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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ohulehule Southeast Ridge

In April 2011, Kaleo Lancaster and friends completed a successful ascent of Mount Ohulehule's southeast ridge, the same ridge that two Danish female hikers were stranded on years ago. OSE has not been hiked much if at all in recent years. But now that Lancaster and crew have done it, perhaps more intrepid ones will follow ala Piliwale Ridge

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Descent of Mauna Loa via Southwest Rift -- By John B. Hall


Not many people have done the traverse of Mauna Loa and descended the Southwest Rift. Before I did it for the first time, I talked to all the old-timers I could find, and couldn't locate anyone who had done it or knew of anyone who had, with the possible exception of one of the geologists at the Volcano laboratory. It is not easy to explain the challenge of this trip to the average layman, or even to most experienced hikers.

Craig Chisholm, in his book "Hawaiian Hiking Trails" characterizes the climb of Mauna Loa from the Strip Road to the summit cabin as "one of the hardest hikes in the Hawaiian Islands". This is entirely justified, yet the end of the trail at the summit cabin represents the final departure from civilization and the doorway to the truly untouched wilderness for those who attempt the still more challenging trek down the Southwest Rift.
As one leaves the summit cabin and travels around the rim of the caldera to South Pit, the approach to the Southwest Rift comes in view. The terrain is as I imagine a storm in the North Atlantic, on the edge of the ice pack, might be: The wind shrieks and lightning crashes. Great rollers rear and break, and enormous slabs of foot-thick ice are tossed and up-ended and piled on top of each other, sucked down into the deep troughs between waves and heaved high into the air again. Suddenly, all is turned to stone, a wild, gray-black desolation of jumbled stone, baking and glittering in the sun - this is the scene that greets the eye as we gaze beyond South Pit. The decor is somber - shades of black and gray, with occasional stretches of dark browns or slightly reddish tinged rock, relieved only in the crypts of the vents and cracks by a sudden startlingly brilliant touch of red and yellow. Humans are dwarfed by this harsh and indifferent land, and the thought of picking one's way for miles through a region so alien and devoid of life is daunting. It is not surprising that few have ventured into such a Gehenna.
The way is not obvious at first, as the slope of the mountain is gradual, more a plain than a ridge, and it is necessary to set a compass course from the outlet of South Pit to strike a tangent to the rim of Lua Hohonu, a pit crater on the rift zone below the caldera, vast and impressive from the edge, but lost amid the chaos of stone until one is virtually about to fall into it. From there, a second compass course is set to the rim of Lua Hou, an even deeper, more impressive pit crater half a mile further along. From here, a third bearing takes us out into more open, less tortured land, and another mile or two brings one out over a hump in the mountain that reveals a view of the Rift below all the way to South Point.
The ambience of the Mountain and the impact of the vista permeate my soul. The silence, the solitude, rest on the land like a cloak, a balm to the spirit, and a benediction. The sky is a pale blue canopy a
million miles away, and the thin, cold, alpine wind whistles over the land, the sound more accentuating than relieving the silence. The lava ticks as it bakes slowly in the bright New Year's sun. Civilization has not yet been invented and there is no life on earth save for our party of three and a small forest bird arrowing frantically across the desolation. The vastness of the Mountain spreads out before us, and cinder cones march down the rift into the distance, until they fade into the far away haze and are lost in the infinite horizon. I feel like God on the second day of creation, with the whole Earth, bare and unformed, waiting at His feet.
Not far below is Sulfur Cone. A broad white flat steams at the base of the near side of the Cone, where sulfur-laden fumes percolate through the acid-etched rock and soil and deposit their burden of brimstone. This great white flat will be visible for miles down the mountain, and even two days walk below, long after the cone itself, impressive as it is, is no longer visible, we will be able to identify its location by the white patch high on the side of the mountain. The easier route down to Sulfur Cone is on the right of the Great Crack and the vents and cones that line its upper reaches. On our second expedition, we lunched on the side of the Crack, just at the edge of the Cone. At this point the sulfur fumes had encrusted the rock lip of the Crack with a thick coat of sulfur crystals, beautiful, brilliant, fluorescent, scintillating, yellow crystals, so bright in the noon sun that it was painful to look at them. A jewel brighter than gold among the drab expanses of black and gray.
Near this spot, there is a sulfur flow, perhaps like those found by Voyager I in the sulfur volcanoes of Io, one of the moons of Jupiter. A substantial deposit of sulfur was formed, probably, on rocks on the
surface of the flanks of Sulfur Cone, and then a later intrusion of lava welling up underneath heated the sulfur until it melted and ran down the cone like a mini-lava flow. This flow was first noticed by a geologist who visited the Cone in 1967, and was studied again by a group from Arizona State University in 1984, the same year as my last visit. Unfortunately, I was not aware of this feature at the time we were there, and did not see it, although we must have passed very close to it. If I ever make this trip again, I hope to be able to examine it. It might even be possible to visit it as a day hike from the summit, although the round trip would be a fairly long and strenuous one over this terrain at such an altitude.
About two miles below Sulfur Cone we reached the spot where we camped for the first night on both trips down the Southwest Rift. This is a small, fairly level shelf, perched in the red cinder high on the wall of a cinder cone. We called it the "Red Cinder Hilton". When we camped there in 1984, I found a few old paper matches from our cooking efforts 7 years before scattered among the cinder. It did not appear that the spot had been visited by anyone in the interval. This camp offers a broad view over the countryside and relatively soft ground to sleep on, but is exposed to the wind. The evenings were calm, but in the morning it was so windy that we did not try to cook breakfast, but packed up as quickly as possible and headed on down the Rift, electing to defer breakfast for an hour or two to get some distance under our feet, and to find a more sheltered spot to rest and break fast. As always in this
trackless wilderness, from the time we left South Pit until we reached the cindery soil that stretches above the Hawaiian Ocean View Estates development, the footing is exceedingly treacherous.
