Kauai's Canyons. Waimea, Olokele, Loli Waialae, Koaie, Poomau, Iliiliula, more.

The Canyons of Kauai.

Kauai's canyons can be grouped into groups; the Wetside Canyons: beginning in box canyons to the north, east and south of the summit, and the Dryside Canyons, beginning in the Alakai Swamp and dropping via waterfalls into the arid Waimea Canyon. But each is unique and offers a different experience.


Wetside Canyons of Kauai


Iliiliulu Gorge. A work in progress.

Mudhole on road to Iliiliula Gorge, near Kawaikini on Kauai.

Taking a tip from John Earle, in September 2005, we took a recon south on the 4wd road following the ditch/tunnel that leads out of the Blue Hole. Under showers, we passed a great swimming spot about fifteen minutes from the road, a few mud holes that'd swallow anything less than a monster truck and eventually we reached Iliiliula Stream.


The stream flow was high (and getting higher), but we'd found a great area to explore. A cross Kauai trek looked practical. On the way back, we noted that the water had risen at the swimming hole and the water had turned muddy.

Mouth of Iliiliula Gorge below Kawaikini on Kauai.
The entrance to Iliiliula Gorge.

Iliiliula Gorge narrows as it nears Kawaikini. A couple months later, one of us ventured further up the Iliiliula, entering a spectacular, narrow gorge. Time limited, he turned around before reaching the promised spectacular view below Kawaikini. At about the same time, the Gang of Four was celebrating atop Kawaikini less than two miles away.



The Dryside Canyons of Kauai

Waimea Canyon
Unfinished Business. Kaluahaulu Ridge. A hike across Waimea Canyon to Waialae Cabin and more.
Dayhike up Waialae Gorge. Simply sublime.
Adventure in a Wet Koaie Gorge or "Heed the rain, dummy."

Intro to Waimea Canyon

Millions have stood on the several "Waimea Canyon" overlooks and looked out on what they believe is just Waimea Canyon. Actually, what the guidebooks call Waimea Canyon is a maze of unique canyons; Olokele, Koaie, Loli, Poomau, Waialae, Kahana, Mokuone and much more.

Perhaps because it's too much to take in at one time or you just gotta move along, it's hard to appreciate the complexity of the view. At least, I never took the time my first ten or twenty times to the lookouts. On a clear day, if you know where to look, you can even pick out the summit ridge and especially Kawaikini.(Kawaikini is often visible from Kapaa to the Kalalau outlook and is the obvious summit. "Waialeale," the location of the raingage is never prominent from any angle.) Of course, it'd help if the state would put up a display naming the gorges, peaks, formations as the feds do at the lookout in the National Parks. Well, I will.

Kukui Trailhead view of Waimea, Koaie, Waialae Canyons and Loli and Hihinui Falls.
View from the top of the Kukui trail. Click here for large rez, unannotated photo.
View of Kawaikini Summit from Waimea Canyon Overlook.

Of these millions, how many venture into the canyon? Few, and the vast majority of them venture a ways down the Kukui Trail, some even go as far as Lonomea Camp.

Too bad, because they're missing scenery and adventure that surpasses the overpopulized, overpopulated, over-everythinged "in", "must do" Kalalau Trail. But do do the Kalalau though.

Trust me. To those who've explored only the Kalalau trail, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Take just the waterfalls of Waimea. Thousands fork over millions in cash to take trips to "hidden" or "secret" rinky-dink waterfalls, swim in lepto infested pools, oblivious of the dozens of larger waterfalls and pools in the canyons of Kauai. And the water is undoubtedly cleaner before it runs though the rat, cat, dog, chicken, pig, horse and cow dung infested lowlands.


At the northern edge of Waimea Town, the Waimea River splits. The right branch, the Makaweli/Olokele River heads northeast to the foot of the Pali below Kawaikini. (streams in Hawaii often change names as you follow them to their source. So the Waimea becomes the --- then the ----.) The left branch heads north into what's commonly called Waimea Canyon.

A terminology note. When I say "unclimbable," I mean normal humans without the aid of hardware. Nothing is really unclimbable. Most Dry Side Canyons are unclimbable in this sense. All can be descended Canyoneering style.

The Waimea Canyon Complex.

