OHE January 21, 1998

Date: Wed, 21 Jan 1998 10:09:51 -1000
From: Carole Moon (moon@hawaii.edu>
Subject: Kalalau (fwd)

Hi Gang,
  
Would  like to share  my friend's paragliding  story with you folks.  This
was the first time that a launch was ever made from the Kalalau lookout up
in Koke'e, Kauai and a landing down on the shoreline of Kalalau Valley! So
cool!!!

Enjoy, Carole

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 14 Jan 1998 10:38:28 -1000
From: Jon Goldberg-Hiller (hiller@hawaii.edu>
To: moon@hawaii.edu
Subject: Kalalau

Yeeeeeeeeeesssssssss!

This weekend my friend Pete from Portland, Pete's wife Bonnie, Sandy and I went to Kauai and stayed in Koke`e. We were prepared for a lot of hiking and Pete and I had prepared over the last two years for the possibility of this big flight.

Friday and Saturday mornings at 5:45 Pete and I dragged ourselves from our beds and drove to the starry Kalalau overlook only to find weak kona winds blowing over the edge. There was no possibility of getting off our chosen launch in anything other than still or light valley (NW winds) and this was tantalizingly close. Still, no cigar! All four of us hiked those days, doing about 10 miles a day in the Waimea Canyon and out to the Na Pali overlooks at the cliff trail. Sunday was our last possible day for the flight and it dawned like the other days. As we again drove to the overlook it looked similar to the past two days: winds light and probably over the back. But when we finally stepped from the car it was dead still, the full moon plunging into the ocean beyond Kalalau. This was the best indication and best omen that we had had that things might just work.

We raced back to the cabin and ate a hasty breakfast. Sandy and Bonnie joined us, having agreed to drive around the island to pick us up at Ke`e beach in Haena State Park, just pass Princeville, if we were able to make the flight. They were a bit trepidatious, not because of the retrieve as much as seeing us attempt the first paragliding launch ever done off the Kalalau lookout point and not knowing how well it might work. We were cautious too, but also filled with a nervous excitement that would not abate. Pete and I had talked about this day for years and had been discussing the final ins and outs at trail pauses the past two days. We felt enough confidence that we knew what we were doing to overlook our own nervous discomfort this morning. We drove to the end of the road and walked the half mile to the launch that I had first scoped out a year and a half ago. It was a bit muddy and I was increasingly nervous. The wind was coming up the valley at 2 mph, very light and liable to switch over the back at the slightest pressure jiggle, the smallest cloud or bug sneeze. I worried that one of us would get off and the other be left above if the wind shifted.

The launch is a broad spot on a bad trail at the headwall of the Kalalau valley, 4000 ft above the beach, 3 miles distant. The landing areas below us were unknown. We had spotted a very small part of the beach two days before from a hike out to the headwalls of the Honopu valley, a 3 mile distant spit from Kalalau which kept most of the beach out of sight. That beach is hidden from Kalalau lookout since it lives behind the west pali. Strong waves in the intervening days threatened to remove whatever sand was still remaining and so we couldn't count on it being landable. Binoculars revealed only smallish patches of alternative landing zones of unknown quality. On the hike out to the launch we decided I should be first. I nervously hooked up my borrowed climbing harness, a 1/2 kg Sup'Air jobby with light-weight screw-on carabiners, an improvised speedbar rope and no back protection. I would fly without a reserve parachute for this attempt since the 12 mile hike out from Kalalau valley was strenuous and I wanted to keep my pack weight below 20 lbs. That meant I would fly conservatively--whatever that meant under these unknown conditions. My pack and food were strapped to the harness with a couple of thin webbing straps!

Pete laid out my wing as I continued to nervously fiddle with the harness and he and Bonnie and Sandy held it up to ease the launch. I took a few deep breaths and then tried a launch but Pete called it off three steps later as the wing was holding back a bit. I had only 4 steps until I reached the edge of the valley which plunged off into the shadowy void below. As I stopped running right at the lip, the wing drifted into a small ohia tree and we peeled it off to try again!

On the second attempt all felt better. I allowed a few feet of slack by backing up toward the wing and then ran hard, snatching the wing into the air. It felt positive, Pete yelled go, and I took the final, fourth step into space! The rest of the flight was technically routine yet as magnificent as I imagined it. I flew the middle of the valley in order to minimize turbulence since I didn't know whether or how the wind was flowing in the valley. Rather than take a valley tour with the wing, I simply craned my neck, watching the many hidden waterfalls come tumbling into view. The air was silky and warming up as I slowly sank into what I knew to be the most magnificent sled ride I would ever take. Minutes into the flight I remember thinking how strange it was that the ocean was not appearing any closer. I looked to the closest valley wall to see I was flying fast, but the enormity of the space, the sheer distance to the beach, and the height of the valley walls conspired to keep me feeling affixed. I was a gnat lost in a universe of plunging valley walls and distant ocean!

About 15 minutes into the flight I began to look for a place to land. The small strip of green along the rocky part of the beach that I had spied with the binoculars looked increasingly bad. That left two choices: the sandy part of the beach which was still not completely visible, and the green fields at the east end of the valley near the heiau. I decided to explore the beach more fully and so I turned a few slow circles and then went behind the spires on the west end, losing radio contact with the top. Pete just then launched, and my radio contact with him remained good. I told him that the beach looked landable.

My worry was the wind. I expected little but could get little confirmation. The ocean was angry with waves, but had no wind lines and very little spray. Finally a campfire came to view and its smoke was slowly drifing kona, out to sea. I wasn^t worried. The beach, however, looked very small and dominated by the surf. Waves were washing almost up to the grass and so I decided to attempt a high speed landing near the edge with enough speed to divert into the low scrub above the beach if a long wave tried to reach me.

"Duuuuude. Duuuude, that was totally awesome. Like, where DID you come from? You're not a ranger are you?" The natives of Kalalau greeted me on my landing with applause and questions. This was a Jurassic Park filled with the long lost personalities (dinosaurs?) of the aquarian age. (Was I a pterodactyl?) Tie-dyed clothes, peace signs, love and delight. I talked with them about the flight as we watched Pete come into view high above. I radioed to Pete that I was fine and he relayed the message to our concerned partners up above who had been worried about my radio silence and lack of response to their impassioned entreaties. As I was hidden from them behind a 2000 foot escarpment, the radio was useless. The enormity of the place was evident as Pete appeared to be a small comma in the sky, still as high as the spires above the beach. I watched as Pete slowly unwound the last thousands of feet of altitude, playing in the spires once I told him that the wind would pose no turbulence problem. He landed on the beach just before a wave and ran to safety above.

We spent an hour on the beach, talking, eating, sharing laughs with the local denizens and packing up. Then for the rest of the adventure. By 9 am we were on the trail. We first climbed to the heiau and spread our gliders in the sun on a nearby red dirt hill to dry since they had soaked up the dew on landing. That was the first opportunity to look back into Kalalau and see the enormity of the flight, and the magnificence of the valley. We stood reverentially for 20 minutes until the gliders were dry, packed them up again and then began to hike through the Na Pali coastline. Neither of us had hiked this before in its entirety and the novelty of the hike and the incredible wonder of the views kept us enthralled. By 4:45pm, 15 minutes before our appointed time and nearly eight hours after we started the hike, we walked out at Ke`e beach where Sandy and Bonnie, flush from a day of different adventures around the island, were there to meet us. We said our thank yous for their retrieval and help, gave a few sweaty hugs and jumped in the ocean for a swim.


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