Almost all of the way is across pahoehoe fields. Indeed, my great anxiety at the time of the first trip was that we might encounter substantial regions of 'a'a that we would have to cross, and a few miles of 'a'a could take days to traverse. However, we were fortunate, and there was only one stringer of 'a'a, a few hundred yards across, that we were unable to go around. The pahoehoe was bad enough, however. Near eruption vents, untrammeled pahoehoe is often just a thin crust with a vacancy beneath it where the gas that bubbled out of the molten rock after a surface crust has formed creates a void between the crust and the body of the rock. Walking across it was nerve-racking. It seemed as if we would break through every third or fourth step in some areas. Usually, this meant crunching through the rock, coming to rest an inch or two lower than expected, a little unbalancing under a heavy pack, but not really dangerous. Once in awhile, however, the drop was four or six inches, and at least once in each trip, there was a sudden collapse into a hole a foot or so deep, with a sharp and painful blow to the shin as one fell forward against the remaining edge of the crust.
With the hazards of thirst, the difficulty of going out for help over such trail-less terrain, the possibility of falling through the top of a hidden bubble or crack roofed with a thin veneer of lava (and people have reportedly fallen 50 feet or more into such hazards) and this ever-present risk of breaking a leg or spraining an ankle in the fickle pahoehoe, and one can see that this is not a hike to recommend to the novice, or even to the experienced, hardy hiker who is normally sane and cautious.
Crunching through the pahoehoe crust on the first trip had abraded holes in the sides of my boots, particularly on the inside of the heel (I pronate). The hard, tough leather in this area had holes the size of quarters worn through it, and the cloth middle layer was shredded. Only the thin inner lining, itself beginning to wear, protected my sox and feet. Before the second trip, I buffed the medial sides of the heels and toes of my boots with sandpaper and applied a layer of Shoe Goo to them, so that they had a tough rubbery coat over the leather. This seemed to work well, and the boots survived without much damage.
We trudge on through the craggy wilderness. Ants crawling through purgatory. Hobbits on the road to Mount Doom. Although it is the turn of the year, the sun is unrelenting and we must swath ourselves with care against its rays. There is no shade, save the occasional sliver in the lee of some pinnacle of stone. We pause for lunch in one such spot. Our refuge is shared by a swarm of tiny fruit flies, Drosophila, though what they can be doing in this landscape, so totally devoid of fruit or vegetation of any kind, is a mystery.
The one-time fluidity of the Mountain is quite evident here. Looking over the great, slightly humped plain that is the shoulder of Mauna Loa, we can see the rock as a flowing stream - a mighty Mississippi of a flood, waves and rapids, strong currents and eddies, enormous in size, with the whole stream miles in width and flowing off over the curve of the mountain toward the Kona Coast and the sea. Along the highest point of the ridge, which is often difficult to distinguish because of the gradualness of the slopes to either side, are the cinder cones, pinnacles and ridges of spatter, cracks and vents that mark the sites of recent eruptions. These do not always form a single line, but sometimes run in parallel, or form a line for some distance which then ends and resumes along a distant parallel, or just vanishes altogether for awhile.
By this point, at least, our packs were decidedly lighter, as we rapidly consumed our water. Water is a constant obsession on a trip of this kind. The old maps show Hawaiian trails crossing the Rift, with
sleeping caves and water holes sometimes indicated. These are infrequent however, and the landscape is so featureless at the scale of the USGS topographic maps, and the eruptions along the Rift Zone have so frequently remodeled the patterns of cones, cracks, and vents that it is nearly impossible to locate any of these caves, even assuming that recent eruptions have not buried them under a fresh veneer of lava.
Even with an average of 2 1/2 gallons of water apiece, it is necessary to conserve water carefully, just in case of delays or injuries. There is no water to spare for washing clothes or skin. Every ounce must be conserved. It is important to plan the menu with this in mind. I try to avoid foods that will be very greasy and leave a film on the pot. I cook and eat out of the same pot, and when I am finished, I pour a few ounces of water into the pot, wipe my fingers clean on the seat of my pants, and use them to rub any food left clinging to the pot into the water to make a nice soup, which I then drink. This is repeated until the pot is clean. It slakes the thirst and gets the fingers even cleaner too! The cup and spoon are treated in similar fashion. Not a drop is wasted. Such precautions may seem extreme to those who have never experienced a real thirst, but to those who have, they will not seem extravagant.
A mile or so above Alika Cone, there is a belt of difficult terrain to cross. This is a pahoehoe flow that has been compressed and crumpled until it resembles the refuse of a junk-yard - as if old cars, refrigerator doors, discarded shipping pallets - had all been tumbled together and embedded at odd angles in a foundation of concrete. Strong ankles and a good sense of balance are useful here. Once this hazard is passed, it is time to look for a site for the second night's camp. We are not far above South Kona now, and near the zone of the daily evening showers that water the coffee plantations below. Rain seems to threaten nearly every evening, but at this altitude there is rarely more than a light shower.
On the first trip, we stayed to the left after passing Alika Cone and had a painful scramble through rough and treacherous pahoehoe until, late in the day, we reached the paved roads of Hawaiian Ocean View Estates. The second time, we crossed a low line of vents and cones to the right and found older terrain that had not been buried by a recent flow, but was mainly composed of ash and some soil in which a bit of grass and some shrubs could grow. There were goats here, and jeep roads pushed up from the ranch lands below, so our travel was much quicker and easier. We were well down into the HOVE lands by nightfall. The roads in this development are paved, but in most of it houses are few and well separated, and the weeds are threatening to hide the pavement. The roads run on the diagonal, so that the most direct course down to the highway involves zigzagging back and forth, taking one diagonal for a distance and then turning at a right angle to descend in the other
direction.
It is about 10 miles from the top of the Estates to the highway. In some spots, the roads have cut through many lava tubes, so there are caves that can be used as shelter from the rain, which is heavier as we descend the mountain. We finally sought shelter in one of these, although for some reason, we did not unpack our packs and spread out our ground cloths or sleeping bags to get comfortable, but spent the night sitting up and dozing. Having reached pavement, it seemed that the hike was over, and that it should not be necessary to make the effort to set up a decent camp! So we didn't.
I always experience a few days of great tranquility after a hike like this. It is as if we had spent the time in a religious retreat or in meditation, and have acquired a new and loftier perspective. In part, the necessity of concentrating exclusively on the needs of survival - food, water, shelter, and covering the distance - forces one to recognize the utter triviality of so many of the things that worry us in the usual daily round. The vigorous exercise, solitude, and silence probably contribute too. With 6 decades behind me now, I probably lack the ambition or hardihood to attempt the Southwest Rift again, but I
will never forget it. And who knows? The Long Mountain may not be finished with me yet.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Kawiwi to Kamaileunu (Kawiwiunu) by Pete Clines