Waialae Gorge is the first substantial side canyon. Waialae Stream's source is the west slope of Kapoki crater. It has a few minor falls and loss of elevation until it starts its big drop at Waialae Falls. From below, its gorge and falls are unclimbable. A short distance above Poachers Camp, it is joined by the Loli River that flows out of a side gorge.

It's lower reaches are a spectacular, narrow gorge with several passable waterfalls until you reach a amplitheater where Waialae Stream jumps out of a slot.

Next, Koaie Stream enters from the east. Koaie Gorge splits the Alakai in half. It drains the west end of Sincock's bog, and by Kauai standards, makes a steady drop (puntucated with a dozen or so waterfalls) all the way to the Waimea River.

All the waterfalls can be bypassed with varying degrees of difficulty and above the Root Trail, it's possible to bushwhack north to the Mohihi Waialae Trail

It passes Koaie Cabin, where there used to be a streamgage, enters a valley/gorge. In its lower reaches it is lined with terraces. Two campgrounds, Lonomea and Hipalau.

Joined by many tributaries that join the canyon in spectacular waterfalls (at least during wet periods during which you shouldn't be in the canyon)

Above the Waimea/Koaie junction is Waiahulu cabin, diversion weir, tunnel from Koaie stream. Little bit north, the Waimea forks into Waiahulu stream to the west and Poomau to the north west. It may be possible to climb out of the Waiahulu drainage west of Waipoo Falls, the prominent (when it's not diverted) falls visible from the upper lookout and Kokee Road before it leaves the canyon edge.

Waiahulu Gorge below of Waipoo Falls
The entrance to Poomau Canyon just east of Waipoo Falls

Poomau in turn splits into Kawaikoi and Mohihi Canyons. It's probable that both these canyons can be hiked a short distance before they'r waterfalled out.

Upper Kawaikoi Falls

Unfinished Business(Kaluahaulu Ridge and more).

In September 2005, we decided to return to Waialae Camp and explore the area to its east. Our research indicated the possibility of several eastward ridge routes between the Waialae and Loli drainages.

In March 2005, we'd (Bill and I) gone eyeball to eyeball with Kaluahaulu Ridge and blinked, beating a hasty retreat back to Waialae Camp. We decided to take the hard road and descend into Waimea Canyon via the Kukui Trail and tackle K-Ridge from the bottom up.

This time, I studied the route both in the computer and from the vantage point of the Waimea Canyon Overlook which affords an excellent view of the entire climb out of the Canyon.

Kaluahaulu Ridge Trail from Waimea Canyon Overlook.

View east across Waimea Canyon to Kaluahaulu Ridge. The "Red Hill" at Kaluahaulu Ridge dwarfs the one on the Kalalau Trail.

On passing Wikiwiki Camp, we noted that the compost toilet was still tipped over. We tried to pause at Kaluahaulu Camp but had to flee the mosquitoes. Perhaps Mosquito Camp would be a more apt name.

We started straight up, until we latched onto a flagged route and followed it to its end in the middle of a tangle of lantana and other semi-carnivorous weeds. We rock scrambled up to the ridge crest (it may be easier to ignore the flags and follow the lower route as on the topo).

At this point, our recon from the viewpoint was helpful as we could look ahead and almost trace out the route all the way up. From here, the main difficulty was picking the correct ridge between the deeply eroded gullies. The map shows switchbacks, but we went straight up. It's steep, but with care, you can avoid getting diverted to either side by the gullies and their mini-box canyons (a few stretches thread through brush).

After reaching the top, just reverse our earlier description. The main nuisance was the racket from the choppers going up Waialae Canyon to the see the waterfall. However, unlike in March, with an occasional exception most appeared to be in compliance with the regulations, going around the west end of the ridge before going north up the canyon. Now if they would just install mufflers...

Helicopter ridge hopping Kaluahaulu Ridge.

What part of "Minimum altitude of 500 feet" do they not understand? Nine a.m., September 12, 2005. This purple chopper hops the ridge at I'd estimate, less than a hundred feet. The Waimea Canyon Overlook is a little left of center, 3.43 miles away. The prominent peak left of center is Puu Ka Pele, 3662 feet. The photo was taken at about 3513 Feet

Waialae Stream close to Waialae Camp in moderate flow conditions.

