kluetmeier fell on his back again. I rammed my head into a mossy tree bole. Seldom could we see our feet. "It's kind of a controlled crash," Burr had said. But there were times of panic, skidding off rocks, my pack yanking me around, when I staggered for long seconds out of control.
After hours of this we came, soaked and exhausted and furious, to the tents of Scott and Burr. It began to rain. As we babbled out the story of the hawks, we scurried to put up a tarpaulin and tent. There were no level places, so we made one by tearing down ferns and piling them up. We would sleep on a bed of the bodies of our tormentors. Preparing dinner under the tarp, Kluetmeier looked at his reflection in a blade of his Swiss army knife and said, "I guess you can't get much dirtier." This met with jovial contradiction from Burr and Scott.
We were down to 3,500 feet. Little crickets hopped over everything. Gnats, moths and spiders escaped the rain with us. Mosquitoes whined. The next day would be our final plunge, out to a road below. The next day, for sure, we would meet the dreaded ie ie.
The rain had stopped in the morning. Atop the first rise we looked upon a Paleozoic vista. A great canopy of koa shaded 30-foot tree ferns. Beneath them was nothing but black earth and stone. We walked through this primordial cathedral among flocks of black kalij pheasants with red eyes. "It's like a park," said Kluetmeier, "like something out of The Lord of the Rings." But at the far edge stood another crumbling ridge, and the ferns and vines began again. It was ever wetter. Each time we stumbled sideways, the walls of vegetation received us with a shower of water and detritus. "They were right," muttered Kluetmeier. "We can get dirtier."
The brown eluhe fern at least was weak. It took a combined effort of six or eight stems to trip or throttle us. But below 3,000 feet we began falling regularly. A new vine, with whippy, palmlike leaves and a pale, half-inch-thick stalk, spread over the lava occasionally, and when it did we went down. Kluetmeier held up a piece as if it were a snake.
"The dreaded ie ie," he said.
We found that you couldn't rip through it in a rage or it would kill you. You had to watch your every step. But when you did, it caught you by the throat, or got between your back and your pack, or lashed at your eyes.
Station by station the ie ie thickened. By the map, our salvation road was to be at Station No. 165. When we reached 165, there were only arches of fallen trees, covered by eluhe. Kluetmeier walked right over the trunks. I fell up to my eyes between them. There was no road under there, either. At 166 there was still no road and we were asking ourselves if there might not be some horrible misunderstanding. Nearing 167, we scrambled up an a'a mound and came upon a black gravel trail. There were the biologists' packs. There were the biologists. We were done.