Waiau Ridge

Waiau Ridge

by Wing Ng

On June 22-23, I did the Waiau trail.

I started 5 a.m. with Dayle Turner and his two friends, and hiked up the Waimano trail, which was uneventful and took about 3 hours. Then I and Dayle hiked across to the top of Waiau, which was a half hour. Dayle didn't like the looks of it and turned back, and I proceeded down Waiau by myself.

Waiau starts at the bottom at the end of Hapaki St., and is about 6 mi. long. At about 2.4 mi. from the top, there is a Big Dip of about 200 feet, the most prominent feature of the trail. Many years ago, we worked on this trail, and got beyond the Dip, to within a mi. of the top, but that was 1991. Because of access difficulty from the original Kaahumanu trailhead, the original trail enthusiasts gave up, and the trail has been quietly overgrowing ever since.

The top one mile was never cleared and is choked with solid uluhe. Stuart Ball and Jason Sunada got to the top from the bottom few years ago when the trail was cleared to within 1 mi. from the top. They only had to plough through the last 1 mi., but it still took them 7 hours from the bottom.

I came down from the top, and was making relatively good time, and in 3 hours, I arrived at the 1 mile mark, which I recognized, and I had lunch at the same tree that I did in 1991. I assumed that since the rest of the trail was cleared well back in 1991-92, it should be easy going to the bottom from then on. Was I wrong!

The section between the 1 mile from the top mark and the 2.4 mi. from the top Dip was the most overgrown "trail" I have ever encountered. In fact, for 99% of the time, there was no trail at all. I had to trample down hard on the uluhe to get through, which made extremely slow going. There is only 1.4 mi. between my lunch-spot and the Dip, but it took 11 hours!

After lunch I ploughed on, but made very little progress. One other problem was that all the ribbons, or trail markers were gone, and whenever the ridge forks, it took half an hour to look at various alternatives and compare with the map, for there are no ribbons and no visible trail. Very soon it is 7:30 p.m. and the sun goes down. I was prepared to bivouac, and so I prepared a spot sheltered from the winds, had a meager dinner, and made my "bed", which consists of only a space blanket.

I called Dayle and Mabel, the trail-clearing group-leader for the HTMC, on my cellular. Mabel said she would call me on my cellular at 12 noon the next day. It rained for an hour between 8 and 9 p.m., and occasionally the winds would howl, dropping the temperature 10 degrees even though I was sheltered from the direct wind. Still, it was tolerable, and I spent a restful night.

The next morning I started at 6, but spent an hour snooping around for the correct fork of the "trail". I started down at 7, and the trail was still very bad, but not as bad as the day before. By 10 a.m. I arrived at the top of the Dip, and could see the other side of the Dip. I heard one yell from the other side, but since it did not sound like "Wing", I did not respond. That was a mistake: for it turned out that Dayle hiked in at 7:30 from the bottom and was on the opposite side by 10 a.m., and it was he who yelled.

I could see no obvious trail going down into the Dip. I recall that at least part of the way was through a gully down the broad slope. I checked out the ridge and it did not seem too encouraging, and so I gingerly went down the gully. The first gully I went down terminated at a steep drop, but I managed to maneuver across to the left to another gully. That again terminated at a 10 foot drop, but there are trees to grab on to, and I lowered myself down that drop, and arrived at a tiny valley sloping gently down. Then I thought that it would be better to follow the ridge on the left edge, and I climbed up there and went down. But that ridge was treacherous with gigantic holes that I fell into. Eventually I fell into a 10 foot drop into a gully crosswise to the ridge. It took 15 minutes to extricate myself and get up on the opposite bank.

There I recognized the established trail, which was still open. I followed the trail, but it soon disappeared in massive "forests" of uluhe. I was then at the bottom of the Dip, which is a relatively flat area probably larger than a football field. Every way out appears to be blocked by vegetation, and it seemed that I could spend days wandering in that swamp.

It was noontime and I turned on the cellular to wait for Mabel's call. The call never came; Mabel insisted that she did call, but got an "out of service area" answer. Then it started raining really hard, and I suddenly felt panicky. I dialed "911" on my cellular to call rescue, saying I was lost.

The helicopter came within half an hour and plucked me out, down back on Komo Mai Street.

On June 28, I and Dayle decided to take revenge on this trail, and we started at 7:30 a.m. down at Hapaki Street. This time it was uneventful and we got to the spot where I was trapped in about 2h 40m. I then recognized the dead log laying across the trail, as that was a prominent landmark on previous trail-clearings, and right behind the dead log was where I was trapped. If only I had hacked through the dead branches a week ago, I would have re-joined the established trail!

Dayle and I agreed to go beyond the Dip and ascend to the other side. A week ago I never found the correct trail down, and now we tried to find it from the bottom of the Dip. We ascended the gully partways, and found an easier ridge on the left to go up. After an hour of struggling, we managed to get to the top, when Dayle found old cuttings of mine from a week ago. We had lunch at the top of the Dip, tied several ribbons to indicate where we stopped, and then proceeded going back.

We decided to follow the route we took coming up, and this time I saw remnants of one ancient ribbon, indicating that the route we found was basically the correct one. We started clearing the trail a little on the way down to the Dip, and across the Dip, and we placed many markers along the way.

Since I trampled down the uluhe in the upper reaches, that can probably be done in 7 hours or so now. Add that to the 3 hours or so from the Dip to Hapaki St., and I estimate that it would now take "only" 10 hours one way going down from the top!

Stuart and Jason were the first two people in known history to have gone up Waiau one way to the top. I am the only person in known history to have gone _down_ Waiau one way from the top, for I did complete the rest of the trail on June 28, completing the task begun a week ago on June 22-23 !

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