OHE June 2, 1999 (Wailau backpack)

Date: Wed, 2 Jun 1999 14:17:06 -1000
From: Patrick Rorie (prorie@mailhost.k12.hi.us>
Subject: Wailau 1999

Arrived back from the island of Moloka'i yesterday morning (June 1st, 1999) with Rob Geer after being brought to our knees (literally) by the magnificent but badly overgrown (in the valley) Wailau Trail. The following is a quick summary of our trip.

== Thursday, May 27th

Departed Oahu via Island Air at 4:10 p.m and touched down on Moloka'i under mostly sunny skies at 4:35. From the airport, Moloka'i Tours and Taxi service transported us to a property owned by Greg ? (one of Rob's friends) just east of the Ili'ili'opae Heiau, 15.7 miles east of Kaunakakai on Highway 45 (Moloka'i's south shore).

Visited the heiau (approx. fifty yards in length made of rocks brought over from Wailau Valley via the Wailau Trail), hiked the ridge behind the heiau containing the Wailau Trail for about half an hour in preparation for the next day and enjoyed the relaxing rural atmosphere of Moloka'i strolling under a nearly full moon along the two lane highway (no street lights and very quiet due to minimal traffic). Ventured past a large grove of tall mango trees lit up beautifully by the moon light in route to the shore where we viewed the lights of Lahaina, Maui, in the distance across the Pacific Ocean. Rob slept on the porch of a 1.5 year old 'A' frame cabin he helped build while I tented nearby.

== Friday, May 28th

Got off to a late start (8:24 a.m.) and took four hours to reach the summit (elev. 2,800 ft and three miles from the heiau) due mainly to the fact that Rob was still recovering from a recent bought with the flu. He fell behind and I had to wait for him constantly. We had more than adequate weather to work with, however (mostly sunny skies again), and appreciated the transition from an open, steep stretch of low grass above the heiau to an ironwood/eucalyptus forest to a canopied dryland forest to an open uluhe/native section (ohia lehua) concluding with the summit bog rich in native flora. Also, looking makai, the two of us took pleasure from outstanding vistas of Lana'i and Maui (specifically, the West Maui Mountains featuring Pu'u Kukui).

Found the steep descent into Wailau Valley to be very treacherous due to slick, moss covered rock (remember, we were hauling 45/50 pound backpacks) and five rope sections one of which must have been atleast thirty feet long over a very steep slope. The breathtaking views of the huge pristine amphitheater valley, Pohakaunoho Ridge (separates Wailau and Pelekunu Valleys), massive Pu'u Olokui (elev. 4,602 ft), the sheer east wall featuring a wall of tears look alike (the better known wall of tears is on Maui) and a fabulous multi-tiered cascade stretching from the summit crest to the valley floor made the struggle worth it, however. Although Rob had a north face internal pack, he strapped many items to the outside of it and some came off including water bottles during the downward plunge creating further delays. At one point I waited 45 minutes for him to catch up! As we approached the valley floor we crawled through four uluhe tunnels and lost the trail veering west onto a pig trail. I took out the topo map, studied it, and then we compensated by contouring east along a swath of uluhe to get back on track.

The steep descent ended in a thick clidemia forest (six foot tall woody clidemia trees!). Rob and I pushed through the first group and arrived at a clearing littered with fresh boar dung at 5:15 p.m., the lovely cascade on the steep east wall visible in the distance. Despite being low on water we decided to camp at the spot overnight and complete the journey to Wailau Beach the next day. While setting up my tent I noticed a wooden sign nailed to a hau tree a short distance mauka of the clearing with the word "KEKUMU" carved on it. Disappointed at having failed to reach the north shore and anxious about being low on water with more clidemia trees to plow through made for a sober night of reflection.

== Saturday, May 29th

Continued the journey at 8:39 a.m. under cloudy skies following occasional orange or red ribbons gritting our teeth through the clidemia forest. About an hour later the two of us emerged from the thicket and dropped down to delightful, fast flowing Waiakeakua Stream. Took a break to fill our water bottles and hydrate. According to the topo the trail parallels the stream on its eastern side as it becomes Wailau Stream all the way to the ocean; therefore, after the break we decided to travel in the stream because clidemia bordering the footpath on the other side joined hands above the trail creating a wicked gauntlet. The plan worked until we reached a segment with steep banks and a deep pool below huge boulders. We backtracked, exited the stream and gained the trail. By now the skies had cleared revealing blue sky above the cloud free summit crest in the back of the valley.

