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Monday, April 18, 2011

Traversing the divide between Wailau and Halawa Valleys -- John Hall

One of the earliest outer island trips I took with the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club was a short jaunt to Moloka`i sometime in the early 1960`s. We flew to Moloka`i and were driven to Halawa Valley. There we donned our packs and hiked up the jeep road that runs north, parallel to the coast, climbs into the hills above Lamaloa Head and then winds for 4 or 5 miles through the hills above the north shore of the island until it ends in range land at the edge of scrubby native forest near a small peak called Pohakuloa. Here we camped in the cow pasture.

I had some difficulty in finding a place to sling my hammock, since the pasture was essentially treeless, but I finally found a small dry wash with the stumps of long dead trees at appropriate distances apart on either side, and hung my hammock across this. In all, it was not a very exciting overnighter, but what did attract my interest was the fact that this campsite seemed to offer an excellent jumping-off point for some cross-country exploration of one of the most remote, unvisited areas of Moloka`i. This pasture was near the headwaters of the streams that flow through Halawa Valley, and by circling the water-shed, we could hike along the divide between the head of Halawa and the side wall of Wailau Valley.

The high point on this divide is an unnamed peak at 3627 ft. elevation on the wall of Wailau. From here, we would be able to continue along the rim over Pu`u Ohelo and on to where the Wailau trail comes up across the ranchlands below and drops down the sheer back wall of Wailau Valley. Alternatively, it appeared that turning right at the 3627 ft. peak and following the rim of Wailau would bring us down the narrow, steep, but (on the map) passable-looking Kukuinui Ridge between Wailau Valley and the small side valley through which Kahawaiiki Stream flows, and allow us to access the floor of Wailau Valley almost at the valley mouth. Much to my regret, I never got around to exploring this route.

A few years later, in July of 1976, I finally organized a trip to visit this backcountry. I was able to interest two companions in this trip. The first was Bill Scatchard who hiked with HTMC for a few years in the 1960`s and 1970`s, and who, with John Robinson, was to join me on my first trip down the Southwest Rift of Mauna Loa, as well as on some lesser adventures. The other chap was a young graduate student in biochemistry at UH Manoa, whose name, I think, was Rolland, though I am not sure, as he left the Department after a year or less, so I did not know him for long. He claimed to have had a lot of backpacking experience, although when he showed up for the trip with a Boy Scout knapsack instead of a regular backpack, I began to doubt this.

I had been into Wailau at least once in the meantime, so I was familiar with the trail that drops down the back wall of this valley. We flew to Moloka`i, and somehow made our way to Halawa Valley, where we camped for the night. There was a young haole fellow hanging out in the neighborhood who apparently lived near by and seemed to feel he knew the country pretty well. He asked what we were planning, but on being told said, "Oh you can`t do that! That`s impossible. No one`s ever done that." I had been told such things before, but never let it discourage me. He also said that the two husky young Hawaiian fellows who were living in a small trailer at the side of the mouth of Halawa Stream, were caretakers for the ranch that owned the property we would cross, and he thought they probably would tell us we couldn`t go up there if we asked. We hadn`t gone to all the trouble to plan the tripand travel to Moloka`i to be thwarted at this point, however, so to avoid any problems, we decided not to ask. Instead, we got up hours before dawn the next day, ate a hasty breakfast, packed up quietly, and headed up the jeep road, hoping to get off the working ranch property and into the bush before anyone came to tell us we shouldn`t be there.

There were no cattle in sight, but we did not escape entirely unnoticed. A small black and white dog, hardly more than a puppy, had apparently been abandoned at Halawa, and he attached himself to our party. I don`t know if one of my friends fed him the evening before, or if he was just desperate for company, but nothing we could do would discourage him from following us. As usual, in an exploratory backpack of this kind, we were traveling as light as possible, and were not carrying any extra food; certainly not enough extra to feed a dog for a week. But he had no collar and we could hardly tie up an animal in the wilderness, even in Halawa Valley, not knowing if anyone would release him once we were gone.

We hiked up the jeep road in the early dawn light without incident. When we reached the pasturelands, our companion dashed off barking, and chased one of the axis deer that infest the island into the bush. It was still early in the day when we reached the end of the ranch lands and pushed into the native bush. I had laid out a few compass bearings on the map, but as long as we stayed on the divide and avoided dropping down into one of the gulches, we should be on course. We made slow progress through dense, but not very high brush through the day. I don`t recall using a machete, but I am sure we must have been carrying such implements for an exploratory, off-trail trip of this kind. The clouds hung low on the mountains above us, obscuring the view of our objective.

