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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Wailau (Molokai) Backpack - by Pat Rorie

Photo by Pat Rooney

In a word? Brutal! It took Pat Rooney and I 3 days to reach the north shore from the south shore, a distance of only 8 miles! Unless I can find a couple of young, strapping ram-rods to lead the way, probably my last backpack of the trail.

Wailau is a magnificent amphitheater valley on the friendly isle of Molokai. This beautiful, lush valley features wonderful swimming holes and waterfalls, a "wall of tears", many native birds, a spectacular view of massive Olokui (elev. 4602') and "a remote black sand beach framed by vertical sea cliffs."* Pat Rooney and I backpacked the trail from south to north from May 24 thru 26, 2007.

-- Thursday, May 24, 2007

After inspecting the iliiliopae heiau, we commenced the gradual climb toward the summit at 9:05 a.m. Upon achieving the summit (elev. 2800') at 12:35 p.m., we dropped our packs and enjoyed our first glimpse into Wailau Valley while resting and hydrating. Pat's tent had fallen off his pack, so he went back to retrieve it (Pat remembered seeing it on his pack just prior to entering the summit bog). Meanwhile, I began descending into the valley, looking forward to cooling off in one of Wailau's refreshing swimming holes under a small massaging waterfall in 3 hours or so. It never happened. No way! Forget about it! The trail is badly overgrown. No one uses it, not even hunters. In planning for the trip, Pat and I had agreed to hike separately since Pat desired to go at a slower pace to take photos. We kept in touch via 2 way radios and I tied fresh pink ribbon to mark confusing spots. As I methodically pushed thru uluhe ferns, Pat radioed that he had lost the trail somewhere past the waterfall chute and first rope section. To his defense, this was Pat's first experience on the trail and he never complained or lost his composure thru the entire ordeal. Amazing!

After searching for almost an hour, Pat discovered the route and continued descending into the valley. From the summit, it took me almost 7 grueling hours to reach the floor of the valley at the upper Kekumu campsite (not the lower Kekumu campsite near the stream where we usually camp but the upper one, the spot Robb Gear and I camped the first time I did Wailau back in '99), a distance of only 1000 meters or .6214 of a mile!

I staggered into the clearing at 7:30 p.m. in twilight with no water. After pitching my slumberjack bivy, it began to rain so I placed my pans, cup and water bottles in the clearing to catch rain water. Praise God for the rain! Frequent passing showers partially filled the pans. Those who have backpacked with me know that I carry several 12 oz cans of Dr. Pepper so no chance I would die of dehydration. :-) Meanwhile, Pat had to hunker down farther up the ridge. With not enough space to set up his tent, Rooney simply spread his rain fly over clumps of uluhe and crawled into his sleeping bag under the fly.

-- Friday, May 25, 2007

Due to morning showers and desiring to rendezvous with Pat, I broke camp late (at about 9:30 a.m.). I backtracked a short distance in search of the old Thomas Yoza trail. Unsuccessful in finding it, I cut down thru 5 to 7 foot high clidemia trees using loppers to Waiakeakua Stream, tying ribbons periodically so Pat could follow. We remained in radio contact and reunited at the stream at 11:30 a.m. While the river offered unhindered travel, the two of us had to watch almost every step. One slip might have meant a spill in the stream, increasing the weight of our packs or much worse (a sprained ankle or knee). Pat took a break and walked at a slower pace; therefore we became separated again. A quick side note: the lovely hand shaped waterfall is no more. The huge boulders must have shifted during a flash flood. When I reached the pool near the lower Kekumu campsite, I couldn't lift my pack over my head to swim through, so I climbed out of the river bed and hiked around the swimming hole. Farther makai, I reached another swimming hole, sheer walls on both sides. I exited the stream bed and cut thru more clidemia trees to a copse of bamboo and regained the trail.