Finally got to do the crossover between Kawiwi and Kamaileunu! I have been interested in this route since hearing that Al Miller did it years (and years) ago. I was supposed to take some of the gang up there back in January, but I got sick and spent that weekend in bed. Then the weather was just uncooperative all the recent Sundays. But this past weekend we had the trades back and the forecast was for less rain, so we (Kevin, Duc, August, and I) went for it. Below is the route starting from the usual trailhead in Waianae Valley. The blue arrow marks the notch which is where it gets particularly exciting.

After leaving my car near the Kamaileunu trailhead, we rode in Duc’s car to our starting point, and set off up the paved road at 8:30ish. The road was wet and slick - not a good sign as we would prefer dry conditions for a safe climb up and across. From the curve in the road we ducked into the forest on the path to the base of Kawiwi. Most of my ribbons from last year were gone, but we had no trouble finding our way. The heavy rains lately had caused a lot of growth. We waded through torso-high grasses on the approach… and even the rocky scrambles at the base of the climb were covered in “green.” As we gained elevation, the greenness subsided, and we tackled the rocky sections carefully as they were moist and our shoes were not getting much friction. In fact, after a few minor slips I began to rely more on pulling with my arms than trusting my legs.

Above, Kevin casually offers August “a hand” on one of the rocks. Below left, we came across a familiar trail-marker. Last winter, I had tied a pink ribbon through the eye sockets of this goat skull as a surprise for the others in our group. Totally faded, it still gave the skull a decidedly feminine look.

Above right, Duc points out the best way up a large, smooth boulder. It looks much easier in the photo, but the lack of dry handholds made this a fun “bouldering” challenge. From there we continued upwards, with Kevin occasionally asking if we were there yet. As the only one with an altimeter, I kept reassuring him that we were getting closer.

