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Friday, September 28, 2001

Lanihuli via Pali Puka -- Stan Yamada (2001)

Have you ever wondered if that $8.00 coil of rope you bought from the hardware store could save you in a fall? If I'm not a spirit right now, the answer is yes.

Since scoping out the Lanihuli trail a few days ago I have been manic, wanting to get up there and see some more. For many reasons: it's beautiful, it's easy to get to, it's deserted, and it's very difficult. I got done early with what I had to do today so I could re-visit the world of the great Professor. I was dropped off around 1:00 and hoofed it up to the puka. Spotted some semi-fresh pig dung on the trail near the parking lot. I took off my pack and laid on my back to study the overhang. Sure looks doable if the rock was good. Started to feel sick from the moving clouds above the mountain and had to take a break. So I stared at the Pali notch area on the other side of the gap and wondered why on earth I ever thought I could climb that thing. Must be a flashback from my urban hippie days. MAYBE you could cross over and try it from the other ridge. I still plan to look at it up close, but I really doubt that it's doable without a top rope. Sanity has prevailed.

I was planning to do some trail work so I got out my rain pants and gaiters. Whoooosh! Off went my pants riding the wind like a box kite, inflated like a Macy's Parade balloon. I watched as it took a turn to the left and out of sight. A bad omen? Later I would see it on a bush around the corner, but I forgot to pick it up on my way out (dark already).

I entered the access trail and left it wild near the opening. Around the corner I got out my hand loppers (couldn't find my machete at home) and started clearing what I could with that. Looks like a semi-real trail now. Took a little over an hour to go maybe 25 yards. Got a blister for my trouble. Have to go back and get some low bunji sticks with a saw. I located a better contour below that black rock area. I had taken the high road the last time. Lower down, and very over grown, is an old pig trail (or something), which looks good now that it's cleared out. Another hour perhaps. I got to the stream bed and hung another length of white nylon 5mm cord to a tree to mark the up trail point. The pig trail sort of peters out there in a thick bed of low lying green vines.

I took the swath up following my previous path. When I got to the brown theater area, I hung a right to cross over to the other side of the theater since I knew that there would be a good way up that way due to my skateboard ride down the other day. Sure enough, it was a lot easier than going through the dense branches in the streambed. A tree just where you need it all the way up. I got to the last pitch which could use a rope as it is very slippery and hard to get up elegantly. Enjoyed the vista and turned my attention to the task at hand. What an awesome mountain it is. So as not to be redundant, let's just assume that the entire way up is on a narrow ridge line with sheer drop offs to both sides. On the windward side, green grass and the occasional shrub on the way down. On the leeward side, trees, grass and shrubs. Very windy with strong 40-50 mph gusts today. Great for kite or pants flying!

I took off up the trail toward the next ridge where I quit last time. Stopped and took another gander at the trail from this promontory. Not as awestruck as I was the last time, I can see that it will be a piece of work to get up, but my mind told me that it was indeed possible. One step at a time. The way down gets your attention as it is steep, narrow, and comprised of loose dirt interspersed with the odd rock. I'll probably hang a cable there for getting back up. I worked my way over to the next vertical obstacle. Stiff climb up to the face which is fronted by a dirt/sparsely vegetated porch. I tried to climb that porch and was stymied by the loose dirt and lack of any good hand holds. I had to do the stomach/inch worm shuffle up that thing and slid back down several times. The dirt and the plant life on this trail is very loose and weak. Anything less than an inch in diameter will break in your hand. And even some of those. You can't trust the clidemia since a lot of times the soil won't hold the roots. Large bulks of dirt and an extensive root system will often come up with the slightest tug. Not good.

On top of the porch is a narrow dirt ledge and beyond that a good, hard rock, slightly overhanging face about 15 feet high. The ledge contours around to the left and I can see that the slope is better there. With what I had just gone through on my mind (I had to take a break to get my composure back after that ordeal), I decided to remove my pack for easier climbing. I got out my cheap 1/2" nylon hardware store rope (was 50', now around 45'), and attached one end to a D carabiner clipped to a leather patch sewn onto the back of the Outdoor Products daypack I use. The other end I tied to my left wrist. I slabbed around to the left past a guava tree and found a weakness where it looked easy to get up. Up I went. Oops, this is really loose dirt and the clidemia won't hold! It's just a few feet up, how can this be? It looked so easy. I am in real trouble as I begin sliding backwards.

Random thoughts jet through my mind. Ledge below, just land right. Panic! Grab something you fool! Legs probably flail in terror (don't remember though, but that seems likely). I hit the dirt ledge, and guess what? Just as weak and crumbly as everything else here. Back I go off the cliff facing the blue eternity above. Time stood still. I was like that feather in "Forrest Gump" just floating in the breeze. No panic, no fear, just a dude looking up at the sky. The body is an amazing thing. I was protected from fear and just lay back waiting for the hit. An eternity later I felt a bump on my left side. One bounce. Caught air again. Feather fluttering willy nilly. I actually think, "ooh, not too bad". I hit again flat on my back, grass this time, and rapidly begin sliding down the steep embankment. Suddenly I come to a halt, my left wrist high over my head like a volunteering student with the right answer. I look up and my pack was snagged on that beautiful guava tree. I look down and it is sure death. Another cliff and drop off below.