Endured steady punishment at the hands of clidemia hirta getting hit in the face and eyes (vision in my left eye became temporarily blurred) and pushed to the edge of the footpath as the graded contour trail wound in and out of four or five gullies. The nasty weed also hindered progress by wrapping around our packs like tentacles. Bailed to the stream again for a distance then rejoined the trail which opened up during the final two miles (the valley section is 4.5 miles in length) with the exception of a short hau tangle. Along that stretch Rob and I took pleasure from several waterfalls flowing down the steep west wall of the valley including twin cascades similar to the waterfalls of Waipio Valley on the Big Island, and noticed flat grassy terraces (abandoned taro farming areas) on the other side of the stream.

Arrived at rocky Wailau Beach backed by hala trees at 4:15 p.m. greeted by the three valley "caretakers" (more like pot heads!) and set up our tents. Enjoyed the wonderful vista of the north shore as it continues west to Kalaupapa Peninsula, Mokapu Island off the coast in the distance, magnificent vertical sea cliffs featuring a prominent rock spire, and watched the sun set. At 10 p.m. the full moon came out briefly, lighting up the beach, the front of the valley and the sheer cliffs on the eastern side very nicely.

== Sunday, May 30th

Desperate for a boat to take us to Halawa Valley on Moloka'i's extreme east end, Robb and I waited patiently for one to land. By noon none had arrived (although we did see a few pass by) so we decided to stay put and make a decision about what to do at dinner. During the interim I explored the west end of the beach and the area above the beach but did not reenter the valley lest a boat should land and we miss the opportunity to get out.

Don't misunderstand me. Wailau Valley (minus the clidemia), Wailau Stream and the beach are magnificent. We simply did not desire to go back the same way enduring the same flogging all over again.

Kona winds brought passing showers into the evening.

== Monday, May 31st

Having decided to hike the entire 8 miles back to Ili'ili'opae Heiau, Rob and I arose at 5 a.m. and by 6:30ish streamlined, well rested and determined, reentered Wailau Valley bound for the heiau. I led the way and set a brisk pace. Rob had his act together and followed closely behind. We accomplished the well traveled first two miles in about an hour, startled a large boar then dropped down to the stream as we had done on Saturday as the clidemia began to protrude heavily above the trail. Departed the stream ascending to the footpath and remained on it all the way to the Waiakeakua Stream crossing arriving there at 9:30 a.m. Took a short break then climbed the bank and entered the clidemia forest. Went too far west and paid the price discovering knee deep mud clearings in the process. Reached the KEKUMU Campsite at 10:39 a.m. and halted briefly.

Commenced the steep ascent out of the valley at approx. 11 a.m. climbing methodically, Rob leading the way. After gaining significant elevation, I paused on several occasions to enjoy the awesome vistas of the pristine valley below. I even spotted a few apapane hovering near ohia blossoms and flying through the air! Looking up, I scanned the summit ridge as it stretched west then turned around and gazed across to study the wall of tears. The two of us carefully negotiated the rope sections completing the tough ascent to the summit at 1:40 p.m. We dropped our packs and rejoiced that the worst was over.

Began moving again through the summit bog at 2:26 p.m. Once out of the bog, Rob and I cruised down the mountain taking pleasure from the warm sunshine and excellent views of the fish ponds off the coast, the aqua green and dark blue ocean, the neighbor islands of Lana'i on the right, Maui on the left and Kahoolawe in between.

Reached Greg's cabin at 4:30ish (ten hours after leaving Wailau Beach), dropped our packs and immediately headed east along Highway 45 to "Neighborhood Store N Counter" for a plate lunch. I had the chicken katsu while Rob consumed hamburger steak. Later, we washed off in the ocean beyond Junior's (another of Rob's friends) poney ride bungalow.

