Alakai I: Into the Wet
I've chosen a crappy campsite so in accord with the law of gravity, I've rolled against the side of the tent. Every time a gust of wind drives the rain sizzling into the tent, it shakes the tent and shakes me.
It's hard to pinpoint when I first committed to climb to the summit of Kauai which most folks think is Waialeale but it's actually a summit about a mile south named Kawaikini. But to reach Kawaikini, I'd have to pass close to Waialeale. I decided to kill two summits with one trek.
Studying the topos, you might believe that words such as slog, ordeal, odyssey, jousting with windmills would describe the trek, and you might not think that climb would qualify. Unless you're lost, a distinct possibility, nowhere on the trail to Waialeale is climbing necessary, unless you call crawling over and under fallen, rotting trees covered with moss on steroids or pulling yourself out of belly-button deep mud holes, climbing.
Then there was that time I went tobogganing headfirst on my backside down the side of Kapoki Crater. About the time it occurred to me to flip over and try to use my trekking pole as an ice axe and arrest the slide, I smucked into a bog. I stuck there like a beetle on its back, legs, arms flailing until my climbing partner stopping laughing long enough to pull me out.
Or the morning I fell off the side of a ridge ten steps from our campsite.
And then there's the places where you can take one step left and a hundred straight down.
Rest assured, portions of the trail are near vertical, slippery and treacherous. Call it "Full contact hiking!" It's more work than any climb I've done.
Explaining why I decided to walk on the wet side is more difficult. Remember when you were a kid and somebody said "Don't touch that" and were dumb enough to leave the room! If I'd been in Eden, I wouldn't have needed Eve to persuade me to munch the fruit. But as time passed, I found my motives evolving as I learned to love the Alakai and appreciate the threats to its existence.
I'd first visited Kauai in 1970 while I was stationed at Barbers Point after returning from Viet Nam. At that time, I was still a neophyte hiker. Hanakapiai Falls was about my limit on Kauai although on Oahu, I eventually reached the level of a solid "B" level day hiker.
In 1972 the Navy and I were glad to see the last of each other and I returned to the mainland and started a career. But I'd caught the Hawaii bug and returned almost every year. I devoured everything I could find on its history, geology, natural science. After reading Audrey Sutherland's Paddling My Own Canoe, I talked a co-worker into doing the coast of Molokai in inflatable kayaks. A year later, I did the Na Pali coast solo in an inflatable, hiding my campsite, going where I wanted. It wasn't crowded back then, but I was certainly not a pioneer or adventurer on the scale of Sutherland.
Kauai became my favorite of the islands. By 1993, I'd done the Hanalei Tunnel(thanks to a tip from Micco at Kayak Kauai), the Kalalau Trail, etc., and I'd bluffed my way past a guard, barged through the set for Jurassic Park, and hiked to the Blue Hole before some helicopter pilot decided to rename it "Waialeale Crater" to the dismay of anybody who's knows anything of Kauai geology.
Then came a pause in my yearly trek to Kauai. A merger and subsequent mismanagement forced me, at gunpoint, to move back to the south, Charlotte, NC to be specific. In 1999, at the unanimous urging of my redneck First Officers, I jumped at an early retirement offer, returned to the West Coast and started returning to Kauai. Not much had changed. The Blue Hole was now called something else. Hal's pool had been renamed the Queen's Bath by some guidebook writer and subsequently had its own parking lot and was visited by thousands. No more solitude there.top
Some Waialeale Facts.
Early in the dark, I'm awaken by a swelling, distant roar. Is the Mother of all Deluges approaching? The noise levels off and fades. I check my Casio. It's a little after five-thirty. I didn't know they had departures from Lihue that early. Where the hell are they going? I wonder. The wind and rain seem to have faded. I sponge out the tent then drift back to sleep.
To climbers, beta is information on a route or climb. As one surfs the net, he finds a lot of bad beta about Waialeale as he encounters site after site (or for those who read books, guidebook after guidebook) that commit internet incest. Sites that trade the same bad data, urban myths, etc. We pledge good "beta." If you find an error, please correct us by furnishing better beta.
The highest point on Kauai isn't Waialeale at 5148, but Kawaikini at 5243 feet. And while the point designated Waialeale on the topo map is a small bump on the ridge marking the eastern edge of the Olokele Plateau, Kawaikini is a separate peak connected by a narrow neck to the plateau. Folks are sloppy about names, using "Mount" Waialeale, "Mount" Kawaikini, Kawaikini "Peak," etc. Strictly speaking, according to the USGS, it's only Waialeale (or Wai'ale'ale if you prefer) and Kawaikini. This is not a technicality or oversight since Mount is part of the names of many Mounts such as Mount Whitney.
But what about Mount Waialeale?
In books written by old timers like Eric Knudsen, they used the term Mount Waialeale to mean the Olokele or Alakai Plateau south of Koaie Stream, the massif at the center of Kauai that's best viewed from the Kapaa area. As you look from there, Kawaikini is the highest part of the ridge at the left or southern end (Is it Waialeale or Wai'ale'ale? Both but for pronunciation, use Wai'ale'ale as in y-ollie-ollie. It ain't y-alay-alay. Pronounce Hawaiian vowels the same as per Español).Oops. I stand corrected. Looks like y-alay-alay is probably closer to the correct pronunciation.
This confusion between Waialeale and Mount Waialeale has led to much bad beta. Website after website give the height of Mount Waialeale as 5148, which is merely the elevation of the small hillock upon which the raingage is located. Waialeale is not the summit of Mount Waialeale. Others list 5208 which is closer, being the elevation of the benchmark south of Kawaikini(bring rope if you want to find it). The true summit of Mount Waialeale is 5243 feet in elevation and located at Kawaikini. I know. I've been there.
The ancient Hawaiians constructed a trail up forbidding Pohakupele Ridge and between the current raingage and the small lake they called Waialeale (Hawaiian for rippling waters) they built Kaawako Heiau. Of course, the missionaries on their God-given, thankless quest to destroy native religion and culture across the world did their best to destroy Hawaii's. The pagan heiau and its trail reverted to nature. What must have been the most spectacular trail and viewpoint in Hawaii was lost.
Pohakupele Ridge probably hasn't been climbed since the nineteenth century but if you're game for a recon, drop us a line.
At some point the USGS anointed the rise a few hundred meters southwest of the lake as Waialeale and circa 1910 a raingage was established there. In 1962 NGS choppered in and located a benchmark south of the summit of Kawaikini at 5208 feet while apparently they disdained placing one at Waialeale. (Is it raingage or rain gage or rain gauge or raingauge? All are used so if you google it complicates things. I'll use raingage (or RG) since that's what USGS uses on their website - but not on their maps. Sigh.)
For the most part, Hawaiian wilderness is benign. More tourists die from suicidal helicopter pilots, drowning, traffic accidents. There're no carnivorous critters, yellow fever, malaria (of the human variety at least), hostile natives (expect the occasional defender of feral hog's Constitutional Right to devastate the forest) and, contrary to what the guidebooks claim, just one variety of snake (albeit non-venomous). Up high, even mosquitoes are scarce. Thunderstorms are rare and the temperature's comfortable compared to most mountain tops. But Kauai is wet-as millions of traumatized tourists will attest.
Yes, one could fall off a trail-especially since the state budget for trail maintenance approximates the budget for lifeboats on the Titanic (Much of the work is done by volunteers -- Mahalo to ya'll). It seemed getting lost was a theme. Shucks, I'd never gotten lost in scores of hikes, thousands of flights. I love maps. I salivate at the sight of a topo. Other yahoos might get lost, but after forty years of navigating, getting lost was the least of my worries(naiveté in action). But just in case, I decided that GPS might be useful.top
I catch the Waialeale Bug
I stare at my New Balance trail running shoes in the early light. Nothing dries in the Alakai and they weight about three pounds apiece and resemble large hog turds. I tug on my wet socks onto my soon to be soaked feet and pull on the shoes, trying in vain to keep the mud off my hands.
After a long gestation, sometime after 2000 I caught Waialeale Fever. It started as infections can, with a low order fever and grew into an obsession. The virus had laid dormant since 1970, when I'd first glimpsed the summit from Kapaa. But it was so far beyond my capacity that any thought of climbing it had stayed buried deep for decades.
For some reason or genetic defect, I was bugged by a new hiking guidebook which claimed there had never even been a trail to Waialeale. Perhaps by 1999 after the thrashing the Alakai "Swamp" had received from hurricanes Dot, Iwa and Iniki, the trail had reverted to nature. But how, in spite of the fact that the USGS had for decades maintained at least three raingages including the one at the summit and the Waialae Stream Gauging station on or near the trail shown on their topos before the invention of the helicopter, could the author claim that no trail had ever existed? Other sources mention a trail to the top plus there's a ancient heiau near the summit and the island has been inhabited for almost two thousand years.(Update: September 2005. Having hiked segments of the Waialeale Trail all the way to the raingage, I can assure you the Waialeale Trail did in fact exist.)
In March 2002, I chanced upon "Soaked" while thumbing through an issue of Outside Magazine. I devoured it as I do just about anything about Kauai besides the standard tourist rehashes of the same old trails, new novel ways to separate folks from their cash, etc.
Besides confirming much of what I'd suspected of the typical hunter and his relation to the wilderness (Don't waste money and hire a guide unless it's me. But I charge ALPA 767/757 hourly rates), it didn't really provide much in the way of beta as to how to reach Waialeale.