In the late afternoon, I became convinced that we were veering off course for the route up peak 3627, and wanted to cross some of the small gullies to our right to proceed in the right direction. Bill and Roland disagreed, and when I got out my compass, I discovered that my sense of direction was really awry, and I had wanted to go off at an angle of almost 90 degrees to the right of the correct course! It was getting late, so after continuing up the ridge a little farther, we looked about for a campsite. My companions cleared a patch out of the brush for their tent, and I dropped down into the sturdier trees on the side of the ridge to find a spot for my hammock.

The next day we reached the summit of peak 3627 without incident. We were then in the clouds, and it drizzled off and on throughout the day. Most of the route between this peak and Pu`u Ohelo was relatively level plateau country, with the rim of Wailau Valley dropping off steeply to our right. It was boggy and open, but relatively easy walking, if rather wet and sloppy. We had walked for a ways across this terrain, when we heard a great commotion as the young dog began yapping frantically somewhere out of sight in the dense mist. A moment later, with stately tread, a large, majestic sow minced ponderously out of the fog. She was the size of a bathtub, as broad as she was tall, with a regal air and imperturbable presence. She deigned to bestow a haughty glance on our humble persons, but seeing in us nothing of consequence to her scheme of things, continued with her solemn promenade and soon vanished once more into the mist. Meanwhile, the little dog danced in excited circles around her, yelping madly, a performance to which she paid no more attention than a limousine would accord to an importunate gnat. And so ended our brief audience with the Queen of the Moloka`i Bogs!

There were pools of water scattered across this country, some up to 5 or 6 feet across, but only a few inches deep. In one of these I noticed a strange plant that I had never seen before, and have not seen since. It was shaped like a miniature, frilly green umbrella, about an inch or inch and a half high, and looked very like the textbook pictures of Acetabularia, a giant unicellular alga that was very popular with experimental biologists 60 years ago for studies on nuclear-cytoplasmic relationships. Unfortunately, I had no way to preserve it, and so brought no samples home. Since then, I`ve often carried a few vials of alcohol with me on such explorations, but have rarely found anything I wanted to collect.
We hiked on to the summit of Pu`u Ohelo and decided to continue on to the junction with the Wailau trail before camping for the night. We followed what we thought was the rim of Wailau Valley, but it seemed to be bending too far east and turning into a ridge, although in the mist it was hard to be sure. We finally backtracked to the summit of Pu`u Ohelo and camped for the night. I found a sheltered nook among some trees for my hammock, and the other two set up their tent. It continued to drizzle. In the morning we decided that perhaps we had not gone far enough, so we once more tried to skirt the edge of Wailau to trace it around to the back wall of the valley. We descended the slope even further than we had gone the night before, and eventually got below the clouds, to where we could see that we were definitely hiking down an easterly ridge that ran parallel to other ridges and was heading toward the sea on the southeast coast of Moloka`i. Feeling baffled, we retraced our steps, watching closely for any sign of a route off the mountain that would keep us on the rim of Wailau.

Shortly before we reached the site of our camp, I noticed a heavily used pig trail dropping steeply down the cliff. It looked like it was descending the sidewall of Wailau Valley, but I knew of no passable route to the valley floor in this area, and believed that the pigs probably stayed on the rim also, so we decided to follow this path. It was a steep, difficult scramble for a hundred feet or more, but if the pigs could do it, we knew that we could follow, even with our packs. After a bit, the grade began to ease somewhat. As we proceeded, the weather improved and the clouds lifted briefly, enough to show us that we were, in fact, following the rim of the valley. By noon we were at the junction with the trail that dropped steeply into the back of Wailau Valley itself.

At this point, Rolland announced that he was going to leave us. Apparently, his boots did not fit properly and had been giving him a great deal of pain. We were sorry to loose him, and apprehensive about letting someone hike out of the backcountry alone. However, Bill and I had planned to spend the better part of a week in Wailau Valley, and really didn`t want to cut the trip short after only 3 days. In addition, Rolland would be in ranch country within a mile or so, so the risks appeared to be minimal. Fortunately, he got back to town without any problems. After lunch, Bill and I began the scramble down the nearly vertical trail. By midafternoon we reached Waiakeakua Stream at the foot of the wall, and set up camp for the night. I laid out my food bags while preparing supper, and while putting them away afterward, I noticed that a bag of gorp, containing raisons, nuts, and a little cheese, was missing. Apparently, our canine companion, who must havebeen very hungry by now, had made off with it. It didn`t seem like much, but I had planned my menu for this trip so closely that I really missed it. This was one of the few trips I have taken in which I was constantly hungry for most of the last few days. I was very careful with my food stash after this!