We were surprised to find Waialae stream running high as we'd hiking under sunlight for almost all day. We sat down, contemplated the water and mortality and waited for it to drop. After it did (about an inch) we said WTF and waded across. It was only mid-thigh and much safer than our crossing of Koaie Stream in March. Typical Waialae Camp, deserted and beautiful.

Next morning, we had two choices. Try to follow the ridge east from the camp or go about a mile south on the trail toward Waimea and pick up the ridge south of the next drainage that'd been traveled by birdmen(and girls) as recently as 2002.

Finding nothing obvious near the cabin, we went south on the trail, crossed the drainage and reached the ridge top, while looking for trail sign to our left. Just past the ridge crest we spotted several ponchos or tarps wedged into trees above a small dump. Hunter sign! We headed up ridge and as the ridge narrowed encountered more hunter sign (beer cans) and found a trail headed east that matched (initially) the path followed by the birdmen. Hunter sign soon led us to a Hunter's wallow, (distinguishable from a pig wallow by the whiskey bottles festooning the nearby bushes, blue tarps overhead and the huge midden.)

Hunter's camp near Waialae Camp

"Take only meat, leave only garbage"

The trail became vague from here (perhaps owning to the large number of empty whiskey bottles) and we entered a lethal bog, a blend of tall grass and blackberry vines. (I'm convinced that the impenetrable "Great Thorn Forest" referred to by Lord Greystoke in his famed African memoirs (v 10, Tarzan and the Ant Men) surrounding the land of the Ant Men is actually blackberries.)

But suddenly the trail resurrected itself (perchance the morass has a sobering effect). Gradually, as we approached Loli Bog, the source of the mighty Loli river, the trail trended northward, away from the route followed by the birdmen, cutting the corner and eventually traced exactly the Old Waialeale Trail

It was an excellent trail, chain sawed since Iniki, and in better shape than most of the Mohihi Waialae Trail (past Koaie Camp at least).

Alas, it didn't last. We traversed onto a narrow ridge with uluhe obliterating the slopes on either side. We missed the cutoff down to the Waialae Stream gage, but tried heading downslope, hoping to pick up the trail below the uluhe. We went eye to eye with the uluhe. With great effort, much trashing around, throwing ourselves on the ferns, walking on each other's backs, cursing, sweating, we covered several yards. (It's a little known fact that Pal-ul-don is actually surrounded by uluhe fern). We blinked and headed back from whence we'd come.

Approaching the boggy area, I had a brainstorm. Rather than thrash through the blackberry patch from hell, we'd beeline to the right of the patch (only a hundred yards or so). It worked great until, a quarter mile from the hunter's camp, we stood the edge of a uluhe clogged ravine. We backtracked and with a minimum loss of blood, pushed back through the tangle to the camp. The remainder of the return to Waialae Camp was uneventful. Later, closely studying the map, we realized that the blackberry bog was actually the head of the ravine. Looping south of the morass would probably work but don't blame me if it don't.

Waialae Cabin near Waimea Canyon on Kauai.
Little publicized Waialae Cabin (aka Cowboy Flats) was built by the CCC in the thirties and until the sixties, the USGS used it as their camp enroute to monitor the rain and streamflow gauges on the way to Waialeale. Today it is usually deserted but in good repair with a compost toilet(albeit upright) nearby. Surrounded by meadows and ridges, it's a great spot and the only "wilderness" campground in the Alakai.

Map of trail southeast of Waialae Cabin.

The next day, the descent down Kaluahaulu was too hot and humid for long pants, gloves, long sleeved shirts after we dropped into the canyon. We suffered a thousand slices, but eventually reached the floor of the Valley of Mosquitoes.(Future reference: spraying Cutter's onto scratched leg causes exquisite pain!) Only took two hours to climb out. Reached the car by 3:30. MacDonald's by 4:15.

On reflection, in March, if we'd continued down the ridge, we'd had major difficulty reaching the bottom before dark. Retreat can be bitter but essential medicine, something to remember in the Alakai.

Descent down Kaluahaulu Ridge into Waimea Canyon


Waialae Gorge

Unlike streams to the north, east and south of Waialeale, which begin in the typical Hawaiian pattern in huge, waterfall festooned, amphitheater box canyons (not craters as helicopter pilots and guidebook authors would like you to believe) there's several streams rising in the Alakai and draining west that follow a different pattern. After meandering around at high elevation on the plateau, they waterfall steeply into gorges finally draining into the Waimea River.