Feverishly I started looking for data, reading the guidebooks, searching the internet, etc. Much of what I found was inconsistent or worse.
My Waimea Canyon (1965) and Waialeale(1983) topos clearly showed a trail leading to Waialeale and since the trail serviced a stream gauging station at Waialae Stream and a raingage on the windswept summit plus others for decades it certainly must have existed. Strangely, on the latest Waimea Canyon topo, what I'll call the Waialeale Trail was omitted, airbrushed into oblivion like Stalin airbrushed Trotsky and others from their group photos of the twenties. It remains on the latest Waialeale topo and the State I-Map (drill down "other roads." Good data there. )and even on my eTrex Legend map downloaded from the Mapsource CD. A suspended trail from nowhere to somewhere. (I’ve discovered a disturbing trend in recent USGS maps to disappear older routes.)(Subsequent research has revealed that for several years, the USGS trekked the trail every two weeks.)
My 1977 edition of Hiking Kauai by Robert Smith even mentioned a Waialeale Wilderness Trail cutting off from the Mohihi-Waialae Trail (MWT) at a point that'd pretty much match the trail shown on the topo maps.
But after the advent of helicopters being used to service the rain and stream gages and the forest being thrashed by three hurricanes in 1959, 1982 and 1992, did the Waialeale Trail(WT) still exist?
Scouring the web(I Google with the best! Shoulda jumped on the stock!), I couldn't turn up any recent accounts of successful treks to Kawaikini or Waialeale. Was it that difficult? It wasn't illegal to hike in that area considering that Hunting Area E reaches within 1.26 miles of the raingage at Waialeale although I've come to doubt that hunters venture anywhere near that far.
The most determined account to reach Waialeale (posted on the net at least) was The Crown of Lemuria by Serge King. Yet his determined five day effort in 1987 failed.
An e-mail from Serge led me to Eric Knudsen's book Teller of Tales that chronicled three successful treks about a century ago (Actually he made a total of six, although he only discussed three in the book. MJD) following a trail that, in its upper regions, matches the WT(Waialeale Trail) on the USGS topos. Without topo maps, GPS, aerial photos, freeze dried food, Knudsen made the round trip trek in three days, the first time on the spur of the moment.
I asked at the two outfitters in Hanalei and only got blanched expressions, shudders and hints that I was attempting madness. The folks at Kokee Park were no help but they added tales of vague numbers of people disappearing in the vast, treacherous, impenetrable Alakai Swamp. Impenetrable? Being of a scientific bend and not faith driven, I feel most things can be penetrated. However a young couple disappeared after leaving their car at a Kalalau lookout. But their camping gear was still in the car.
Other than a survey employee dying of a heart attack near the raingage (perhaps an urban legend. If you've good beta on this, please forward it - MJD), I couldn't find a single account of somebody dying on Mount Waialeale, while hiking at least. A large number have been murdered by helicopter pilots bent on ignoring common sense. It must be their tips. Moral: Tip your pilot for a safe flight, not an "exciting" one. Better yet, take a hike.
A pass at the Kauai Chapter of the Sierra Club proved fruitless although I was invited to join them on a rigorous trek to the top of the Sleeping Giant. Well, maybe for my ninetieth birthday. (We were puzzled by the cryptic warning on their website that "Women are advised not to camp or hike in remote areas alone on Kaua'i." Is it O.K. for girls to hike alone? Is Kauai anymore dangerous for women than say the Sierra Nevada? Do hogs attack women more so than men? Does hiking through the fecund rainforest on Kauai cause women to have licentious thoughts that might require the immediate presence of other hikers? Please, if you have good beta on why women (but not girls) should not hike/camp alone on Kauai please forward it to us. We're considering establishing an escort service.)
I tried to find a partner but apparently Waialeale's reputation scared off most contenders.
It became obvious that Kauai had become a green albeit wet version of Disneyland. Spend lots of money, ride the ATV's, slide the zip lines, spend lots of money, blah, blah. And if you must hike, stay on the prepared trails. If you insist upon camping, stay only where we say with a permit, (a regular ordeal for the popular apparently unmaintained Kalalau Trail.)
Personal Inventory Time: My experience
Besides clambering cliffs at Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico at the age of ten and collecting expended munitions on the gunnery ranges at Fort Bliss in Texas around the time Sputnik went up, I'd first started hiking while stationed in Hawaii in the early seventies. I'd climbed Kaala a few times, crossed the Koolaus, tried to canyoneer down Kaluanui stream above Sacred Falls (anybody game to finish this, contact us!), so forth.
I knew the peculiarities of hiking in Hawaii. For example, unlike the mainland, where the conventional wisdom is follow the streams, avoid the ridges, in Hawaii the opposite is usually true. Follow an Hawaiian stream downhill, and you'll likely end up in a narrow gorge on the lip of a waterfall looking down regretting that you didn't bring a few hundred feet of rope. Start downslope without knowing of what lies ahead, you'll likely hit a band of cliffs that consist of "Hawaiian rock" the consistency of clay, covered with loosely rooted vegetation. In Hawaii, a bush you could anchor a SUV off of the Sierra Nevada will come out by the roots or break off under the weight of a poodle. And the bomber handholds of the mainland? Forget it. In Hawaii, a basketball sized handhold hardly supports its own weight much less yours.
Did I mention that many Hawaiian ridges turn into treacherous, knife-edge horror shows?
On the mainland, I tried rock climbing, but after dragging a cast around for a few months, I switched over to mountaineering. I climbed/hiked minor stuff: Popocatepetl in Mexico, Rainier a couple of times, Mts. Adams, Shasta, Whitney, the Grand Canyon, canyoneering in Utah, so forth. But I did it in spurts with long periods off. Since 1983, I've mountain biked as my primary exercise. Strangely, I enjoyed going uphill rather than the typical blasting downhill, scattering hikers, horses etc.(In the mid-fifties, with my Schwinn, I originated the single speed mountain bike almost thirty-five years before they became a fad.)
I backpacked not for the love of backpacking, but as a means to reach a goal. Two nights was my longest trip with one night closer to normal. I'd successfully avoided rain but not snow.top
Embracing the Wet
Heavy rain periods in the Alakai can grow fungus on your soul; goretex is ineffectual, birds walk, trails are IFR, and you enter the tribe of the Mudmen. I have seen Kauai streams rise within a few minutes from being benign and fordable to raging torrents. This happened once to me on a sunny day, from some downpour far upstream I suppose. When you see (or hear) a quick rise make sure you are on the side of the stream you want to be! I had to claw my way up the canyon wall out of Koaie once when trapped upstream from the Root Trail.....unfun. The bog route to Waialeale avoids this rushing water hazard, and there may still be a cable crossing just upstream from Koaie gaging station if you are trapped and desperate there.
Having spent time in Princeville, I knew it rained a lot there and certainly a helluva lot more atop Waialeale. On the other hand, driving thru Kapaa, I'd seen the summit ridge many times, especially in the morning. Some times it seemed to be clear for days.
So how much did it rain? Since nobody could agree, I turned to the internet. In minutes, I googled this site, with real time data straight (via satellite) from Waialeale. I'd discover a swamp of data about rainfall atop Waialeale. By exploring the site, I found real time stream flow and raingage data for several sites on Kauai.
So folks, here's the facts as determined by the USGS's Waialeale raingage. Between 1949 and 2000, the average rainfall was a mere 379.02 inches per year. During that period there were, on average, 281 days with measurable rainfall or in other words, 84 days a year with no measurable precipitation. (The USGS defines measurable rainfall as more than one-hundred of an inch.)
There were, on average, 252 days with a tenth of an inch or more, and 170 with a half or more. In other words, over half the days are less than half an inch. In fact, according to the USGS, several sites in Hawaii have rain more often than Waialeale, up to 318 days a year, but just don't rack up the high total numbers.
Hell, I could hack half an inch a day. That'd give me 195 (196 during leap years) days a year that'd I'd get damp at worse.
I found that Kauai has a steep rain fall gradient. Only a few miles away, the rainfall drops to half or a third. For example, in 1998 the Waialeale Trail raingage recorded 134.64 inches of rain while the Waialeale Summit RG 2.48 miles away, recorded 344.83. The bulk of the hike should be dryer than the summit.
As I examined the daily figures, I found frequent dry periods of more than a week and periods of up to three weeks with only an inch or so. (The raingage recorded a record low of 1.62 inches during December 2005.)
Eureka! If one accesses the raingage, heeded the satellite forecasts, he should be able to day hike in the Alakai and stay, except maybe his feet, totally dry. Eventually I would discover that if you pick a period when no rain has been recorded for several days, the mud holes would dry up, the streams drop to a trickle, especially since nowhere were you more than a hundred yards from a drainage.
Alas. I live not on Kauai.
For those so inclined (like me), here's a scientific paper on Waialeale Trade Winds Rain. It concludes that the heavier rain on Mount Waialeale occurs during periods of moderate or higher tradewinds when there are cumulus clouds (not the big Kansas stuff but the typical low level tropical cumulus) upwind, i.e. blowing over Kapaa. Also that the rain peaks in the pre-dawn and is lowest in the afternoon.
Bottom line. It does not rain continuously or anywhere near it atop Mount Waialeale. Period.
By relying on the rain gage, on my first five hikes into the Alakai, I stayed dry. Only when I ignored the rain gage and let the calender dictate my schedule, did I get hosed.
But the most mysterious thing about the RG websites is that I've never found them mentioned in any of the guidebooks or tourist websites? Techophobes?