== Tuesday, June 1st

The two of us arose at 5 a.m. again to a beautiful day and began organizing our gear for the flight back to Oahu. At 6:30 a.m. we found ourselves waiting on the side of the road for the Moloka'i Tours and Taxi van but it never came. With an 8:20 a.m. flight to catch we walked west to Junior's home and he graciously gave us a ride to the airport. Touched down on Oahu prior to 9 a.m. and drove to Waimanalo where I dropped Rob off at the HTMC Clubhouse.

Recommendations: Take the boat to Wailau Valley! :-) But seriously... unless you're into serious self torture, I would not recommend anyone backpack from the heiau to Wailau Beach. A day hike to the summit from the heiau is worthwhile, however. Drop your day pack at the summit and descend toward the valley floor as far as you feel comfortable to gain better views of the valley and the surrounding sheer cliffs, ridges and pu'us.



Reply From: Wing C Ng (wing@LAVA.NET>

I read about a mountain, probably Olokui mentioned here, that is sheer on all sides, 360 degrees, that people think that NO ONE in history has ever climbed. There are rare plants and birds up there, presumably no animals. (People landed on top in helicopters, I think.) Should be Paka's next project: all mountains on Oahu pale next to this 90 degrees up, never climbed mountain :-)


Reply From: peter caldwell (pekelo@lava.net>

Yo, Paka!

Welcome back, bruddah! Sorry to hear about your clidemia battles in upper Wailau.

My first trip there was in 1982 (we went with Loren Gill and a group of people by boat from Halawa) and spent four days camping on the bluff above the western end of the beach. Plenty of time for exploring and took a couple of hikes up the valley to the back of the Wailau. At that time, I don't remember seeing any clidemia at all, and the trail itself was not hard to follow. That's a real bummer to hear about the way it is now. We also climbed up the eastern ridge of Olokui above the beach and hiked around Waiehu Point to Wailele Falls several times. That year there had been a lot of rain before our trip, and the waterfalls were incredible.

You're right - visiting Wailau by boat in the summer is the best way to go! Kayaking the north shore with stops Papalaua, Wailau, Pelekunu, Moomomi, Kawakiu and taking out at Kaluakoi is the ultimate adventure kayak trip in Hawaii. Even in the summer though, the ocean can get pretty rough and getting in and out from the beaches can be a challenge.



Reply From: Patrick Rorie (prorie@mailhost.k12.hi.us>

A tragedy. One of the three "caretakers" said that only in the last ten years has the clidemia become a problem. He blames the Honolulu Sierra Club for bringing the seeds in on their boots.

Speaking of the "caretakers", they were armed to the teeth with rifles and laughed at us when we arrived. I did not take kindly to this but Rob, to his credit, befriended the dudes and gained valuable information from them. The day before we arrived one of them shot a large deer equipped with long antlers and left the carcass to rot on the beach.

As for Olokui, it is huge, colossal, mammoth (words fail). The mountain truely dominates the valley and the climb to its summit would be very challenging and a monumental accomplishment.

== Paka

Reply From: peter caldwell (pekelo@LAVA.NET>

You're right about Olokui, Wing. No one has probably been up there in modern times except for some helicopter survey parties. Speculation is that Hawaiians from Wailau went up to the Olokui plateau to collect bird feathers probably by the southeast ridge.

Olokui is a fascinating and unique because it is so inaccessible. It is one of the few remaining pristine wet forest areas in Hawaii, and the plateau is protected from feral animals by steep cliffs and ridges on all sides. It is also one of the state's Natural Area Reserves, and there is a management plan for the area. Helicopter surveys have been done first in the mid-80s, and botanical and ornithological data have been obtained. The parties doing the field work went to great lengths not to introduce alien species even to the point of a complete change of clothes and boots before leaving the choppers! Needless to say,they found many rare and endangered plants as well as some rare bird sightings. It is like a living laboratory of a pre-contact wet forest environment. There was some evidence of goat and deer damage on the lower slopes but the plateau itself was OK. It would be possible to climb up from Wailau and at least one attempt on Kolo Ridge has been made from Pelekunu. However I think Olokui is so special a place that it should be left alone and preserved like Puu Kukui, and the state has plans to block potential access points to keep the pigs, goats and deer from the valleys out of the plateau. As much as Paka or any of us would like to stand on the summit of Olokui, I'd rather see it left undisturbed.


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