Photos taken of flooding in Waialae Gorge.
Like all Kauai streams, Waialae Stream is subject to rapidly changing flow that can turn a drainage into a deathtrap. This can occur without a drop of rain falling at your locale.

Over the past years, I'd crossed Waialae Stream and it's Helehaha, Halepaakai, and Loli tributaries many times. Last year(2005), climbing the Kukui Trail, I was mesmerized by Waialae Falls, leaping out of the rain forest into an arid canyon, and decided to explore the canyon.

Unable to find anything on the internet about the gorge, I spent a lot of time Googling photos of Waialae Gorge and eventually found almost two hundred (mixed into thousands and infallible called Waimea Canyon). I discovered no less than thirteen waterfalls, ranging up to about 300 feet along a short, narrow stretch of the canyon. Hiking that was out of the question, but the area below the waterfalls looked reasonable. I decided to see how far I could hike up the gorge.

I collected some beta that indicated the bottom waterfall could be passed on the left. But which was the bottom falls? Later it'd be obvious.

Anyway, I'm digressing from a fantastic hike.

I considered doing it as an overnight but came across a Sierra Club blurb that mentioned a ten mile, dayhike up Waialae Gorge so I decided to dayhike it, starting at first light.

I started down the Kukui trail, passed the famed Leaning Compost Toilet of Wiliwili and headed down Waimea Canyon. The trail stayed on the west side of the canyon but as it approached Waialae it climbed above the river, dropping back down a little south of the mouth of the gorge. An obvious path led upstream to a crossing of the Waimea to Poacher's camp a short distance up Waialae Gorge.

Leaning toilet at Wiliwili Camp in Waimea Canyon at the bottom of the Kukui Trail.
Italy's got nothing on Kauai. This is the famous Leaning Compost Toilet of Wiliwili installed several years ago by the State. Folks come from all over the world to crap in this wonder of technology (however I find it somewhat difficult but then I've never been that coordinated).

A trail led further into the Gorge but soon faded out as the talus slopes came down to the stream. I crossed to the other side, to ancient terraces covered with Kukui nuts and trees.

No mosquitoes but I know they would be a nuisance on some days. Maybe the credit goes to the drought.

The canyon narrowed, as did the terraces, finally fading out. The lower gorge was heavily vegetated which made walking the stream banks problematic but the trees faded away and the going was fairly easy once you accepted that you'd be crossing the creek every five or ten minutes to avoid cliffs, etc.

I passed the entrance to the Loli Gorge which promises to be an spectacular hike. It looked like a boulder strewn tunnel through trees, flowing straight out of its gorge.

I passed several easy waterfalls and finally met one large, challenging one about fifty, sixty feet tall. Later I realized it was first waterfall that I'd been told could be passed on the left.

Hurrying, I didn't do as good of a job route finding, thinking that the upper falls would be the dangerous one and scared myself sh---ss waving around a formerly bombproof handhold about the size of a basketball, desperately grasping a few blades of grass in the other hand.

Still hurrying, clock driven, I slipped a couple times, fortunately only breaking my self confidence.

I slowed down, adding my stock phrase "I'll be back," if I didn't make it all the way. And it'd definitely be worth revisiting as it'd transformed into a spectacular gorge unlike any I've encountered. Somewhere along here, my GPS went on strike -- seems they don't work in narrow gorges.

Waialae Gorge narrows under high cliffs and talus slopes.
You enter the realm of rock.

It was hard walking and gawking at the same time. If JR had been along, I'd been walking, gawking, talking at the same time and falling down every ten or fifteen feet.(I'm afflicted with HADS. Hiker's Attention Deficient Syndrome.)

The gorge twisted, turned, becoming every more narrow and arid except for the stream. Huge, dry waterfall chutes dropped from somewhere above. I suspect that any brush or vegetation that dares to grow near the stream gets swept away by the flashfloods like the one that came down the next day.

View down Waialae Canyon Canyon.
It only gets better. And narrow.