Reluctantly, I concluded that likely there was no summit trail, at least still in existence. That once I stepped off the WMT, I'd essentially be in Terra Incognito.
I was on my own and since I knew nothing about hiking in the Alakai and from analyzing the few accounts, I concluded going for the summit in a single shot would almost guarantee failure, I decided to take it in stages and not launch off into the unknown. I'd need to build up to a dress rehearsal.
Somewhere I came across the following description of the eastern Alakai.
Numerous meandering mountain steams dissect the area so that except for major ridges which occasionally broaden into relatively flat areas the land is a maze of narrow knife-like ridges, cliffs, ledges, and steep inclines to adjoining streams.
That pretty much nails it. If the routes didn't exist, I'd have to come up with my own. I'd study the terrain and hope that a reasonable route would become obvious.
It's been my experience - I've opened a few, minor MTB and hiking routes in my life - that if you apply logic to the terrain, that routes follow obvious paths. Perhaps if I plotted my own path, choosing an obvious route, I'd find that others had the same idea (I assumed that others climbed at least occasionally.) Sort of a Darwin effect -- Survival of the fittest route.
I came up with three criteria for my hypothetical route.
So what kind of feature might combine all three characteristics?
A divide! I'd hit upon the solution although I failed to realize that there are obvious divides and more subtle ones that reveal themselves only after close study of the topography.
Outside of trying to resurrect the Ancient's incredible East Ridge route, the Mohihi-Waialae Trail (MWT) seemed the best route affording access to the far reaches of the Alakai. Going in via Waialae Camp was much longer than coming in from the end of the Camp 10 road. I'd also been told that between Koaie Camp and Waialae Camp, the MWT was impassable because of blow-down from the hurricanes.(Don't confuse Waialae and Waialeale. Waialae derives from the Waialae Stream that drains the Alakai west into Waimea Canyon.)
The divide I picked was the obvious one running west from the summit ridge a few hundred yards south of the Waialeale raingage. It split the Waimea and Wainiha watersheds and was the district boundary between Hanalei and Waimea districts. For the first mile or so west from the summit, it even coincided with the Waialeale Trail. Using the TOPO! computer program, I traced the divide until it passed the headwaters of Koaie stream and found a point where I could cut northwest off the MWT before it made its dreaded drop into Koaie gorge. After half a mile or so of bushwhacking, I'd reach the divide. The ridge was broad and the short distance to the divide looked flat.
Using TOPO!, the profile of the route, if it existed would be rolling at worse and, being a divide, as dry as it gets. From the end of the Camp 10 road, it was 10.96 miles to Kawaikini with a net elevation gain of 1649 feet (+2899,-1250)Our initial route would have been (if we'd gone to Kawaikini instead of Waialeale) 11.67 miles, +3259,-1610. Our proposed 2006 Kawaikini route: 10.50 miles, +3121, -1472)At this point in time, I'd never been more than two miles in on the Camp 10 road and had been led to believe that the Waialeale trail didn't exist and that the MHT trail beyond Koaie Camp had reverted to jungle.
Enforcing this pipe dream was the fact that the coordinates for the Waialeale Trail raingage (not the summit RG) plotted very close to the divide. Even the name of the raingage hinted of a trail. Later I'd discover that these coordinates were bogus! Ironically, this incorrect fix would lead me in the right direction.
First obstacle was the last four miles of the Camp 10 road. The various guidebooks unanimously warn Abandon All Hope Thee Who Pass This Point Without Four Wheel Drive And Then Only On Dry Days. I decided to use a Wally World mountain bike. You'd think a bike whose parts had the strength of pasta wouldn't weigh that much. Wrong. Huffy has cornered the pot medal market. Worse thing was the short seat post which threatened to destroy my knees and cut my climbing ability to zilch.top
In August 2003, I took my first hike on the Mohihi-Waialeale Trail (MWT).
At that time, I hadn't decided to make a serious attempt at Waialeale. I was curious about the conditions en route and wanted to learn just what would be involved. Also, by getting off trail and trying my own hand at finding a route, perhaps I'd get an idea what I might encounter further in.
I'd taken several of the Na Pali overlook trails, but with the exception of the Pihea Trail, I'd never hiked east of Kokee.
I left my car about two miles in where the Camp 10 road makes its first big drop, assembled the mountain bike and headed downhill. The next four miles of road presented few obstacles although I had to wade the bike across the Kawaikoi Stream crossing because of high water, pointing the bike upstream so as not to be broadside to the current. Mud was no more than a nuisance. I hid the bike in the brush at road's end and started hoofing(There's an open shelter and a serious 4wd might get about a quarter mile further downhill.).
After a few hundred yards I passed over the abandoned Mohihi ditch then dropped down and crossed Mohihi Stream "feet dry." The trail climbed steeply to atop the ridge that led eastward paralleling Koaie gorge and stream far below on the right. Many other accounts exist to point out the beauty of the MWT so I won't try to top them. Eventually you enter a half mile long tangle of uluhe ferns and the occasional blackberry vine that'll make you wish you'd worn long pants.
Except for the occasional false lead, the trail was easy to follow. The ridge roller-coastered before broadened and flattening out. At this point, mud holes became a factor, but if I took my time, they could usually be circumnavigated. They will slow you down.
I'd picked my cut off at the high point on the trail about a quarter mile or so before the trail dove toward Koaie stream. For navigation, I'd programmed the route, via TOPO!, into my GPS.
I headed off trail for the first time.
Bushwhacking was slow but not as bad as some of the trails I'd blazed in the Southwest where the vegetation can be downright carnivorous. However there was a lot of blow-down and I had to follow a cork screw path, dodging tangles. After maybe five minutes, I stopped to refer to my GPS. "Lost satellite reception" it sneered, a signal that'd rarely bothered me in except in canyons. Overhead was a canopy of dense green.
I placed it back into its case on my shoulder strap. (I've found that carrying it on the hip or in a pocket greatly limited the number of satellites and accuracy.) I looked around and realized I had turned while fiddled with the GPS. I couldn't pick out where I'd come from, the terrain was flat, visibility was twenty feet at best, the sky was overcast, every direction looked the same. I was disoriented aka LOST.
And my compass was sitting back at the condo. Wonderful.
Although I wasn't more than a hundred yards off the MWT, I could barely tell up from down, much less east from west. At the age of 57, after decades of hiking and instrument flying, I was for the first time lost. I'd compounded my idiocy by not flagging.
On the bright side, I was learning real quick. Now if I could just figure out how to someday apply what I'd learned? For half an hour I flailed around, on the edge of panic but knowing enough to not stray far from where I'd realized I was lost. I spent a lot of time standing on tiptoe, holding the GPS overhead as high as I could reach, but I never got more than two satellites which is no better than zero (In hindsight, perhaps I should have climbed a tree but still that'd be no guarantee of reception).
Now what? Stay in one spot like the experts recommend and wait for rescue? Drive my wife crazy with fear and join the ranks of the morons who've gotten lost in the Alakai? Oops, I'd already joined the illustrious ranks of those courageous explorers! Worse, I would lose FACE! How could I extract myself from this hole without getting in deeper doo doo?
I tried using my brain. I was lost, but unless I was dumb enough to descend off the flat top of the ridge, I'd gotten myself lost in a small area since the flat topped portion of the ridge ran about a mile at most east-west and was less than half a mile wide. The trail couldn't be more than a hundred yards way.
I pulled out my flagging tape like I shoulda awhile back, and flagged the position I'd first realized I was lost. Then I headed in a straight line -- my best guess as to the correct direction to the WMT, flagging big time. (I could just about hold onto to one flag and grab the next.) After fifty yards or so, I returned to the original flag and started flagging in the opposite direction. Then back to the center again to extend the original line. I knew I'd either hit the trail or the edge of the ridge. If this hadn't worked, I planned to start a perpendicular line, forming an x atop the ridge until I found the trail.
I never had to start the perpendicular line! It's hard to describe how it felt when I realized I'd found the trail! I'd successful extracted myself from the mess I'd created.
Back at the condo, I realized that the GPS had actually tracked pretty well during almost my entire hike and had lost reception only a few minutes before I realized it. In other words, it showed me roughly where I was but without a compass, this information was useless since I didn't know what direction to go. Some newer models do have a built in compass ability but most only tell you what direction you are MOVING (Walking in a straight line far enough for a non-compass GPS to snap in and find north is problematic in the Alakai). And of course, without reception, your GPS compass ain't gonna work. Fiddle with one and you'll understand what I mean. If you hold a compass and turn it, the needle stays locked onto magnetic north. Turn your GPS and the display turns and you lose orientation.(Paradoxically, the deeper you get into the Alakai, "Lost satellite reception" becomes rare since the trees are stunted and the canopy less dense.)
A few days later, I took an uneventful hike on the well marked and heavy trod Alakai Swamp Trail/Boulevard. I figured it was within my navigation abilities. As you probably know, this trail crosses the northern Alakai and ends up at Kilohana overlook giving a great view off the Wainiha Pali (Hawaiian for cliff or precipice). It'd give me my first look at the legendary Alakai bogs.
A few years back, before they constructed a boardwalk over the bogs, this trip had been an ordeal punctuated with waist deep mud. The first thing I noted was that the mud seemed to occur near or under the boardwalk but a few yards away, the surface looked intact. I shouldn't have been surprised. I'd learned while mountain biking that the worst mud is along the trail where the traffic has broken down the surface and killed off the vegetation.