We were fortunate that the weather stayed cool and overcast, but with only minimal sprinkles. When it did spit on us, I secretly wondered if we would have to skip the crossover if it got too slick. But at 11:10 I found myself on the broad, open summit and was more optimistic. The others joined me shortly after, and we enjoyed a leisurely lunch break with panoramic views. Looking mauka, we could see “No Name Peak” and the ridge beyond. Duc has been that way before…August and I have done that section twice…and the weather was more menacing in that direction than makai. So at noon we packed up and prepared to keep with our original plan.

Immediately after leaving the summit of Kawiwi, there is a sharp drop on the makai side of the ridge. Having scouted this way last winter, my cable was still in place as an aid to get down. Not wanting to trust it 100%, I set up a second rope. Since there are no dependable trees, I looped it around the large boulder – similar to my cable - but leaving both free ends hanging down. This meant descending while gripping both ends, but since it was not tied to anything, we were able to retract the rope from below once we were all down. Group consensus was to lower the packs on a separte rope to ease the process. (below left) Duc was last man down. (below right)

Once everyone was down and the ropes were put away, I led the guys down the saddle of the ridge. The first half has its rocky descents, but also a bunch of bushwhacking through haole koa and other progress-slowing branches. After the low point – was it 2600’? – we began to climb a crazy pile of boulders that I liken to “a giant’s building blocks” in a previous report. At one point, there is a large square block in the way. You can either do a jumping pull-up on top of the rock, and then a jump off the other side (as Duc and I did) or carefully tunnel under the block (as did August and Kevin) on the narrowest of ledges. Immediately after that, we reached the massive rock outcropping that marks the mauka side of the notch. This was as far as I had gone during my previous scout trip. The views from here are truly awesome and the drop into the notch is imposing. Below is a shot of August and Duc approaching the notch. Kawiwi’s summit is at the center of the photo.

Once gathered at the notch, I pointed out the old cable dropping into it that I found last year. Since this is likely Al Miller’s…and thus at least a decade old…I opted to install our own safety line. The drop here is long, smooth and scary. A broken cable/rope would be the end of you. As with the cable, I decided to loop the rope around the strongest object – a boulder partway down the notch. Since we wanted to be able to retrieve the rope as before, I cut a length of August’s strong rope and looped it around the boulder, knotting it off at a pinch point in the back. I then snaked another rope through this “loop anchor,” again, with both free ends hanging down so we could simply pull it to us when finished.

I went down first to get the ropes straightened out and check for footing. As luck would have it, the two ends of the 50’ rope were just long enough to get me to a usable ledge. Just below that was a relatively level spot. This makes the main drop about 25’. Add in the drop to the anchor point, and the final drop below the rope to the level spot, and total height is roughly 40’. However, the drop just slightly to either side – if one were to fall – was an additional several hundred feet. From the level spot, Kevin and I were able to snag the packs, including August’s bag-o-bricks, as the guys lowered them. Because of their angle, they would toss the packs outwards until the rope went taught and then they could lower them. Seeing these heavy packs momentarily free-falling on us was nerve-wracking as we had no where to go if the rope snapped or they misjudged the amount of slack. Below is the view looking back up. Rock is overhanging here, so we descended just to the left.

Below is a photo of the guys celebrating. All the packs have safely made it down to us.

Kevin took a photo of me guiding Duc down the wall as August repacks a rope. Behind me is a horrific drop. In the background is “No Name Peak.” The weather was steadily improving by now.

Below, Duc begins, and then completes, the descent of the mauka side.

From the notch, we climb back out on the makai side. A series of steep, natural switchbacks keeps it rather simple, and we make it up the wall with less difficulty than anticipated.

The ridge begins to level off, and we know we are just below the Kamaileunu Trail terminus.

At 2:30pm, I notice “three pinks” and recognize the large boulders marking the end of the Club hike. The challenging crossover took a full 2.5hrs but never had a dull moment. A fantastic stretch.

At 3:30pm we finished our second lunch break and packed up to leave. At 3200’ and under high clouds, the conditions were cool and comfortable, and we were all smiles. But as we got lower and closer to the coast, weather got progressively sunnier and hotter, resulting in a different expression, as seen below left. Are we there yet?

As we moved along we couldn’t help notice how green and overgrown Kamaileunu was. The high grass made it tough to avoid hidden rocks, so a slower pace was warranted. The number of evil plants up there was also shocking and several varieties would leave “spikes” in your socks, skin, or anything else they touched. Worse still were these unusual “trail mines” as seen above right. None of us had remembered seeing these before, but Nate has since identified them as Leonotis nepetifolia or “Lion’s Ear.” They were all over the lower portions of the trail, with a patch covering the trailhead that grew about head high! They would sharply poke you with even the lightest contact. Very annoying.