In the morning we hiked on down to the valley mouth and set up camp in a pleasant grove of guavas. I have made several trips to Wailau, at least two with Kazuo Yamaguchi, I believe, in addition to this one, and the incidents of different trips tend to mingle in my mind. I recall that one time Yamaguchi and I arrived in the valley just at the end of one of Lorin Gill`s Sierra Club Service Projects. About 30 Sierra Club people had come in, hard on the heels of a group from a school in Waimea on the Big Island, if I recall correctly. Unfortunately, the school group had a member who was harboring a case of Shigella, an intestinal bacterium that causes rather severe dysentery. The rains were heavy and the river over-flowed while both groups were there, which meant that the bacteria were washed out of the poorly-sited latrine area used by the school group and were spread through the water supply. Practically all members of both parties became sick. The school group had been evacuated some days before we arrived, but the Sierra Club people were present and thoroughly miserable. Fortunately, we were able to avoid contracting the disease.

It rained the first night that Bill and I camped at the valley mouth. Bill had bedded down on a lovely patch of soft grass among the trees, and I was awakened during the night by a sudden outburst of profanity and commotion. We were apparently in a low spot and several inches of water were flowing briskly through Bill`s bed. My hammock was well above the water, of course, but I had to get up and make sure that none of my gear was floating away. The next morning we moved to higher ground.
We spent several days in Wailau. One day I climbed the ridge that parallels the beach above the small, relatively level, hala-covered peninsula called Waiehu. A hippie couple had constructed a neat bamboo and tarp hut on the ridge, near its foot, in a lovely location with views of both the ocean and up the valley. Near the top I had a difficult scramble up a steep, grass-covered slope that brought me to the lower corner of the isolated, triangular, Olokui plateau, probably one of the most undisturbed areas in the islands, surrounded as it is by the steep cliffs that form the sides of Pelekunu and Wailau Valleys, and possibly not even inhabited by pigs or goats, though I am not certain ofthis. If so, it should be of great botanical interest, and I believe that Dr. St. John did do some collecting there. I always meant to return to explore it some day. I had approached it rather casually this time, not planning to go to the top at all, and had brought no supplies, perhaps not even a water bottle. Much to my regret, I never did get back to it, however.

There were other people living in the valley also, which is quite large, probably nearly the size of Manoa Valley when all its reaches are considered. One chap, who seemed to be by himself, was quite friendly. He solved one problem for us by agreeing to adopt the young dog that was still following us. I was visiting him alone one morning while waiting for Bill to finish getting ready for a day hike up the Kahawaiiki Stream, which drained the major amphitheater-like side valley at the mouth of Wailau. The hippies had given him a sponge cake, and he offered me a hearty slice. I noticed it had flecks of green in it, and assumed that they had spiced it with some kind of herb. It was quite delicious, and as mentioned previously, this was a hungry trip for me, so when he offered me a second piece, I was happy to accept. I thought he had a rather sly look about him, but could not imagine what it was he found amusing.
I soon began to realize that the green flecks were bits of pakalolo that had been baked into the cake I had received a fairly potent dose! This is the only time I have ever indulged in an illicit drug to the extent that I actually got high from it. Unfortunately, I was not able to relax and enjoy the sensation, since Bill appeared, and I was forced to devote all my attention to my feet as we rock-hopped up the stream and explored Kahawaiiki Valley. By the time we reached aplace where I could relax, the effect had worn off.

At this time, the streams in Wailau were teeming with hihiwai, the freshwater mollusk that is sometimes called fresh-water opihi. There were half a dozen on every rock, and we could have collected a quart very easily from almost any square yard of streambed. The Naki family, who own property in the Valley, I believe, came in every summer to fish, and later they harvested the hihiwai to the point where few were to be seen in the streams when I went in on later trips. In later years, Yamaguchi and Herman Medeiros carried out another trip that I had long planned, but never did do--the hike up Pelekunu Valley to the low point of the saddle on Pohakaunoho Ridge, which connects Pu`u Olokui to the Kamakou summit of Moloka`i, and then down Pulena Stream, a tributary of Wailau. Dick Davis had done this years before, with Joyce Davis and some other people, I believe. He saw the Malahini Cave (as spelled on my map--probably meant to be Malihini) while it was still intact, I think, but it was destroyed in a landslide soon afterward. Yamaguchi said that the descent of Pulena Stream was an extremely arduous one. The brush above the stream was too thick to penetrate and the terrain extremely rough, with sheer-walled side gulches dropping down to the stream making it impossible to hike parallel to it. They had to follow the stream itself, rock-hopping where possible, but often having to bag their packs to float them across deep pools while swimming behind them, and scrambling down treacherous falls. I wish I had been with them, but I think I was overseas on one of my sabbatical trips when they did it.

After 5 or 6 nights in Wailau Valley, Bill and I hiked back up to the rear and over the pali to home.

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