Maybe the bogs on the Way to Waialeale wouldn't be as muddy.
A week later, wiser and packing a compass, I returned to the MWT and started bushwhacking at the same point. I relied upon on the compass to maintain a heading and used the GPS for the occasional fix. And I left boo-coo flags.
As I expected from the topo, the ridge/plateau narrowed as it approached the Wainiha Pali. Then to my surprise, I picked up a trail going the same way. I followed it and it led to a spectacular view of the upper Wainiha Valley. After savoring the view and appreciating that few had ever enjoyed it, I returned to my explorations. The main trail headed off northwest following the Pali, in the opposite direction of Waialeale. Maybe I'll return to it someday.
I found a obscure path heading south, dropping off the plateau and following the divide between Koaie watershed and Wainiha valley, the divide that eventually leads to Waialeale. After a few hundred yards, the ridge became knife edged and the trail faded as did my plan #1 one to find a Way to Waialeale.
I returned via the new trail I’d found but rather than follow the Camp 10 road after the trailhead, I biked the level road alongside the Mohihi Ditch. Right before the ditch left the canyon, I found a spectacular narrow ridge jutting out above the intersection of Mohihi and Poomau Canyons giving a view down into a spectacular gorge.
At one of the bridges constructed out of what appears to be old railroad rails laid length-wise, my front tire wedged in a slot and pretzelled. My new mountain bike was history. Sixty bucks down the tubes.
In truth, going up and downhill with a backpack on a slipperier than snot clay road with brakes that make more noise than stopping power isn't that much faster than walking, especially when you factor in the assemble time. That piece of junk was the scariest thing about the whole trip. Almost. Getting lost was scarier. And more humbling than an endo in front of a crowd.
I went home, encouraged but not yet committed.
Over the next year, I discovered and studied the Oahu Hiking Enthusiasts posts on their listserv, especially their multi-day Koolau Summit Trail hikes, the closest hikes to what I'd endure, although they were retracing an established trail. I began to assemble my "gear" and prepare for a dress rehearsal.
The OHE site offered good insights on equipment. Those towering fifty pound loads that folks drag up Whitney for a two nighter would not work. Even more importantly, one post revealed that the MWT had been reopened by chain saw wielding volunteers and a OHE group had hiked from Camp 10 to Waialae Camp and out via Kaluahaulu ridge.top
First Bite: Alakai I
In August 2004, upon arrival on Kauai, I immediately went on the internet and checked the Waialeale raingage. It hadn't rained for a week so the next morning I headed for the MWT. The road conditions were the best I've encountered so my two wheel drive carried me all the way to the end of the Camp 10 road. Within a couple of hours, I passed my turnoff from the previous year. The trail conditions were dry, the mud holes solid.
My first descent into Koaie Gorge went as advertised, steep and treacherous if you hurried. Koaie stream was low and the cabin and adjacent campground empty.
Trail descriptions were vague about where the trail started up the other side of the gorge and the path I took quickly turned into a bushwhack (Hint: bear right across a level, soggy acre-sized patch of tall grass). After a few minutes, I resorted to the GPS to find a heading for the next waypoint. Unfortunately I'd left my glasses back at the initial drop-off into Koaie valley but by squinting I could read enough to follow the heading. I stuck to the heading (easier said than done up a steep, overgrown slope) and in a few minutes picked up the trail.
The trail roller coasted along the ridge but finally hit the flat and traveling through dense forest. The views were few and far between, just the occasional window to either side. I could see where blow-downs had been chain sawed (mahalos to the volunteers)and initially the trail was easy to follow but became fainter the further in.
My plan was to follow the MWT until it took an obvious 120 bend to the west, dropping steeply off the ridge, crossed a stream and remounted what eventually becomes Kaluahaulu Ridge heading west. I hoped to find a route southeast on one of these two ridges that led toward the Waialeale Trail raingage a little more than a mile away. If I didn't spot a route, I'd start bushwhacking.
I kept expecting the trail to bend west and but it never happened. After a while I checked the GPS and found I'd passed the turnoff. Trail descriptions had warned of missing the turn and I had which turned out to be exactly what I'd wanted. (The actual turn is past the point on the map and marked with an arrow carved into a log pointing "up" the MWT although most hikers go downhill. On that trip, the log was placed in a position that made little sense. It has been repositioned.)
The trail became much more obscure. At times, I'd backtrack and try a different direction. It worked although at times the trail would vary as much as a hundred degrees from SE, invariable it would veer back. (Caution! This tendency of Alakai trails to corkscrew can lead you in circles. It has with me. Lots.) Finally I hit my turnaround time, ate a energy bar or two and started back. This called for me to reprogram the GPS. Now my lack of glasses became a real pain in the butt as it became impossible to read the small print on the GPS's screen. I couldn't reprogram the GPS to trackback. Finally I pulled out my compass and started back on a reciprocal heading. It worked. (I did manage to waypoint my position, which later with glasses I could determine was 3.2 miles from the Waialeale RG or half a mile from the Waialeale Trail RG (its presumed location).
After a while the MWT reappeared and the return was uneventful. I even found my glasses lying right where I'd laid them.
At least I wasn't repeating the same mistakes.
Also, I learned following a route one direction might not be as easy going in the opposite direction -- take my word for it.
I was bushed by the time I returned to the car after a long, dry, successful trek far into the Alakai.
That night it rained four inches! And except for a few short breaks, it kept raining fairly continuously for the next four weeks. (This dodging the rain bullet has - knock on wood - remained the pattern at least through January 2006.)
Quandary time. With the Camp 10 road now muddy and impassible to 2wd, the streams high, by pushing hard and starting out at dawn and returning by sunset, I'd be hard pressed to repeat my high point.
I'd hit the practical limit for a day hike. Mine at least, others I've met since then are capable of covering at least four times the distance I can in a day.
I'd brought a limited amount of backpacking gear but it'd been more than ten years since my last campout. During my earlier camping epoch, I'd always done a good job weather watching. Although, I'd always packed rain gear and a tent, I'd been successful in avoiding rain. I was reluctant to take on the Alakai Rain torture following a route that might quit at the next fascinating bush or below a endangered bird’s nest maybe only a hundred yards past my high point. I knew I wasn't ready for the worse the Alakai could throw at me by a long shot.
None of this stopped me from having a great time for the rest of my vacation and finding plenty of new nooks and crannies on Kauai but this tale is about Waialeale, so I won't bore you with the details. I felt that it was possible, but only if I prepared better and stayed willing to take on the Alakai a bit at a time.top
Back in the real world, I really began to Google Waialeale bigtime. Over the next few months, I explored several data sources. I learned to take digital elevations maps (DEMs), both from the USGS and from the space shuttle and produce three dimensional images that could be rotated, tilted, zoomed. Better yet, I learned how to "drape" photos or maps over the 3-d images. My research also uncovered a crude map that revealed routes leading far into the Alakai.Click here to view a large map with some of the info I've gathered on Waialeale and the southern Alakai Plateau Some of the routes we've done are in red. top
Into the Wet
In early December 2004 I took my first try at reaching the NGS benchmark at Kawaikini(TU1948). The goal was to get my feet wet (ha-ha), test my research and gear, get as far as I could, and since it'd been fifteen years since my last overnight backpack and that had been on Mt. Hood sleeping on a glacier, to perhaps get some experience camping in the rain.
I didn't seriously think I'd make it all the way but measuring the trail distance and dividing by my lack of experience off-trail in the Alakai, I thought -- Maybe! And if I didn't make it, I'd have "Lessons learned" for my next trip.
I drove to Camp 10. No rain but the road was wet. The Camp 10 road had been improved recently but near the end was a stretch of deep mud and ruts. Knowing that the conditions might get a lot worse and that the stream crossing at Kawaikoi stream could be impassable during hard rainfall, I cached my pack(26#'s dry), returned the car to Kawaikoi campsite and started walking.
Around ten, I left the Camp 10 trailhead, then took a lunch break and water-up at Koaie Camp before continuing up the MWT.
Entry to Sincock's Bog looking south. The northwest end of the bog drains primarily into Koaie Stream and can be considered the source of Koaie stream. The rest, south into Halehaha stream as does Bog 2. (Understanding drainages is handy in the Alakai.)
Bog 2 aka Bogette was an island surrounded by a narrow fringe of vegetation that dropped off into a sea of cloud. After all, it was astride the divide I'd originally attempted to follow. To the east toward Waialeale, I could see low hills, but the summit ridge was obscured. I expected to find the Waialeale Trail raingage at the east end of Bog 2 but found nothing, not even a foundation. Since my data on the raingage was five years old, I thought perhaps it'd been decommissioned.
At the east end of the second bog, I exited over a gate and found the beginning of a obvious route. It had been raining off and on but it now commenced to get down to business. I was tired and getting cold so I camped just outside the fence. It was a crummy site but I needed to camp. Right then! Too tired to cook, but granola bars and trail mix did the job. Strong winds and rain battered the tent and me almost all night long. But I stayed dry, and in bits and pieces, got plenty of rest even if the place was spooky with the howling wind and the sizzling sound of rain on the tent for most of the night. Earplugs came in handy.
The next morning, I got up to excellent conditions. No rain, but I was at the top of patchy clouds with blue overhead. The route disappeared in about fifty yards (obvious doesn't hack it in the Alakai) so I back tracked across the bog following the south side fence and found a route near where my GPS indicated there should be a transect leading southwest.