Despite the painful entry onto the paved road and back into civilization we were thrilled with the day’s outing. We walked through a neighborhood replete with barking dogs and were back at my car at 6:10pm. We had just enough daylight to drive back into the valley and retrieve Duc’s car before darkness (and additional theft risk) set in. A traditional post-Waianae-hike trip to Jamba Juice for cold sugar pleasantly concluded the day.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bear Claw to MOAW Loop -- Pete Clines


Hike date: August 2003
I've thought about doing Bear Claw again lately, but wanted to descend via a different route.  Since I usually hike alone, traverse options can be difficult to arrange as far as transportation.  Dayle and Scott's adventure on Mauna o Ahi Windward gave me a good solution.
Since I climbed the right claw last year I decided to try the left one this time.  It turned out to be less exciting, fairly dense in places, but a good workout due to the angle of ascent.  I rested on the mushroom rock to have a snack and ponder which car I will buy this week since my Civic has seen better days.  (Anyone want a steal on a '90 wagon?)  Reached Puu O Kona in the clouds, with some light rain and stiff wind.  Continued along the KST, reaching MOAW summit in less time than expected.
Coming down, I took time to clear the ridge some more in places where I could safely swing a machete.  Good job to Scott and Dayle who marked the trail very well.  There was a lot of butt-sliding on the way down due to the steepness and slick nature of the soil underneath me.  This plowing through opened up the trail even further.  No scary sections, and I never had to employ the rope that I had brought along.  I was able to follow the ribbons all the way to the valley floor before losing them among a number of old trails/swaths.  Got back to my car by heading towards the left claw, over it, and down to the watertank.
Dayle, I never saw your ring, but it might comfort you to know that it now has company.  As I was heading out the valley, I realized that my machete was gone.  I believe the cheap sheath tore from my belt as I was sliding down one of the fern covered slopes at the base of the ridge.  I had ignored a few of the switchbacks, opting instead for a controlled "fall" down the slick slope.  (This is as close to surfing as you can get in the woods!)  That's three machetes lost this year - two stolen, one abandoned.  Was not worth the effort to go back uphill and search for it.
A good hike to be sure, but I paid the price in cuts, scratches, and ruined clothes.  Had to toss out the shirt - well ventilated with holes from all the branches it snagged.....and the dirt-covered pants will probably not be salvaged either.  At least my car was unmolested upon my return.
Thanks Dayle for a good description of this trail.
-Pete

Monday, May 16, 2011

New Wettest Spot in Hawaii

For years, Mount Waialeale on Kauai has been the undisputed wettest spot in the Hawaiian Islands. A recent report, however, made it clear that the Kauai high point (or almost-high point) is now # 2.

Where is # 1? It's on Maui, at a location called "Big Bog."

According to one source, access to Big Bog "is nonetheless difficult, requiring either a helicopter or two days each way on foot, partly through dense montane rain forest. As a result of this remoteness and the lack of trails into this area, these bogs have until recently received little disturbance to native biota compared to most Hawaiian habitats. Feral pigs arrived into the area in the early 1970s and their heightened activity through the 1980s has caused the loss of native plant cover and subsequent invasion by of alien plant species."

A two-day hike in and two days out? Sounds like an extreme hike.



Pic above is of MidCamp Bog by B. Gagne.

From an info-gathering quest, hiking access from the coast would begin near to Waianapanapa near Hana, Maui. No beta on anyone having done that before and probably would be smite with access issues and big-time bushwacking. The other access would be from the rim of Haleakala Crater above Paliku (via the Laulu Trail). From/near Pohaku Palaha (8105 ft), the descent would begin, taking one east down Kalapawili Ridge past Lake Waianapanapa (6643 ft) then past "New Bog" (6250 ft), past Greensword Bog (6102), then MidCamp Bog (5446 ft) then to the wettest spot Big Bog (5413 feet). The fact that this is the wettest spot in Hawaii and the fact that there is parade of Bogs to get past on the way down should make it clear that this is would be a heckuva hike down and then back.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Laauhihaihai/Kahili Ridge (Kauai) -- By Bob Burd

Kahili Ridge route -- B. Burd photo
After a successful foray two days earlier that led to the discovery of a trail leading to the ridgeline south of the peak, I was favorably impressed that I might actually be able to reach the summit of Kahili, a 3,000-foot peak on the flanks of the main mountain massif on the island of Kauai. Often shrouded in clouds, the peak is an impressive sight from Poipu Beach and the town of Koloa on the SE side of the island - when it is visible. On this second visit, I once again returned to Kahili Mountain Park, a private park/school on the SE side of the peak from where the Kahili Ridge Trail commences. This time there was another car in the small turnout when I started off shortly before noon.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Haupu (Kauai)-- by Bob Burd

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Haupu viewed from the SE Ridge -- Photo by B. Burd


Haupu is the highpoint of a long E-W ridge that separates the Poipu area from Lihue on the southeast side of the island of Kauai. It is a very rugged area with steep cliffs and dense vegetation, with no public trails at all that I know of. Much of the surrounding areas lie on private land, and it appears impossible to reach the ridge without crossing at least some private ranchlands. From either Poipu or Lihue, Haupu looks impressive. At first glance, vertical walls appear to surround the 2,297-foot summit, and even after a good deal of close examination, it is not at all evident that the peak can be climbed. And so I made it the goal of my first week in Kauai to both get a taste for Kauaian cross-country, and to explore the possibility of a route to the summit of Haupu.