Cliffs a thousand feet above steep talus. All around, shattered rock, evidence of rock falls. I came around a corner into a spectacular amphitheater. On the north side, the Waialae leaped out of a narrow slot. The first step was a cascade onto a ledge, then it jumped, fanned out into a drop into a huge pool. Well, this hiker wasn't going any further. I suppose some folks, or goats, could climb further with ropes and bolts, but not I.

The waterfall was spectacular at 3-4 cfs. It jumped to 50 cfs that night and the next week jetted up to 800 cfs. The record flow is 4500 (equal to the mean flow of the Colorado River) at the stream gage several miles upstream -- so it'd been undoubtedly much higher in the gorge seeing that dozens of drainages and waterfall chutes enter the gorge. That would have been something to see.

Waterfall blocking access to Upper Waialae Gorge.
Sacred Falls in the desert and on steroids.

I chased some goats around on the talus, then headed down as the Casio demanded. Hogs and goats aplenty. It started raining on the way down and confronted by wet rock at the waterfall, I decided to contour around the other side, through the small trees then cut down.

Do not do this. It is not the thing to do! Got that?! Even with this idiot excursion, I made it back to the car by five or so.

This was one of the funniest hikes I've yet had in Hawaii. I shall return and spend the night next time.


Adventure in a Wet Koaie Gorge or "Heed the rain, dummy."

Let's set the stage. March 2006 was the second wettest March on record atop Waialeale, 94.3 inches, topped only by the 148.83 set in 1982. Using a thirty-one day rolling period, the rainfall was as high as 125 inches. It even recorded almost 18 inches in one twenty-four hour stretch. Lihue and other points set all time records. Mid-month, Ko Loko reservoir failed on the north shore, killing seven. Even by Kauai standards it was WET.

A couple days earlier, we'd probed Waimea Canyon, descended the Kukui trail but found the river too high. We went upstream and spent a pleasant afternoon and night at the cabin located at the weir and inlet for the ditch/tunnel supplying water for the Waimea Mauka power plant downstream. It's also where the Koaie diversion tunnel ends.

Cabin in Waimea Canyon above junction with Koaie Stream.
Nice cabin, well maintained, awesome location in Puu Ka Pele Forest Reserve with even a state compost toilet. So who is it for? From the contents (it's unlocked as is Waialae Cabin), it appears to be used by hunters. ?
Towering Waimea cliffs of bad rock.
Steep cliffs, badass rock!

We watched as the river pulsed, rising a bit, going down a bit even though we didn't get a drop of rain. The next morning, it hadn't dropped significantly so we called it quits.

Early on the 21st of March 2006, after the stream flow had dropped on Waialae Stream(immediately south of Koaie Stream and historically, it's fluctuations mirrors Koaie's,) we decided to give it another shot, even though the flow was about well above median flow. The summit had stayed rainless. Although the flow had dropped, it hadn't dropped nearly as rapidly as usual, indicating waterlogged conditions in the Alakai.

Clear view of Mount Waialeale from Lihue. Kawaikini on left.
As we set out for Koaie, just east of Lihue we got this spectacular view of Kawaikini. It looked promising and it'd been that way for three days. But would it last? Are those clouds entering the photo?

Oblivious, we started down the Kukui trail enjoying all the waterfalls, even on the usually dry west side of Waimea Canyon where we'd never seen any before. A stream flowed down the normally bone-dry Kukui Trail. The rain gods gave us a warning with a brief shower. My compadre said "Well, we knew it had to rain today."

We forded the Waimea across to Kaluahaulu Camp, keeping the pace up because of the mosquitoes. In a few hundred yards, the trail bent northeast at the confluence of Koaie Stream and the Waimea and we entered Koaie Gorge. At times, the trail climbed above the stream, giving excellent views then it'd drop down and cross ancient terraces and walls. We passed Hipalu camp, the Lonomea helipad and finally Lonomea Camp, where the trail ended. Let the adventure commence.

First Waterfall beyond Lonomea Camp in Koaie Gorge.
The first stream crossing and waterfall past Lonomea. Two days later, on our retreat, it'd turned muddy and the flow had more than tripled and was rising quick.

The scenery exceeded our wildest expectations. Every large drainage from the Alakai high above terminated in waterfalls at least two or three hundred feet high. And even though we were hiking in perfect weather, because of the waterlogged conditions, the falls were magnificent.