It turned out to be a good route, at times almost a trail that dipped down, crossed the headwaters of Halehaha Stream and easily reached the third, unfenced bog (Halekua). Went east along the north side of bog and was amazed to spot through a gap to the south something man-made. Walked over and found, I assumed, the elusive (They don't put signs on these things) Waialeale Trail raingage. Various generations of raingages were scattered about a hard clay area but the most recent was solar powered. Windmill would probably work better if you ask me.
The west end of Bog 3, looking SW. The pools can be avoided. Portions of the bog are higher (and dryer). I'd estimate there's about ten feet of relief. This bog mostly drains south into Halepaakai stream.
East end of Bog 3, looking west. To the right of center is the low pass where, according to the topo, the old Waialeale Trail crossed. My initial route went ninety degrees right, south, from the point the photo was taken. My return (mo' bettah) route would cross right to left at the base of the hill, then directly toward this position.
The bogs are amoeba shaped and straddle ridge tops, aren't level but rolling with a fair amount of relief. Deep mud and hog wallows can be avoided by following paths -- although the paths are fading in the fenced bogs. The projections obvious in the aerial photos are actually the beginning of drainages that progressively steepened. I was struck by the relatively small numbers of birds, nothing like what I've encountered in Costa Rica or the Galapagos (the puaiohi are for the most part, ravine dwellers).
At the east end of the third bog, found a route south -- which disappeared (or I lost it) after about a hundred yards but I pressed on into a nightmare, the meandering headwaters of Halepaakai Stream, a morass of log tangles and belly button deep mud. Strangely, the streambed under a foot or so of rushing water, rather than being solid, was three feet of mush, while on the banks it was solid. Relatively speaking.
At times, I was five or six feet above the ground, balancing on logs, grabbing at pencil thin branches swollen to six inches in diameter with moss. Both logs and branches had a tendency to break. (Afterwards, the raw data from the GPS looked like a child's scribbling. As my skill at overlaying improved, I determined that I'd gone about a hundred yards past the actual transect. Between Bog 2 and Bog 3, the route I'd eventually followed, exactly matched the transect). Fortunately where I crossed this stream and the Halehaha were further upstream from where Serge King crossed and I didn't have to contend with ravines.
My GPS indicated my next goal, the Waialeale Trail, was only a few hundred yards away but I figured it'd take hours then … I stumbled across a route leading somewhere. It headed SW, toward - I hoped - the Waialeale Trail. In a quarter hour or so I reached what I've dubbed Grand Central (GC) where at least three routes intersected with the Waialeale Trail. Within a ten yard radius, there must have been fifty flags, some almost covered with moss, disintegrating, etc. The Waialeale Trail (the traditional route) approached from the west on a broad, relatively dry divide between the Makaweli River drainage to the south and Halepaakai Stream to the north. I even spotted a set of several-day old footprints, the first since leaving the Koaie Camp; maybe some researcher who'd choppered in or hiked in from Waialae Cabin.
I reflected a bit on the old timers like Knudsen who'd passed by this very point a century before it'd become "impossible." What wimps we've let guidebooks and bureaucrats turn us into.
Even though it was still early, I knew I'd have a long next day and I'd guaranteed my better half to be out by dark the next day and my campsite needed to be improved, I decided to quit while I was ahead. I followed the good trail back to, I hoped, Bog 3. Although it was twenty times quicker it seemed to fit the "go around the cup to reach the handle" cliché.
My confidence wavered. I reached for my GPS, which I carry on the pack strap, close to my left ear. It was gone. The velcro on its carrying case had mud packed and the GPS had dropped out. Somewhere. Rather than say f-it and get out my new Garmin Geko backup GPS, I backtracked all the way to Grand Central, but didn't find it until I back-backtracked. Note to Garmin: GPS's should be international orange, not pretty blue and dull black.
Returned to camp with no problems. I tried to skim water from the depressions near my campsite but I got more mud and slime than h20 so I returned to Halehaha Stream to fill my water bottles. Brewed up hot water for my freeze dry and ate, slept good that night. Return was uneventful, except between Bog 2 and Sincock's Bog, the GPS was invaluable finding the bog exit point. After leaving Sincock's, I was distracted by a sucker route heading southwest but since it headed downhill into the Halehaha Stream maze, I retreated.(Blindly following flags in the Alakai is folly. There are literally dozens of obscure or worse trails, leading someplace important to whomever placed them, be he a botanist or ornithologist. Without learning the terrain and having a GPS backup and knowing where you're going, they are almost useless.)
By noon I was at Koaie Cabin.
Gear notes: Two walking sticks are great, for about a mile past Camp 10, then two seemed more like five from there on. Next time I'd pump/filter my water rather than watch pills dissolve while I shiver. I'd water up at every opportunity--especially since the route avoids streams for the most part. I'd try harder to recruit hiking partners, but just in case I soon bought an ACR Terrafix 406 GPS Personal Locator Beacon for my next venture. In the future, I would not drop my GPS, snag my Casio wristwatch and loose it, ditto with my REI pack cover. My main tools for navigation were the Mark 1 eyeball, compass, and GPS in that order. And mucho hours research at my computer. Map stayed folded up.
I concluded that reaching Grand Central with three days food in one day should be no problem if one started at Camp 10 at sunup. There seemed to be no "showstoppers" on the remaining 2.69 trail miles to the raingage at Waialeale. From there, it would be less than a mile across open bog to Kawaikini.
Do not even consider doing this hike unless you've done your research, are proficient at photo interpretation, map overlays, various computer programs and taken several shorter hikes off-trail in the Alakai, gotten lost and found yourself, etc. You will get lost -- the only question is how long you'll stay lost. Five days or five minutes if you know what you're doing.(I suppose you could go with somebody competent in Alakai navigation. Just make sure to keep him in good health.)
From a guy who's been there, done that, believe me
You Will Get Lost! Prepare For It!
Overall, I had a great time. No surprises which was good. With the exception of the bum route between Bog 3 and Grand Central, I was no further than a few yards off the route I'd schemed while sitting in front of my computer at home more than two thousand miles away.
I'd lost momentum the second day, especially after my first route disappeared. The third day had been much easier than I'd expected. Felt good actually. Worse part of the route was before Sincock's bog going in - except the digression between Bog 3 and Grand Central which I would avoid. Overall, the trip had been a success. I returned from the Alakai damp but not traumatized. I would return.top
Little Gain - Lotsa Pain
In March 2005, I returned to Kauai with a recruit Bob to devote two weeks to reaching Waialeale and to explore the area around Waialae Camp.
Bob and I got a lift to the end of the Camp 10 before sunrise and actually had to wait fifteen minutes or so for enough light to start down the trail. Unfortunately even though we'd had stars overhead in Lihue, with west (Kona) winds, we'd been in rain since passing Hanapepe.
The Mohihi stream crossing presented no problems (we did go “feet wet”), however, Koaie stream was the highest we'd since it and marginal to cross with waist deep, rushing water. Another inch or two and it would have been impossible. In hindsight maybe we should have waited for the stream to drop.
We met a group of state birding folks camping at Koaie Cabin, one guy and four attractive, young women. Do they pay him a salary for this? They weren't very communicative, protective of the Alakai. I suspect they were releasing Puaiohi as March seems to be the month for it.
We took a break at the cabin, but the inactivity caused me to become rapidly chilled as we listened to passing rain showers. Finally, the deluge stopped. For almost two weeks.
We encountered, muddy, slippery conditions climbing out of Koaie Cabin. On previous trips, I'd noticed the log with an arrow placed next to the trail, actually pointing up the route toward the bogs. This time it had been repositioned and made sense, although it pointed the way up the MWT which is the opposite direction that most hikers take.
After stepping over the arrow, we were snake bit by my over confidence and I kept my record for carving "Alakai holding patterns" intact. Since I'd passed this point four times coming and going, it never occurred to me to reply on my compass. I was s-l-o-w to realize that we shouldn't be descending a ridge on a good trail, but ascending through a tangled forest on a broad ridge. Stupid. Big chunk of time wasted! Still we would have stayed at the same campsite (Bog Camp) between Sincock's bog and Bog 2, the one I believe the fencing crews had used. Normally finding water would have been a problem, but that day water was flowing down the trail. By the next morning, it had begun to dry.
Note: Unless you drop down to the stream west of Arrow, the only reliable water source that I know of between Koaie Stream and Keaku Cave is Halehaha Stream. The scattered, shallow, slimy pools in the bogs can dry up.
After a good night, we had no problems reaching Grand Central(we left our camp set at Bog Camp). After backtracking a hundred yards or so, we quickly found a route heading east from GC. (We spotted three other routes at GC, one south toward the big drop to Olokele Canyon, one north which may been the southern end of the direct route from Bog 3 or a direct trail to the WT RG and one heading west which probably follows the old Waialeale Trail.)
Initially, our track east closely tracked the Waialeale trail but then blow-downs became a real problem with trees blown west, parallel to the trail, or in other words, right down the old trail. (These are not pine type trees but with fully developed canopies that obstruct long, wide patches of forest) "Full contact" hiking conditions. The route began to veer north then south, each veer worse than before. Finally we lost the route (or perhaps, our predecessor had called it a day) well south of the Waialeale Trail on a heading of south.
I wasn't mentally prepared to bushwhack and knew I'd likely run out of water before we reached the stream near Keaku cave. Since Waialae Camp was high on my list of goals we decided to shift camp to there and return with a better game plan the next week.
I vastly underestimated the time and effort needed to reach WC, almost not making it by sunset. An epic day.
