OHE August 15, 1999 (Waiahole Middle)

Date: Sun, 15 Aug 1999 22:13:43 -1000
From: Dayle K. Turner (turner@hawaii.edu>
Subject: Kipapa-Windward, last try

A bunch of us tried to make a go of the middle ridge of Waiahole Valley today (Sun, 8/15) but we reached an impossible impasse and have stamped a no-can-do endorsement on this route.

Making the attempt were Pat Rorie, Pete Caldwell, Mark Short, Don Fox, Ken Suzuki and I. We started initially with the HTMC's trail clearing gang, on hand to work on the Kuolani-Waianu route today, and then peeled off when we reached the junction with the ridge trail adopted and worked on by Wing Ng and Steve Poor.

It was humid in Waiahole this morning, and even though forecasters predicted increasing showers on Oahu, it never rained in the valley except for a short burst in the late afternoon after we were pau. Even though sweat flowed freely as a consequence of the sultry conditions, the trail was dry and the footing good. Our ascent time was good as we crossed the ditch trail and ascended beyond it to mid-ridge, where there are three right-side bypasses of humps/dikes, a short rope section, a left-side drop-down and contour, and then a very steep, Ohulehule-like multiple rope section.

Don didn't feel comfortable with the left-side drop-down, so he hung out and waited for us. Meanwhile, the rest of us climbed on, first Pat, then Pete, then Mark, then Ken, then I. For more security, Pete affixed a rope to add to the three sections Jay Feldman, Charlotte Yamane, Jason Sunada, and I had put up on a prior attempt [1]. In the scheme of things, I'd rate this climb as more dangerous than the route HTMC uses to ascend Ohulehule. Pat, who's done Ohulehule southeast ridge (the more dangerous way), rated today's climb as "right up there" with some of the gnarly ones he's negotiated.

Today, we reached the terminal point of the 6/26 hike before 11 a.m. That was positive since we'd have a bunch of time to make a push for the summit. What we didn't anticipate was arriving at a notch in the ridge, only a 100 feet beyond where we stopped last time, that included an extremely steep, razor-like descent. With drops hundreds of feet left and right, drop-down contouring was out of the question.

Make no mistake, there was no question about turning back at this point. The equation was simple: go on and probably fall and die. The answer: retreat. No argument. No doubt. No go.

Of course we were disappointed because beyond this notch was just a final hump in the ridge and beyond that a gentle, gradual, very doable climb to the summit. And since we had cloudfree conditions when we were at the impasse point, all the upslope scenario was clearly visible. The mountain, like a flirtatious love-interest, seemed to be saying to us, "Here I am, but you cannot have me--ever." Spurned, we turned makai and headed down.

The descent was far from uneventful. While descending the steep multiple rope section, I inadvertently dislodged a rock the size of a small watermelon that grazed Ken Suzuki. If Ken, who was descending a fixed rope about 20 feet below, hadn't ducked down when he heard me yell "Rock!" he might have been smashed and badly injured or worse.

Admittedly, I should have known better and waited for Ken to clear the area below me before I started down. My neglect of climbing safety protocol could have cost Ken his life. Fortunately, all turned out well, and I'll know to act more responsibly when in a similar situation in the future.

For those not familiar with climbing protocol, here are a few guidelines, mostly common sense stuff:

1. Only put full reliance on a fixed line if there are no other
   available holds, like a solid tree branch, root, or rock.  
2. Test all hand- and footholds carefully before using.
3. Only one person on a rope or cable at a time.  Yell, "Clear," when
   off a rope/cable.
4. When ascending, avoid climbing directly below the person ahead.
   Falling rocks/debris (or even the person above) could mean injury or
5. When descending, make sure the person ahead is cleared of your
   descent path.  Falling objects could be his/her undoing.
6. If a rock is dislodged, yell out "Rock" to warn those below.
7. When possible, remove suspect rocks from the climbing route to negate
   a potential hazard.

In summary, we went up, gave it a go, reached an impasse, and called the ridge undoable. On the way down, a tragedy was narrowly avoided when a principle I should have adhered to was neglected.

Hike safe,


[1] http://www2.hawaii.edu/~turner/ohe/June99/6-26.html

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