Often, the going was faster and easier crossing the terraces than rock hopping. But higher up, as the gorge narrowed, what appeared to be terraces were actually vegetation choked, ridges of boulders akin to lateral moraines deposited, I'd speculate, by huge debris flows. These "moraines" were almost impassible, forcing you back to the streambed.

At the time, we didn't pay much attention to the large number of dead goats rotting amongst the boulders in the stream, concentrating on holding our breaths and waving off the flies. On day three, it became obvious why there were so many deceased goats.

Usually the terraces occurred on one side, and when the canyon turned, the terraces would taper off into a wall, forcing you to cross the stream.

We climbed over or around boulders the size of condos. Around cascades and waterfalls. At beginning rock hopping was easy with good traction but as we got further into the wet zone and it started to drizzle, we slipped more often. Broke my brand new REI pole, but fortunately my pardner had two. (Unlike Waialae Gorge, which seem's to become more arid the further in, the average annual rainfall in Koaie Canyon varies from less than 40 to more than 200 at Koaie Camp.)

Ancient Terrace in Koaie Canyon.
One of the dozens of terraces that lined the lower canyon. At some point along here, I slipped and smashed chest first onto a boulder, busting the screen on my digital camera. I kept clicking away, hoping it still worked (it did) but I couldn't make an adjustments. On day two, I quickly lost interest in photography in the gloomy, increasing difficult conditions. Day Three: Forget about it.

The Root (for the roots you must grab) Trail. By all accounts, this is a treacherous, steep route dropping down from the Mohihi Waialae Trail down to Koaie Stream. Apparently it was used by the kayakers in their thrilling first ascent of Koaie Stream.

In the wet zone, the vegetation on the cliffs changed drastically. The canyon narrowed, terraces replaced by ridges. I understood how the terraces had been made. Over the eons, the canyon must have been swept by huge debris flows. The Hawaiians had taken advantage of the moraines, built their walls atop them and back filled them with soil.

As darkness approached, we reached where the vicinity of where the Root trail drops down from the Waialae Mohihi trail but couldn't spot it. Later we'd regret not having checked out the trail before. We thrashed around atop a moraine and came across an old, excellent campsite.

Close-up of a terrace wall in Koaie Gorge.
One of the many walls atop the terraces.

Day Two

During the night, we had light rain and because I'd done a sloppy job rigging my tent fly, I was disgusted to discover my sleeping bag was wet in the morning.

Narrow section of upper Koaie Gorge on Kauai.

The next morning was overcast and the now narrow canyon seemed ominous. The rocks were slippery and the going slow. The waterfalls had increased in size and we repeatedly had to cross the stream and navigate around the falls. At first, we dreamed of making Koaie Camp by noon but the going was slow. The flow had increased and the crossings were more hazardous.

Note. There are several tarps and scattered campsites around and below the Root Trail. Going up canyon, the signs decreased. The portion between Koaie Camp and the Root is probably rarely traversed.

We reached the bend where our beta indicated four closely placed falls (GPS intermittent at best). We tried to cross on the right but the route was too exposed, and the water logged conditions had loosened the rocks and softened the soil.

We studied the walls and it looked like we could go up a steep slope to the right to a bench above the falls. JR took the lead. About two thirds the way up, a rock about the size of a carry-on suitcase pulled loose, and I tumbled about thirty feet getting whacked on the head* by aforementioned rock on the way down. It was a soft landing but after a few seconds, after I checked to see everything was still working and shaking the cobwebs out, I noticed blood dripping off the end of my nose.(Few things erode my confidence like blood dripping off my nose, especially when it's running from my scalp.)

We decided to call it quits even though we'd traveled ninety percent of the way to Koaie Camp. Ninety percent of the work might remain ahead.

We passed the Root Trail terminus, knowing that trying to cut up to the Waialae Mohihi trail would introduce an entire suite of unknowns, we continued downstream as it began to rain. At dark, we found an perfect campsite.(Above Lonomea Camp, mosquitoes faded out.)

For the first time, we pitched camp in the rain but we'd anticipated having to do it from our first Alakai treks. My sixty liter dry sack and sponge helped. No big deal.

However as we lay back in our tents, the moderate rain turned heavy which was definitely a Big Deal. I knew if it continued, we'd be camped in the same spot tomorrow night.