Between the Arrow and Waialae Camp, we encountered minor difficulty following the trail and that was climbing above the first drainage as it heading west. Trend left. We picked up the route atop the ridge. The trail was wet and boggy and more overgrown than we'd expected. I believe it'd rained later than the area we'd been in the day before because of the unusual Kona winds. The drop off to Waialae Camp was at the second Sugi Grove, easy to miss.
WC was deserted and as advertised, a gem. We didn't spot any level, obvious tent sites in the grass (darkness was setting in) so we camped under cover of the cabin's “veranda”.
Hog damage: Little evidence above Arrow, however portions of the MWT approaching Waialae Camp resembled a WWI battlefield. Incredible amount of rooting along the trail. It seems that the closer you get to civilization, the number of hogs increases until the terrain drops lower and dryer. Spotted two hogs at WC and a few goats in the dryer areas.
Third day. We decided to exit via Kaluahaulu Ridge, descend to cross the Waimea River and go down canyon then up the Kukui trail. We climbed back up to the intersection and headed west. Initially we had minor route problems but there were occasional orange flags and when the trail was lost in blow-downs, etc., keeping to the ridge top always resolved the problem.
Flags quit but that presented no problems until we began to drop down into Waimea Canyon and found acres of red, badly eroded, crumbling clay on ridges that progressively steepened. Any trace of foot prints had been lost through erosion from the recent rain. There were several ridges to descend but only one ridge would lead down to the correct ridge visible in the distance. But which ridge? I triggered a nice size rock fall. Watching the rocks bounding higher and higher, cart wheeling until they entered the treetops, was sobering. Bob suggested we bail and return to Waialae Camp. After reflection, I knew he was right. We climbed back to WC.
An aside. Literally dozens of choppers were ridge hopping between Waialae and Koaie gorges -- clearly well below the minimum altitude of five hundred feet. When we returned in September to finish the route, compliance had improved. Most of the choppers were following the regs.
After an epic climb back up the ridge and descent to WC, I took my shoes off to discover that the skin on both big toes had passed the moleskin salvable stage. Unfortunately, wet, muddy shoes and having my feet in a meat tenderizer for three days had done the job. Salmon pink skin was showing. I hadn't made that mistake in decades!
I applied moleskin over the raw flesh and hoped for the best.
The fourth day, except for the sore toes, during the long descent to Waimea, we’d no special problems until I lost concentration on an easy section, stubbed a foot, planted the pole to stop the stumble, unfortunately, in front of my left foot. I kicked the pole as I went down in a heap. Exquisite pain.(But hey, I didn't break the pole!)
Now my ankle had no lateral strength, but as long as I could see where to step, concentrated and avoided loosing my balance, I could progress reasonably well albeit slow. But the trail became overgrown with grass, head high at times, and traveled atop a lava flow in dry terrain, the trail being peppered with loose "baby head" rocks. In the back of my head was the memory of the time I'd tried to walk down from Tahquitz Rock with a broken ankle. Eventually I'd ended up being carried on a litter.
When I'd step on a loose rock and momentarily loose balance, my left foot was now useless in stopping a stumble. It delivered more pain than push. After a while, I just resigned myself to falling down if the lurch was to the left.
We finally reached Waimea Canyon via Mokihana stream and reached the trail head at about the time our ride arrived (Hiking near Waimea Canyon, if you can see the ocean near Waimea, you'll probably get cell phone reception). The next day, my left foot was badly swollen and four toes were trashed. Hiking within a week or two was out of the question. We cut our losses and returned home to Puerto Rico.
Lesson: make a plan and stick to it. We should have moved camp to Grand Central and broke trail. If we'd spent four days concentrating heading east from Grand Central, we'd likely have made the summit, especially since it didn't rain for almost ten days.
Lesson: It would have been boring to return via Camp 10, but as things developed it would have been smarter.
Lesson. Although I'd hiked the Grand Canyon and taken several fifteen mile dayhikes in preparation, I'd gotten complacent with blisters. Don't ignore hot spots!
If I hadn't trashed my toes and ankle, we'd been able to return to perfect conditions. I'd blown our chances.
But that said, we'd covered a lot of spectacular country which I'd intended to hike eventually and most importantly, in JR, I'd found an excellent partner in crime. If I hadn't been obsessed with reaching Waialeale, it'd been a great trip. Hell, it was a great trip anyway.
Scenery notes. Few views on upper MWT, but past Waialae Camp on the ridge and lower trail, were many spectacular views. After reaching Sincock's Bog, if the weather is clear, there are great views to the summit ridge and the backside of Kawaikini dropping off to the south into the sheer cliffs above Olokele canyon.
I’d a few minor GPS issues – to be solved by practice. It was cool at night at Bog Camp but Lihue logged near record cold, lows in the fifties. Alakai must have been in lower forties. I needed camp shoes, wick away socks, and to re-evaluate Salomons since my New Balances didn’t hack it. I desperately needed non-water logging footwear. For example, the insoles soaked up water. Using a MSR pump is a two man job in the Alakai. I would revert to pills and save the weight.top
Third Time’s the Charm?
August, 2005 --At 6:41 AM we, Jeff and I (Bob bailed out, not having recovered from a quadruple bypass) left the end of Camp 10 road under near perfect conditions. Trail to Koaie Stream was almost dry and we passed the early patches of mud with little difficulty. Crossed Koaie Stream “feet dry.” Approaching Sincock’s Bog, we began to encounter mud and by Bogette, things were mushy. We reached Grand Central at about 3:30. Rather than chance trying to find a campsite further on and since, lugging packs, we were starting to push our limits – especially after the demanding section between Bog 3 and GC, we settled in for the night. Within an hour, we had light mist and rain. The light rain continued overnight but stopped well before dawn. GC turned out to be an excellent campsite.
Day two. We left GC a little after seven and quickly reached our high point from March. We did a brief, fruitless search for a route then programmed the GPS for direct to LB (Little Bog) which we’d spotted in the grayscale photos. It was the only thing resembling a landmark before the drainages near Keaku Cave. Our topos showed the Waialeale Trail had turned about fifteen-degrees north at the center of the small bog.
Bushwhacking was slow and strenuous – or so we thought. As the trip progressed, we constantly raised the bar as to what was strenuous. Believe me, it only got more strenuous as it went along. According to the National Geographic Topo program, it’s only about 2.4 trail miles from our old highpoint to the raingage – but these are Alakai Miles. Expect your speed to drop as low as a quarter mile per hour or slower. The course dropped across a shallow, boggy drainage and, trying to navigate through the muck, our GPS track resembles the track of a drunken doodlebug. (As the trip progressed, we developed techniques for maintaining heading as is obvious from the later tracks.)
Our research paid off and LB appeared as advertised. We attempted to find traces of the old trail at the east side of the bog but failed so we bushwhacked on a course tracking a little south of the old trail, eventually going direct toward the beginning of the drainage complex around Keaku Cave.
Nearing the stream, we spotted a crude route coming in from the southwest, leading the direction we wanted to go so we followed it the last hundred yards or so. It dropped steeply into a drainage at the edge of an small amphitheater with several small waterfalls joining into the stream that headed toward Keaku Cave. We followed the route above the amphitheater but it veered off north to wherever. We returned to the amphitheater, descended the small drop and started following the stream southeast in the general direction of Keaku Cave hoping to spot it to our left.
The streambed was a nightmare of blow-downs, rotted, mossy branches. We tried going left, paralleling the stream. That didn’t work. We tried going down the stream. That didn’t work. We tried edging the stream. That didn’t work, but somehow we slowly made headway and as other drainages joined, the going steadily improved.
We spent a short time looking for Keaku Cave in a side gorge but failed although we’re certain we were within less than a hundred yards (assuming the topo is correct). We kept getting no satellite reception on the GPS as the side gorge was narrow. Perhaps if we’d been higher on the southern side of the stream, we’d spotted it.
We proceeded downstream and crossed above the fork in “Keaku Stream” and started up the east branch. Conditions were now essentially excellent, following a broad (for the Alakai) streambed up a wide shallow valley with few obstacles. We took a break in this magnificent spot. But it wouldn’t last as we reached the first waterfall.
Knudsen mentions a waterfall along this stretch, but we found three that might match his description. They could probably be climbed directly but the plunge pools looked too deep to wade. They can be bypassed. Note: The drainages past GC show ample evidence of heavy runoff. Following the Keaku drainages would be tantamount to suicide during heavy rain. We suspect runoff to exceed six feet in depth on the east branch in particular. Our conditions were low flow and probably rare.
We reached the final fork shown on the topo, where the map showed that the old trail followed the crest of the ridge between drainages. We found no trace of the old trail, although it could easily have been ten yards left or right so we barged up (and we mean UP) hill. For a hundred yards or so, it was basically hell, bashing through head high uluhe fern, weaving through blow-down, but eventually the grade lessened and we began to pick up longer sections of the old trail.
We passed two or three excellent campsites and “way pointed” them on our GPS for later reference. As the route slowly improved, we passed what appeared to routes coming up both sides of the ridge. We reached a point where Waimea and the coast was visible down Olokele Canyon and our research indicated that cell phone reception might be possible. It worked! We reported to our relieved spouses that we were an hour or so away from the summit.
Now we could taste success!
The climb up the ridge was beautiful, sometimes with cloud cover, sometimes occasional breaks all the way to the coast. Off the north side of the ridge was a magnificent shallow valley with a stream wandering across a broad grassy meadow (although I assume the meadow on closer approach, could be neck deep mud.)