Route to the summit of Haupu -- B. Burd photo
Starting from our condo at Poipu Beach, I naturally focused on getting to the peak from the south side. Utilizing some private dirt roads that are open to the public during daylight hours, I was able to drive within about three miles of the summit. The trick would be to find a route that minimized exposure to human observation since I was pretty sure they weren't going to like me crossing private property outside of the usable roads. From this point there are two ridges that climb to the base of the main summit, one on the southwest side, one on the south. My first effort would be to the closer, lower, and more direct Southwest Ridge, so when I reached an abandoned entrance booth near the start of the ridge, I parked and quickly got out of the road.


Top-out route -- Bob Burd photo
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Friday, May 6, 2011

Piliwale Ridge


Nate Rubio and friends tackled Piliwale Ridge on April 30. 2011 on yet another ascent on what was once a rarely-ascended route.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Wailau (Molokai) by Mark Short

Thursday morning I squeezed into the tiny plane (Paragon Air) that would take me to Molokai. I was reminded how great it is to fly small and low. Even on  an overcast & rainy day I could see so much more and the convenience was  great, no lines, just get on the plane & go.Met Thomas Yoza & Gene Robinson at the airport, dropped off our signed waiver at the big  white house on the hill.  We thanked Mrs. Petra for giving permission and she  wished us luck. 
Tom Yoza -- Photo by Nathan Yuen
Back at the trail head Thomas took pictures of the sign "Warning, Hazardous Trail, 12 Hours Minimum. At Your Own Risk." etc. After hiking the trail I wanted to go back and add I sign that pointed to this sign saying "It's  True!" In my experience most trails are not as difficult as people say. This  trail lives up to its reputation. Like the ocean, it must be respected & feared. Do not turn your back on this trail. Do not underestimate its power.  O.K. enough of that:)The trail starts from the Iliiliopae Heeiau, which was impressive. The story  is all the rocks came via human chain over the pali from the North shore. As  we started up Thomas & Gene compared amounts of water they carried (5 & 7  liters). I thought to myself, "Was my decision to only carry a little over 3  liters a mistake?" I sure was enjoying my stroll up the mountain since my pack  only weighed 23 lbs. besides I had a water filter & treatment tablets and  there was sure to be water along the way. I hiked slow and paused often  waiting for the others, really enjoying the views of Lanai & Maui and the  South shore of Molokai with it's many fishponds (see pic below). 
Photo by Metod Lebar
After a confusing section  through some ironwoods I stopped to wait, took off my pack and went up to do  some clearing. Gene came along clearing a slightly different path and I remarked we were probably clearing three different paths. I asked about Thomas  and Gene said he was a ways back having stopped for a power bar. Soon we  heard "HUI" from ahead of us. We looked but could see nothing. Was it Thomas?  It sounded like he was ahead, but how could that be? We listened and heard  more whooping, but could see nothing. This was strange. Then I was startled  by a loud whistle and saw Thomas ahead with his bright yellow shirt waiving  his arms. We caught up and he said there was a real nice contour on the right  side of the hump we had come over. I continued up the hill entering a bog on a very clearly defined trail with  lots of ribbons. Then the trail stopped. I looked ahead, no more ribbons, I  looked behind, no more ribbons. Time to back track, and there we go, I had  missed a hard left turn (apparently many go straight here, thus the clearly defined dead end). I cleared the area of the turn with my loppers and piled  the brush on the dead end trail as signal for the others to not go that way.  Later Gene mentioned the same confusing area and I asked if he saw my signal,  he said he must have just plowed through it thinking I was just clearing trail. I passed small streams to my left & right, yup there is water if I  needed it. On reaching the summit I enjoyed my lunch of cold pizza and had a  little nap. I was woken up by the sound of Gene coming up the trail. The  summit was clear and I pointed out the great view of the valley below (see pic below). What a  great feeling to see the wild land below us. Thomas showed up a short time  later, said he saw one lobelia and took some pictures. 
Photo by Metod Lebar
I was getting antsy from sitting so long so I headed down before the other  had finished lunch. I said I would stop if I encountered a major road block  or confusing section. Soon I could hear descending behind me which turn out  to be Gene. I slowed down to wait, however he was coming down much faster  than he went up. At one point the trail was looking a little vague so I  yelled up to Gene to see if he saw any ribbons leading off to the left or  right. He couldn't, so I figured we must still be on the trail (the map shows  the trail as going straight down the cliff). Soon we were stopped by impenetrable clidemia. Gene climbed back up and found a missed turned. He  yelled to see if I was close enough to contour over to the trail, but the  thick vegetation eliminated that idea immediately. We cleared the area of  confusion and put up barriers to the dead-end false trail. we went through  several very cool uluhe tunnels and continued down the pali. Gene would yell  "Mark, are you on the trail?" I would yell back "Yup, lots of ribbons" Or   "Yup. I'm on the trail" Finally my response was "No, no more ribbons, I haven't seen one in a while." So back track and there is a ribbon to the left. But that's it. No more ribbons. We crawled around in circles, no ribbons or trail. We went back on my previous path using loppers to make a little more progress, not a clue. We consulted the map & compared what the trail was supposed to do with where we were compared to abend in the stream below. The trail should continue on the top of the broad ridge we were on however there was absolutely no evidence of a trail (see pic below).