Koaie Stream below cliffs.
Nope, this ain't some canyon in Arizona. Day One before things got gripped.

Day Three

"How high's the water, Mama?"

"Four feet high and risin'"

"Let's get the f*** outa here!"

After an excellent night's sleep (half an Ambien), I was astounded to discover that my sleeping bag had dried during the night even though we'd at least three hours of hard rain.

Fortunately the rain had stopped around ten and although the crick had risen, it'd dropped lots from early morning.

Now the crossing were much more hazardous and difficult. Finally one of us (me) screwed up big time and got carried over several cascades head first (not the recommended technique but the best I could do on short notice. As the morning progressed, my technique improved but never got to the point of ending up on the desired side of the stream.)

After the head-first adventure, I noticed excellent pain in my right ring finger which was now considerably shorter and pointing in the wrong direction. Somewhere out in right field.

I hoped it was merely dislocated and we tried to reduce it but since neither of us knew diddly, we didn't pull hard enough. (fifty pounds plus according to the Doc) Too bad, since the unreduced dislocation rendering my hand as worthless as Powell's WMD speech before the UN.

Fortunately I didn't have to worry about having to use the (borrowed) trekking pole with either hand since it'd preceded us down Koaie stream heading for Waimea. I did have the presence of mind to grab my shoe after it'd gotten pulled off in a later debacle (the lacing system having started to disintegrate.) First time I've invoked duct tape but it did the job. Duct tapes rules. (I had to struggle to remove the shoe later)

Of course, at this point it began to seriously rain. In minutes, the beautiful waterfalls above turned red as did the Koaie. If I hadn't been staring at an apparently mangled finger and calculating how long it was going to take to get to the nearest emergency room, we would have plopped down under a convenient hunter's tarp above Lonomea Camp. (It did stop raining and the flow dropped rapidly in the next few hours.)

After we'd both had several rides in the Koaie Stream Water Park, loosing the last of our poles, a water bottle, maps, pocket contents, etc. the final crossing above a ten foot waterfall was a gripper. On the other side, I had a born again feeling.

Without a pole and a useless right hand (which had taken on different shades of black), the Waimea crossing was difficult and exhausting but not life threatening. Relatively speaking of course. Traversing the ledge above the river was an adrenaline pumper.

Finally got to the E room and got my finger diagnosed as dislocated (Googled up some images of dislocated fingers. None looked as gnarly as mine.) That was over a month ago but it looks like it should come back.

Reflections/Hindsights/Lessons.

Since I'm planning many more trips up and down Kauai's Canyons, "Lessons Learned" is a vital part of the adventure.

  • Knowing the Alakai doesn't prepare you for the Canyons.
  • You might get lost and starve in the Alakai. The Canyons will kill you.
  • We could have made better use of the rope, especially at the last Koaie crossing and the Waimea crossing.
  • If you spot somebody hiking on Kauai wearing a helmet, it'll likely be me.
  • Since force varies with square of the speed, perhaps we should have tried crossing in deeper spots with slower currents. On the other hand, in deeper water, more buoyancy = less weight = less traction. Deep sections were short, current could have carried us into rapids.
  • My pack stayed amazing dry with a drybag. Pack cover might have been ripped away.
  • I got scratched up by rocks and vegetation, but rainpants would have increased the water drag.
  • Should be possible to travel from Lonomea to Koaie Camp and out in a day if, as I strongly recommend, the hike is done with less than median waterflow.
But the bottom line is we should have known better than to even contemplate entering going into Waimea Canyon. And, having read this far, you know better.
It could have been worse. Much worse. Flooding in Waialae Gorge 1600 percent increase in Waialae streamflow in forty-five minutes.
A couple days later, Waialae Stream surged about 1600 percent in 45 minutes.

Should we have continued ahead and avoided the adventure of the third day. We'll know better when we do the final linkup, but frankly Day Three was an adventure that, having survived, I will relish. I learned a lot about both the Canyons of Kauai and myself.(But once is plenty. I will heed the gauges next time.)

*I had time to compose two O* F***s as I cartwheeled down. As usual, my life didn't flash in front of me. I did see stars after getting whacked. I see stars way too often.
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The best damn Waialeale trail map on the surface of the planet. Warning. Big file. Links