It doesn't get any nicer than this! Looking northwest off the ridge toward Namolokama Mountain -- 4423 feet. Someday!
We were amazed to discover that the feral hog damage increased in the last mile or so approaching the summit – plus there was ample hog and goat scat. We spotted one big porker who ran at our approach. Following the ridge eliminated any doubt as to the one time existence of the Waialeale Trail – it was and still remains intact in some areas.
The Waialeale Trail less than a mile from Waialeale RG (Are those shadows? Don't count on such luck).
Perhaps a quarter mile from the summit, we reached a hog fence that climbed up out of the drainage to the north. To our dismay, there was ample evidence of hog damage within the last day on BOTH sides of the fence. So why the fence?
Nearing the summit, we encountered moderate whiteout and strong winds and had to rely upon the GPS to navigate across the rolling bog. Conditions were, well, mush. Any inattention or a slight misplacing of a foot, risked slipping and leaving a four-foot skid scar. We hated leaving any footprints at all, but seeing acres of grass rooted up by state protected hogs soothed our consciences.
Then a few yards ahead atop a fog blown knoll, we spotted the outline of the raingages. We reached the spot marked Waialeale at 5143 feet and paused for a photo op.
Normal conditions at the Waialeale Raingage.
Relying upon GPS, we pressed on to the famed Waialeale Lake reaching it at about 3:30.
The conditions were blowing fog, visibility about a hundred yards and, since we were near the ragged tops of the clouds, occasional patches of blue could be seen rushing past overhead. Waialeale Lake displayed plenty of the expected ripples, but we were surprised that there was no shore, just a vertical bank down to the bottom at two or three feet. We’ve no idea of the depth at the center. We spotted the shallow, grass overgrown ditch that the Ancients had cut, diverting the some of the overflow east into the Wailua (Blue Hole) drainage. It showed signs of recent overflow.
At last, Waialeale Lake(In foreground and at edge of lake, extensive hog damage is visible.
Across the hog fence at the edge of the drop into the Blue Hole, during short breaks in the blowing clouds, we could see perhaps a quarter way down. We spotted several flags far below and speculated they marked the crash site of a tour chopper (at 4800 feet if my memory serves) from a few years ago. From out of the Blue Hole rose the constant din of helicopters. Has anybody done an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the effects of helicopter racket on the bird population? Are birds deaf?
My research had led me to suspect that the summit would be largely clear of hog damage. Wrong! The grassy shores of the lake had been rooted up just hours before. I’d estimate that dozens of acres have been devastated.
As expected, cell phone reception was great and we touched bases with our better halves. Since the summit was extremely windy and cold with occasional light rain and we knew it could get much worse, we decided to return to one of the good campsites we’d spotted after the steep climb above the last drainage.
Should we have pressed on to Kawaikini? The bottom line was that we knew we'd be back. Although I've found several spectacular photos taken under excellent conditions, looking out over the Blue Hole toward Kapaa, I've never found a photo taken off Kawaikini. And the views from Kawaikini will be beyond spectacular -- with a 360 degree view, especially since Kawaikini is separated from the summit plateau upon which the raingage sits, reachable by traversing a ridge. And it would have taken three hours probably, putting us in camp at dark after a very hurried visit.
We failed to locate the heiau although if we’d followed the GPS the last hundred yards or so, we’d probably have gone right to it. I thought it was on the edge of the lake but apparently it’s about a hundred yards south.
Right past where we’d noticed a route dropping precipitously off the north side of the ridge, we camped. Moderate wind made pitching the tents somewhat a nuisance but the wind dropped after sunset. We had light rain during the night.
In the morning, rather than descend the difficult uluhe tangled final portion of the ridge, we decided to explore the northern route. It was a near vertical drop into a box canyon, but with care, we found hand holds. We were surprised at the bottom to look up and see that our campsite had been at the top of a cliff. Take care where you decide to cut off a ridge!
We’d assumed the route would turn southwest when it hit the drainage and we’d pick up the route of the day before. But it crossed the drainage and essentially took up a compass heading for PK, the high point north of Keaku Cave and east of Kapoki. The route, by staying high, avoided having to cross deep drainages, but crossed three or four shallow ones before suddenly arriving at the flat overgrown summit of PK astride the divide between the Hanalei and Olokele watersheds. Through breaks in the canopy, we could look across a depression to Kapoki. A likely route came up from toward Keaku Cave and we spotted several narrow dry potential campsites.
It was a thrill to observe from the summit of PK that the Koloa Volcanics crater that I’d spotted by overlaying photos atop the topography and studying the geological map was, upon “hands on,” actually a crater. The crater bog was clearly visible. We continued west, dropping steeply into the crater and crossed the crater floor. The route traveled toward Kapoki (the topo map is vague as to the actual location of or just what is Kapoki), ascending the crater rim at a lower point than before.
The route suddenly turned obscure and disappeared atop the crater rim near Kapoki. Since we were well north of LB, via GPS we turned a little south and headed directly for where we’d started bushwhacking from our previous high spot.
With minor difficulties, we regained the Waialeale Trail where we'd started bushwhacking the day before and without incident, soon reached Halehaha Stream (very low flow – almost a trickle) between Bogs 2 and 3. We watered up, rinsed clothes, shoes and went on to Bog Camp for the night. We had light rain that night and the next morning returned to Camp 10 with no difficulty by 1:30.
General comments: It took approximately 32 hours of hiking to cover 22-24 (Alakai) miles. The days were long but not epic. Many sections during day two and three were near vertical, and with the log tangles and slippery conditions, we slipped, slid, skidded often. Injury such as a broken ankle was only seconds away. We encountered few life threatening drop offs, but a broken ankle would be life threatening to a solo trekker. Weather approached excellent – except for the fog at the summit. I’d grade it an A. This trip, I’d not a single blister, which I attributed to Bodyglide (recommended by JR) and better attention to hot spots. Of course, we didn’t have the huge descents of the last trip.
Most of my muscles were sore afterwards, included arms. Few bruises and some scrapes on the shins. Jeff used a wrist compass, which proved invaluable in maintaining a heading while bushwhacking. I recommend using North up on the GPS. Track up is useless in the Alakai. Our Salomon Amphibians worked pretty well, except mine had a tendency to loosen and pull off in mud. Sew the side straps in place. I’m still seeking the ultimate Alakai shoe, which may not exist.
It’s possible to bushwhack on a compass heading across the Alakai as long as one avoids deep drainages (during periods of rain, this could prove essential). Keep the pack as small as possible especially narrow. My side compartments for water bottles constantly hung up passing between trees, branches. Also, a tall pack will get hung up crawling under tree trunks, vines, branches.
Keep hydrated even though with the humidity and coolness, you may not feel thirsty. You’ll be loosing water through perspiration. When the sun’s out, it immediately turns hot and most sections are below the cooling wind. On the other hand, when the clouds move in, it can get chilly in minutes.
If you pass a potential dry campsite, GPS waypoint it. Trying to navigate to a fix in dense Alakai vegetation, visibility twenty feet or less, takes patience. We usually camped early with plenty of daylight. Recommended since there seemed to be a tendency for the weather to move in at sunset. Dry campsites for large tents are almost non-existent. One-man tents are the way to go. Good (dry) campsites near water are unlikely. We found three liters of water per person enough for a camp leaving water to start off in the morning.
Fitness. The trek required a lot of upper body strength with push-ups, pull-ups and mantel moves. I’d lost almost ten pounds since the last hike and spent a lot of time in the gym. Heavyset hikers will have problems.
Gloves are essential. Rain pants are superior to long pants because you’re constantly straddling wet, dirty obstacles, on your hands and knees in the mud, so forth. One pole makes sense. Two, absolutely not.
During the trek, we found no evidence that Waialeale is climbed on a regular basis. In fact, past Koaie Stream, neither of us have ever encountered another hiker.
Strange dynamics at play: You often hear that ecologists and hunters get along on Kauai. Where do the endemic endangered birds and vegetation fit in this equation? Either the ecologists are in denial, intimidated or afraid to lose what little financial support they have.
In effect, at the higher elevations on Kauai the hogs are protected by the state (hunting is prohibited) while humans are discouraged. This is analogous to the Baghdad police force fretting about parking tickets when they can’t stop the car bombs. The vast, over-whelming majority of the damage is being caused by introduced hogs, not hikers or introduced birds.
Could it be possible that by making public access almost impossible, few can observe the wide spread hog devastation right up to the shores of Waialeale Lake? Why should hikers avoid the summit while hogs are guaranteed protected access? Is it possible that ornithologists and other researchers fear that obstacles will appear if they’re too vocal about the state protected hogs?
We must emphasize that as of yet, we've been lucky and not been in the Alakai during heavy rain conditions. During heavy rain, it must be assumed that all stream crossing will be impassable. Low visibility may render helicopter rescue impossible. Wind, low temperatures and constant wetness may induce hypothermia. You may die or wish that you were dead. Rescue parties have been known to get lost on the Camp 10 road.
2006 starts with a Bang!
Kawaikini in Three DaysPhoto gallery
Reaching Waialeale in 2005, both the lake and the site of the raingage had been a great personal accomplishment for both of us but we knew that the actual summit of Mount Waialeale isn't the raingage, but about a mile south at Kawaikini. Even on the way down, we were planning our return.
December 2005 was incredibly dry on Kauai, with the summit raingage registering a record monthly low of 1.62 inches. For days at a time, Waialeale baked in the sun.