Pushing thru dense vegetation (mainly uluhe), I arrived at the Olona ili (the first of a series of gullies, the north shore still miles away) at 6:30 p.m. After obtaining water from a streamlet, I pitched my slumberjack bivy and crashed inside (major kanack attack!) for 2.5 hours. I awoke shivering, so I immediately changed into warm clothes and lit my esbit stove in preparation for a hot meal. Pat got to the copse of bamboo before nightfall and had enough space to erect his North Face shelter.

-- Saturday, May 26, 2007

From the first of a series of gullies, I looked forward to reaching the section Matt Wordeman, "Boy Scout" and I had cleared about a year earlier. Progress was slow, applying patience an absolute must (if I couldn't push thru then I would cut clidemia and then continue pushing). Pat and I rendezvoused at the lovely bridal veil cascade in the gully where I cut my finger on the hedge trimmer last year. Not surprisingly, the two of us had an easier time moving along the trail until we got beyond the cleared section, then it was back to frustration. Eventually, Pat and I entered Maunakope ili and soon looked down on the big pool below the mango tree near the Keauhou ili. Determined to reach the north shore, we passed on taking a refreshing dip.

Finally, at 5:05 p.m., I entered the tent city that friends had formed the previous day upon arriving by boat. After a brief greeting and explaination for our delay, I pitched my slumberjack bivy on the bluff between the boulder beach and the tent city and then went for a relaxing stroll along the black sand beach to unwind and thank God for His traveling mercies. Pat arrived while I walked the beach. Blessed with a gorgeous evening, our group conversed on a variety of topics in moon light, the 3 day trek receiving the most attention.

-- Sunday, May 27, 2007

5 of us ascended 1500' of Olokui's northeast ridge to enjoy superb sweeping views of the beach and valley. Upon our return to camp, frequent passing showers occurred. Despite the rain, Pat and I went to Mango Jim's farm up valley and presented him with a box of dog biscuits (for Pua and Kili) and 2 boxes of macadamia nuts I had hauled over the mountain. Chris, Aubrey and John were not at Wailau. We talked story for a while, then, prior to our departure, Jim gave us some fresh vegetables to take back, and Pat and I filled our bottles with water from the aquifer. Spent the evening huddled under a tarp or next to the fire conversing with friends as the passing showers continued.

-- Monday, May 28, 2007 Memorial Day

The inclement weather broke and we packed for the boat ride to Halawa. Palmer Naki (Walter Naki's nephew) took Pat and I out with his wife and young son. Prior to heading for Halawa, Palmer drove his small vessel west, passing Pelekunu Valley and Haupu Bay enroute to the large sea cave, a lava tube tunnel dubbed Anapuhi. We went thru the cave a couple times ("the sun light reflecting down thru the sea creating a brilliant acetylene-torch blue"**), then proceeded east along the north shore past the highest sea cliffs in the world, eventually entering Halawa Bay. The boat ride was certainly one of the highlights of the trip.


Praise the Lord for His hedge of protection around Pat and I, and for blessing us with good friends and a good time at Wailau. Congratulations to Jean Tsukamoto for stepping out of her comfort zone to camp at Wailau.

Take a look at Pat's Wailau photos at




* Ball, Jr., Stuart M. THE BACKPACKERS GUIDE TO HAWAI'I. Honolulu: University Of Hawaii Press, 1996.

** Sutherland, Audrey PADDLING HAWAI'I Revised Edition. Honolulu: University Of Hawaii Press, 1998.


  1. You're in luck. They cleared the trail again.

  2. wow.. sounds brutal - but worth it I'm sure.. Bikerted did you recently do this?.. better?.. Mahalo!

  3. wow.. sounds brutal - but worth it I'm sure.. Bikerted did you recently do this?.. better?.. Mahalo!

  4. Did Jeff Zoltowski ever make it out of the Wailau Valley?????
    Reported missing .........March 31, 1993

    Ron Zoltowski

    248 408 9288 cell

  5. Did Jeff Zoltowski ever make it out of the Wailau Valley?????
    Reported missing .........March 31, 1993

    Ron Zoltowski

    248 408 9288 cell