February 1, 1999 - EVA: Peace Corps Volunteers conquer Kao

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tonga: Peace Corps Tonga : The Peace Corps in Tonga: February 1, 1999 - EVA: Peace Corps Volunteers conquer Kao

By Admin1 (admin) on Friday, June 27, 2003 - 10:44 am: Edit Post

Peace Corps Volunteers conquer Kao

Peace Corps Volunteers conquer Kao

Conquering Kao

Above the clouds by noon on the summit of Kao Kao, as seen from Tofua's crest

To be on top of the volcanic island of Kao - at 1046m the highest point in Tonga - was "a very special moment", for Darryl Coppedge, an American Peace Corps volunteer, one of 13 hikers who scaled Kao on December 18.

Kao, with its conical shape rising steeply from the sea in Tonga’s Ha’apai group, offers a slippery-looking climb to a peak, which is often hidden in a patch of cloud. There are no beaten trails to follow on this seldom-visited island.

While Darryl thought that standing on top of Kao was a special moment, another member of the group, Stephen McGinley, thought that swimming in the fresh water crater lake on the neighbouring volcanic island of Tofua was "a memorable experience".

Stephen said that Tofua had so much to offer, "just being in the fresh water lake, and looking at the volcano smoking away there with the surrounding landscape of dried lava of different colours made me think that I was on another planet. Then looking down toward the lake with those tall pine trees you could be somewhere in the States, then on the other side of the lake the rain forest reminded me that I was still in Tonga."

The twin volcanic islands of Kao and Tofua are separated by four kilometres of sea. While Kao is considered to be extinct, on Tofua the crater Lofia still rumbles and puffs out smoke. Captain Cook reported volcanic activity on Tofua in 1774. In 1854 the king, Tupou I, ordered the inhabitants of Tofua to move to the safety of the island of Kotu to the Southeast. The last big volcanic eruption on the island was reported during 1958-59, and since then the crater Lofia has continued to be active.

Darryl’s and Stephen’s adventure to Kao and Tofua was organised by two Peace Corps volunteers, Jessica Krykakis and Molly Loomis, and was the highlight of their Christmas holidays.

The group of volunteers and friends left for Kao by the MV Pako, a boat belonging to the Ministry of Education, which they chartered for $ 1,000. "We each paid $80 for the boat plus some sipì and cabin crackers for the crew," said Darryl.

Intrepid climbers: Valerie, Jessica, Lindsay, Justin, Darryl, James

They left Pangai at 8 a.m. "The fun began when we tried to land at Kao about noon, it was awesome, we had to approach the island in an aluminium dinghy and jump onto the rock as the dinghy was popping up and down in the waves."

Stephen said that after landing they spent the afternoon setting up camp and swimming, "it was eerie stuff snorkelling around there and seeing how the island drops off suddenly and disappears into the deep blue sea."

Darryl said that before dawn the following day, they began their ascent on Kao, "there was no track and we had to find our way through the thick bush, following along a ridge from the southern side of the mountain." Darryl said that it was relatively flat at the beginning until they entered thick bush about a quarter of the way up, which covered most of the ridge. As they neared the top they pushed their way through thick ferns as high as their shoulders, but fortunately there were no poisonous insects to worry about. ‘The only wild animals that we saw were the wild pigs."

Stephen said that of the seven girls and six boys in the group only two had any mountain climbing experience - and they were the first to reach the top. "Joe Marcotte and Justin Cowies (see cover) made it in two and a half hours, but all of us made it to the top in under five hours."

Darryl said that they thought getting to the top was going to be the hardest part, but they did not take into account fatigue and the heat, "and was hotter on the way back, and some of us got a bit disoriented and got lost in the bush, and took longer to find the way back to the camp.

By 5 p.m. the group was ready to leave Kao for Tofua, "and getting from the rocks on Kao into the dinghy was even more tricky than trying to land on Kao."

They rejoined the MV Pako standing offshore, where they found the crew had caught three two-metre long sharks close to where the group had been swimming the previous day.

Stephen said that landing on Tofua later that evening was difficult and it was a great relief to get ashore to the old village where they camped for two nights. The village was deserted but they used some of the facilities there to cook some fish given to them by the crew of the MV Pako, and to have showers. While in Tofua they hiked to the mouth of the voicano Lofia and then down to the lake. On the following day they went through the whole process of trying to get back onto the MV Pako and then headed for Pangai.

If they have another chance, would they do it again? Only to Tofua, but not to Kao," they said.

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Story Source: EVA

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Tonga; Climbing



By adrien stoloff (ppp0134.va-ngs.hdd.co.jp - on Wednesday, January 14, 2004 - 3:38 am: Edit Post

Interesting story...Darryl had told me he went to an island in the middle of the pacific for the peace corps but I had forgotten which one. I spent time with Darryl in DC when we were both doing our TEFL certificates (December 2001). Now I'm teaching in Japan and trying to get in touch with him. Anyone know his whereabouts?
Adrien Stoloff

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