Finally, in mid January, we assembled in Lihue. The drought had broken but not yet with a deluge. Mount Waialeale was wet but not soaked.
In August, when we'd stood atop Kapoki after the transect had dead ended, we'd been tempted to head for the end of Halekua Bog or Bogette. In hindsight, that would have been a mess. We'd taken the shorter bushwhack to the point where we'd started bushwhacking near the terminus of the Waialeale Trail the day before.
Since putting up the website, I'd gotten in contact with numerous folks who'd reached the raingage in the mid seventies, eighties and 1990. They'd followed, more or less, the divide from Bogette, shown on the map as the district boundary.
Apparently, R. E. Daehler, the Kauai Forester back in the sixties or so, had thought up this route after the USGS abandoned their trail to the south. It approximated the route we'd followed to the east end of Bogette then headed to Kapoki. From the descriptions, up until 1990 this route had been in good shape, only "a leisurely three and a half hours" from a good campsite halfway between Bogette and Kapoki to the summit.
We had high hopes that we'd find a flagged route on the divide leading to near our Ridge Camp astride the divide, cutting a mile from our 2005 route (it can take five or six hours to bushwhack an unflagged mile in the Alakai).
It'd rained about six inches the day and night before we set out, but judging from the stream flow at Waialae Stream, most of the water was soaking into the parched ground.
We crossed our fingers and pressed on, leaving the Camp 10 trailhead on Saturday morning at roughly eight o'clock. By one, we'd reached the end of Bogette, having encountered low stream flow and average mud.
At the end of Bogette, the fenceline runs roughly north/south, turning west at almost a ninety degree turn at the high, atop the divide, northeast corner of the bog. We filled our bottles, three apiece, preparing for perhaps having to camp before the next sure water near Ridge Camp. Good call.
We walked the fenceline looking for a flag or beaten path. Found neither. We did spot a good sized water hole toward the northeast corner outside the fence.
We fired up our GPS's (The chief navigator must give myself a D- on GPSing this trip, barely dodging an F-.), gritted our teeth and started the bushwhack toward Kapoki about a mile away.
About the ridge. As you can tell from the topo, it's a shallow "S" curve with gradual bends. To the north, the terrain drops fairly rapidly into ravine city. South, ravine village. In other words, stay atop the ridge.
Sitting back in San Juan, looking out an office window for miles, it'd seemed that keeping to the ridge top would be a cinch. Wrong.
For the most part, the crest is broad, too broad for the visibility which is rarely more than twenty feet. The crest doesn't steadily rise but dips occasionally, becoming boggy in one stretch. Third, the crest is periodically clogged with uluhe tangles, blowdowns and thick vegetation or all three at once, forcing you off the crest, onto the slopes which after a few yards, are as slopes are in Kauai, hell to bushwhack. Fourth, the crest doesn't match the topo. Close but no cigar.
So it was a continuous follow the crest, get forced off the crest, regain the crest, so forth. Then, just to rub it in, you'd find a few yards good enough to mountain bike.
Plus we didn't flag, figuring we'd be able to follow our broken path and breadcrumb back. Take my word, flag it, especially going up the final ridge to Kapoki. As for our breadcrumb, if you find a Garmin eTrex along the ridge and a water bottle, please at least download the breadcrumb and email it to Volcantrek8 so we'll have half the route bread crumbed at least.
At home, using the computer, we've managed to resurrect the route from the other GPS -- a near breadcrumb. The problem is that if you don't dedicate a GPS to bread crumbing by attaching it to your shoulder or atop your hat but place it in your breast pocket or on your hip to navigate, it loses lock. And although it'll almost always lock on in a minute or so holding it head level, as it locks on it gets error fixes all over the place before it settles down so the track on the screen looks like chicken scratches -- or the ones on your shins. (an initial 200 foot error in the Alakai renders the track useless. You've got to have a good lock on with a small error. Wear it high!!)
But thrash as we did, doing the math, we were getting there. The only landmarks were crossing the well flagged bird transect heading northeast from Grand Central, a small clearing we'd spotted from the aerial photos and off to the south, the distant roar from a waterfall, presumably the upper reaches and source of Halehaha stream (it was a quiet and windless day, almost warm.)
A little over half way to Kapoki, we spotted a few excellent campsites and called it a day. (the ridge, for the most part, is high and dry).
Excellent, dry night.
Next morning, it was more of the same until the ridge narrowed and climbed fairly steeply to the rim of Kapoki crater. Climbing onto the rim, being able to see all the way to the radome at Kokee, was like escaping from purgatory which is what we'll dub this section. Total, it took five hours, split over two days to cover approximately one mile.
Finally, above the rainforest.
Here we made another minor error. Rather than follow the rim south and pick up the flagged trail across the crater, we cut straight down (we were getting weary of butting heads with the brush) hoping to pick up the route in the crater bottom. Finally we did and now following flags, climbed the steep slope up to PK.
Now, comparatively speaking, we were flying. Following the bird transect ain't a piece of cake, climbing over blowdowns, crossing boggy sections, but you don't have barge through the brush. The more one bushwhacks, the better one appreciates even the worse of flagged routes. Hard work, but at least we were covering ground in a straight line for the Blue Hole. No circles or back-ups out of tangles.
Before one o'clock, we'd watered up at the stream at the base of the summit approach ridge, climbed out of the box canyon below Ridge Camp and took a lunch break a hundred yards or so later, with blue sky above and both Waialeale (festooned with raingages) and Kawaikini above the steep cliffs dropping into Olokele's version of the Blue Hole in clear perfect view. A few cloud tendrils reached up out of the Blue Hole making us fret that the summit would disappear any minute.
We debated leaving the gear, but uncertain of the difficulties we might encounter cutting south to Kawaikini, we carried everything. Next time, we'll leave the gear unless we plan to camp atop Kawaikini.
Most of the vegetation from here on up the ridge is only shoulder high and with frequent clear patches. Eventually even that vanished. We did notice that the hog damage had increased significantly. One hog we spotted, we agreed, was the fattest, healthiest we've seen. Perhaps the drought forced them to higher elevation or they're smart enough to realize the summit is literally hog heaven, miles from the nearest hunter and with de facto protection from the state (hunting is forbidden at the summit). There's even a fence to prevent them from falling into the Blue Hole (It sure doesn't keep them out of anything else that we could see.)
We reached the fence, photographed from a distance what looked like a section of the fence buried in debris where it crossed the Wainiha drainage to our north. We pressed on until the fence reached the edge of the Blue Hole and turned north. Of course, we were headed south.
That day, the Blue Hole was White, filled to the brim with clouds. We couldn't even see as far down as last August. But the top was clear. We could see all the way to the radome at Kokee. Near perfect conditions. We sure ain't complaining.
Walking along the rim toward Kawaikini, you had little sense of the tree thousand foot drop to the left.
Unlike the area around the raingage and lake, the ridge south to Kawaikini is narrower and you're forced to keep near the ridge to avoid the ever deepening ravines to the west draining toward Olokele. But at times, you're forced off the ridge by vegetation or steep terrain. There were a few intriguing areas to camp; exposed ones on hard clay and several sheltered ones under wind swept trees along the edge.
During foggy conditions, working your way south would be a lot more work as occasionally we had to route find up and down some steep sections. No real problems in the clear.
We had a great time watching Kawaikini drawing nearer with great views down into Olokele Canyon and the terrain northwest.
Then, almost too soon, we were hugging at the top (upon which is a low bush.)
Visibility, we'd rank about a 98 percentile. Probably 95% of the time, we'd been in a white out. The only very minor disappointment were the haze and clouds at lower elevations. Lihue and the bottom of the Blue Hole were invisible. But we'll be back, on a date determined by an excellent forecast not the calender.
We wanted to reach the benchmark, that's when it got complicated. We headed toward it's highpoint to the south which is much broader but a little lower. No problem until we reached the edge of a fifty foot cliff! A cliff which almost encircled the entire summit except for the side we'd walked up. And to the west the terrain dropped steeply into Olokele Canyon.
We walked the top of the cliff for a half hour and even contemplated tying our clothes together to reach a ridge about fifteen feet down. No dice, although with the weather, if one of us had broken something serious, we'd been rescued in record time.
After a short debate on whether to camp near the summit or back down at Ridge Camp, we decided to head down. If the weather turned, we could see our tents ending up somewhere near Waimea. (There is an excellent campsite under some trees atop Kawaikini. But the weather can turn grim.)
Rejoining the fence and heading west, Jeff pointed out a downed section of the fence. The fence had been cut in three places. A hog path led through one of the gaps.
One of three openings cut in the fence.
No, we can't prove that hunters cut the wire. However as suspects they're way ahead of number two on our list especially since we can't come up with a second suspect. Unless, the hogs did it themselves.
After a restful night at Ridge Camp, the next morning as we left camp, before we'd made it ten steps one of us fell off the ridge. Thank whatever, it was the south side and not the fifty foot drop on the north side. It promised to be a long day.
We followed the transect to Kapoki and followed the rim north but came down the wrong ridge and had to cut over. A good breadcrumb would have simplified our return, but we made it anyway (four hours bushwhacking a mile). We even reached Bogette early enough to realize that we might be able to make it all the way to the car.
We did. Twelve hours from Ridge Camp, we were at the trailhead! A very long day but not the longest death march we've made. However our exhausted state made the drive interesting down the hill and to Lihue.
Click map for the big map.