Photo by Metod Lebar
So two choices, we could start clearing where we thought the trail was supposed to be (this would be very slow and hard and maybe wrong), or, we could head for the stream below, take a refreshing dip, get clean, stand up straight, breath fresh air free of clidemia dust, get water to drink (I had just run out), and follow a known path that would lead to the trail. So we did the later and thoroughly enjoyed the stream. After our well deserved break we continued down stream wading & rock hopping. Looks like a waterfall ahead, oh good it's a small one no problem to climb down. Now we get to a large pool with vertical sides. I  think to myself no problem I have plastic bag I can swim and float my back across. Gene though has a big pack that would not fit in my plastic bag. "How deep do you think it is?" asks Gene. I peer into the pool "At least neck deep" I answer. So Gene slips off his boots and slides into the unknown darkness of the pool. Just up to his neck. He heads down stream and the poolgets gradually shallower, piece of cake. I hand him his boots which he puts back on his feet, I hand him his pack which he balances on his head. He makes it across, pack is high & dry. I follow with pack inside plastic. As I come out of the water we both have big smiles on our faces, what an adventure! As we continue down I would talk and Gene would say "What? ribbons? Did you say ribbons?" I would say "No I didn't say ribbons" Soon I am startled when Gene yells "RIBBONS!, WHOOO HOO! RIBBONS!". Yes, we have found the trail. Up to our left is the Kekumu campsite, to the right the trail continues.
It will be dark soon so we set up camp have dinner and quickly go to sleep. We do talk about Thomas we had hoped to find him at the camp site but really knew this was unlikely, there was another campsite we had bypassed perhaps he was there. Most likely he was setting up camp somewhere on the non-trail. We were confident everything was fine, he is very experienced, has plenty of food & water, a very detailed map, and a big pack to make him slow. Friday Morning. The plan is for Gene to start clearing up the trail while I cleared my way down trail to meet up with Patrick & crew who had radios (when we had separated from Thomas, Gene went though his pack to get the two radios he had brought, unfortunately they had been left behind in the van with his change of clothes). When I reached Patrick he would be able to communicate with Thomas and Gene up the Valley to make sure everything was O.K. The process of clearing the trail really seems an impossible task. Soon my motto was "Clear instead of Crawl." This proved to be very slow so it turned out to be "clear because I want to stand up." Clidemia entered my eyes, ears and nose, warning me to be careful. It was 4pm and well down the valley that I met up with Patrick. He agreed to just push forward so as to make it to the camp and try to contact Thomas by radio. He invited me to enjoyed the wide open trail down to the beach. The trail was wide open, in way too few places. 
It was still a battle to push through most of the way. The lower valley did open up for a pleasant walk along the stream under some huge mango trees. About hear I heard a loud roar. A helicopter was landing across the stream. Wow, maybe Thomas was hurt, how did fire rescue get here so fast? I strained to look through the trees to see if there was a basket with Thomas inside. As I debated crossing the stream here and trying to make my way of trail toward the helicopter it took off and zoomed away up the valley. I continued on the now ribbonless trail of most use and made it to the coast. Unexpectedly there was no one here, all the structures were deserted. So I headed down the rocky coast to a place were I could set up my hammock and have a little privacy if the residents did return. As I was preparing my dinner Gene unexpectedly walks by about 50 feet away. "DID YOU FIND THOMAS" I yell as I quickly walk over to him. "NO, NO SIGN OF HIM" says Gene with worry on his face and in his voice. "RADIO CONTACT?" "NO, IS THAT FIRE RESCUE?" Funny, I didn't notice the helicopter had just landed. Gene continued to toward the helicopter. I covered my food and blew out my stove and headed over myself. Gene was getting a lecture from Chris the long time resident on how you should never split up in the jungle. "DON'T PANIC, DON'T PANIC" says Chris emphatically. Gene explains that now one is panicking, he is willing to pay for the helicopter to just fly up the valley and look to see if Thomas can be easily spotted on the trail, or get a signal from Patrick that everything is O.K. If there is clear indication of trouble fire rescue can be notified immediately. This conversation/argument lasts until it is too dark to fly. The pilot will think about it in the morning.Saturday morning Gene tells me he has flares, he will hike up to Patrick, jogging in the open places he hopes to reach the Kekumu camp by 9am. He will ask the helicopter to fly