I'm sort of in shock now and can't think straight. Luckily, I am self-aware and know this. My left shoe is half-way off my foot. I am still hanging by my left wrist and can't get up to give myself some slack. The hill is covered in slippery grass and it's too steep. I fear sliding down the rest of the way if I remove the rope, but I need to fix my shoe damn it! I crawl up a foot or two to ease the tension on my wrist. I can't untie the knot. It's too tight. I am fumble fingered to boot. I lie back and take five, heels dug in. Breath. Concentrate. Focus. Relax. Years ago I trained in and studied Aikido with the Pearl City Aiki Kai and still read books on the subject because it is so fascinating. Aikido: the way of peace, love, and harmony. I draw upon that knowledge now. After a respite I use my teeth to untie that beautiful knot and fix my shoes. Then I use the rope to stabilize myself enough to smear my way over to the side and safety. Thank you Sensei Morihei. Domo Arigato!

It's a miracle, but I am relatively unharmed. Multiple minor abrasions on my left flank and other skin breaks here and there. Nothing broken. Even my wrist is fine with no functional impairment. Feels bruised now, but that's it. I am not really surprised as I take violent spills all the time mountain biking. Much worse than this and at high speed, right into trees and down cliffs. Of course, I'm wearing a helmet and body armor usually, but the hurt is much worse. Never broke a bone that way. I've also gone off various cliffs before. Manana, upper Waahila, Aiea Loop, Maunawili Demo, to name a few. Watch those edges!

On my way back to the side I saw a contour trail around the knob to the left. Cool. I regained my composure and made sure I was ok. I timidly, using the rope, climbed up to where my pack was located and retrieved it. I tied some loops in the rope, slung it around my favorite guava tree in the world and rappeled down to safety. Performed some first aid by cleaning the major scratches with my emergency 20 oz. Platypus water bag (too chicken to use the alcohol swabs), applied some triple antibiotic cream and downed two extra strength ibuprofen tablets. Couldn't retrieve my rope as it was hung up again and I decided to leave it for another day. It's good there for whomever wants to get to that shelf, it's just not anchored properly. I'll fix it next time.

Back to my normal self, and feeling good, I tooke the contour trail I had seen earlier. It's a pig trail I guess, but it goes right around to my ultimate goal. I was too revved to do trail work so I just bulldozed through the thicket and tangles. Clear trail below the brush and it was easy to follow. I worked my way around to another semi-dry water chute. Marked the up turn with white cord and climbed up. Again, hand holds appear as you need them, but it is a very stiff climb. Ropes would help again in this portion for some, especially at the very top where I have to perform acrobatic maneuvers to get up. Before I got there though I happened upon an upper contour trail coming from the east where I had just come from. I took that trail, stepped over some pig droppings, and emerged about ten feet from the rope and my favorite guava tree. I was too chicken to go over that loose ledge to get it so I left it there.

Got back to the exit point and swung myself up with my arms and legs. Whoa! Another gorgeous sight to behold. I'm now sitting on dried up thick moss on a ledge about a foot wide, if that. My feet are dangling over the windward side. There is a steep, but not too bad, slope here so the fear factor is not that great, plus the wind pushes you back. I marked this spot with the cord and headed on up very carefully. Another drop down on a narrow ridge and up again. Hard rock climb. Very nice and fun to do. This is a narrow ridge. As narrow as it gets. I am somewhat concerned about the descent, but the rock is good so I put that out of my mind. I got to the top and enjoyed a great view of the remaining trail. My mistake. Ridges can get even narrower. The next one is dirt too. This baby is a test. I have learned my lesson though. There is a contour there. I know it. But not today. It's about 5:30 and darkness will be here shortly. I am at least two hours from the top at my current rate, which is very slow due to the difficulty. The clouds lift for me. The rest of the trail, after this second pyramid, "appears" safe. The top-down photo taken by Pete tells me it should be. I just sit there a while calculating that it will take two hours to get down Alewa or Moole from the top if I try to press on. No way. Can't do that kind of trail in the dark. I've never done it in the day. Only read the tales. Next time, all the way. Come back down the same way too I think. I've found and marked the by-pass contours.

I retreat and carefully get back down the narrow dike. At first I wear my pack in the front so I can crab down, but it doesn't work. I go down facing the rock very slowly. On another day, without the fall, it would not be as scary. I got over to that dirt ridge again and had deja vu with the slippery slope. I used the breathing technique to relax myself and raised up a little to get a better angle for friction. Up I went with no problem from there. Went down the way I came, plowing the thick under growth with my 165 pound butt sledge. Near the brown theater I saw what looked like two machete cuts in a tree. Wasn't me. I guess I could have done it with my trail runners coming down, but I doubt it. Anybody out there checking this trail out? Hope so. I visited my rope again thinking that my further exploits had given me some guts. Nope.

Climbed up to the dike above the puka and nearly got knocked over by the wind there. Bad luck day...almost. Went right by my pants stuck in the bushes and got down in the dark at about 6:45. Talked story with some 20 somethings playing in the wind. They said they watched my light coming down the hill. "Boy, you came down fast!" They didn't see me sliding down on the okole. Hehehe. I asked for a lift and they agreed. They were heading for Ala Moana Shopping Center next. Good karma for me.

Watch out mountain, here I come.

sy 9/27/01 (stanboy50@hotmail.com)

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