by on there way out, if Thomas is hurt or there has been no contact he will fire a flare, they will call fire/rescue. I will stay behind to direct fire/rescue, if they come. I eat breakfast and position myself to watch the North coast of Molokai (not a bad pass time) and to keep an eye on the helicopter. About 8am the helicopter group shows up I go over and introduce myself and ask if Gene had stopped by to explain their plan. The pilot is still vague about his willingness to go back into the valley, explaining that is not his helicopter. He doesn't say no, but he doesn't say yes either. He says they will head out at about 10am after they go for a swim. I go in the same direction to the gorgeous black sand beach, check out the cave and waterfall at the far end, explore along the and around the wide peninsula to view a stunning waterfall. On my way back the helicopter comes to me turns around over the ocean then buzzes straight at me pulling up over the plateau just in time. They turn around and pop out right above the pilot leaning out gives me a big grin & wave. I wave back. They head off toward Maui. Had they already been up the valley? Did that wave mean everything is O.K.? I had no idea. What if they did not go up the valley? Now there were the regular tour helicopters going into the valley. Gene could signal them with flare. Or, if there was a problem someone would hike out and we could send word by boat(two had already come in with groups of people).At Chris's house I learn that his dog, his companion & provider of food to half of Molokai for the past 10 years, had died yesterday. Dean the helicopter pilot had flown him back to his old house in the valley to bury him. Chris was also very upset at the National Natural Landmark and possible National Park that might means an end to his lifestyle and his dreams of having Native Hawaiians reinhabiting and putting back into productive use his beloved Wailau Valley. I spent the day at his place and met some of the hunters and fishermen who reside there. The consensus was billionaires were depopulating the island so the could have their own private playground. "It's not a conspiracy, just a group of like minded people." Danny offered us the use of his shelter which included four bunk beds and a kitchen complete with propane stove. I learned a lot about the valley, heard some incredible stories, and saw some great pictures of attractions that are hidden in the valley. Yesterday Chris had not realized that Thomas had already spent one  night alone and now it was possibly two nights and three days without contact. As they day past we grew more worried, and they stories changes from those who came out after being lost in the jungle for 3-5 days to stories of one man who was having trouble flagged down a state helicopter, he had blistered feet which was not considered life threatening, so was refused a ride. They did take his backpack though. He never did come out and it was months later that someone remembers the backpack at the state base yard that had never been claimed. Or stories of falling 80 some feet breaking everything and barely surviving, getting hacked up by a crazy man with a machete & hiking out, etc., etc. These guys really should write a book. Danny who was supposed head out at 2pm had the last boat and stayed to 4pm. Should he call fire/rescue? Another boat was coming first thing next morning we would wait until then since I was sure someone would hike out by night fall to let know what was going on. Maybe they had gone out over the top for help? Just as darkness was approaching Gene showed up and gave us the good news that everything was O.K. Thomas had found a real nice campsite and that radio contact had been made the night before. They were all up taking their revenge on that unbelievable cross over section and it was now six feet wide. Sunday I had no desire to hike up into the valley instead now with great relief I could enjoy body surfing, basking in the sun, lying in the stream, watching the fishermen, eating ono opihi and just cruising. This is the life! By mid afternoon the tired, dirty, smelly, grumpy trail clearers started to roll in. Staggering about and mumbling. I felt a twinge of guilt. But then I knew that everyone had an experience of a lifetime. The boat ride back to Wailau was incredibly beautiful, wet & wild, spirits definitely picked up as four grown men gripped the boat, hanging on for there lives, whooping and hollering with joy, as we rushed up & down the swells. A large rock would suddenly roar up near the boat and I was very glad we had an experienced captain. I studied the shoreline as we passed waterfalls spilling into the sea and hidden valley's. Could I walk to this places from Halawa? Yes, mostly, if the ocean was calm. Extremely unlikely. Many on this list have probably read Audrey Sutherland's -Paddling My Own Canoe- For me it is time for a reread. Another book that was recommended and set in Wailau is Sacred Journey of the Peaceful Warrior.Walking past the campers at Halawa I met some of the hunter/fishermen I had met in Wailau the day before. They asked about the lost hiker and said word of him had already spread to the West End. I explained there was no lost hiker just a slow hiker. We were all glad to be able to joke about this. This was a great experience on the friendly isle.To future Wailau Hikers: Even though the trail is partially cleared. Expect to get tired, dirty, scratched & lost. Even if you are young, strong, experienced & wise. Be prepared for the 8 mile hike to take 3 days and be very glad if you make it in one. Be very careful & be safe.