OHE May 10, 1999 (Koloa Gulch)



Date: Mon, 10 May 1999 14:57:21 -1000
From: Nathan Yuen (nyuen@lava.net>
Subject: The Waterfalls of Koloa Gulch

(this has also been posted to the newsgroup "soc.culture.hawaii")

Yesterday, about 20 of us in the trail-maintenance crew of the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club (HTMC) toiled to clear the trail for the upcoming Koloa Gulch hike in Hau'ula. Koloa and it's neighboring gulches of Kaipapau, Maakua, and Sacred Falls are similar in that they are narrow canyons with high cliffs which have been scoured by a stream over the passage of time. They are also similar in that they all contain magnificent waterfalls which plummet into charming pools at the base of the falls.

We started the hike by climbing up a small ridge behind Pounder's Beach. As we climbed up the hot and dry ridge under the full brunt of the sun, we saw a proliferation of dryland native plants such as 'ulei with their frond-like leaves and small white flowers, akia which were used by the Hawaiians as an anesthetic to stun and catch reef fishes, and the leafless orange-yellow vines of kauna'oa which grow on their host plants as parasites. When we reached the top of an exposed little hill, we took the right fork that leads deep into wet green Koloa Gulch.

Hopping across large boulders to cross the stream many times (there were at least 35 stream crossings), we admired how some boulders were splattered with ringlets of white lichen while others were covered with a shaggy green moss. Koloa is one of the few pristine streams left on Oahu where the stream is able to reach the sea unhindered. As a result, Koloa is home to several native fauna rarely seen on Oahu--we saw black dome-shaped hihiwai (freshwater opihi or limpet) about the size of a quarter, sand-colored o'opu (gobi) up to 8 inches long that blended-in perfectly with the tiny pebbles on the bottom, and small transparent opae (shrimp) about an inch long which hide between the algae-covered rocks in streambed. We even saw the native damselfly with the blue spot on its head darting about just above the surface of the water.

The deeper we penetrated the gulch, the higher the rock walls on either side became--well over a hundred feet high towards the very end. It was also amazing to see just how steep the narrow gulch has been carved into the rock. As we approached the end of the trail we encountered the remnants of a large landslide that buried one side of the stream in up to 30 feet of boulders, dirt, and fallen trees. When it happened, this landslide in Koloa Gulch could have very well been as devastating as the yesterday's landslide at Sacred Falls that claimed several lives. [gulp]

When we reached the end of the gulch, we encountered a pool just before the final bend in the barely 15-foot wide gulch which shielded the waterfall from sight--the waterfall can only be seen by venturing into the chest-deep pool and climbing up and along the side of a rock wall. Pulling ourselves out of the water with the aid of a rope, we inched along the rock wall using small ledges as foot and hand holds. As we made our way up and around the rock ledge, the object of our travail finally came into sight! [cheer!] And what a beautiful sight! Plunging some 60 feet over a sheer rock face covered in swordtail and maiden's hair ferns, the magnificent waterfall plummeted into a quaint mountain pool. Diving into the cool refreshing waters of the pool, we swam to the deepest part and felt the waterfall falling on us. We also could not resist climbing up the ledges at the base of the falls to jump into the pool. [splash!]

After enjoying ourselves in the pool, we emerged from the water to dry-off in the sun and eat our lunches. After finishing lunch and making our way back down the gulch, we were tantalized when we learned that another even higher waterfall lay on another fork of the stream. As a result, several of us veered-off to explore the other fork when we reached the junction. As we made our way to the higher waterfall, we saw quite a few fascinating plants--we saw large stands of awa (kava-kava) with their heart-shaped leaves and knobby bamboo-like stems whose roots were prepared into an intoxicating drink for ceremonial and medicinal purposes, olona which were made into ropes because of the strength of its fibers--the strongest in the world, and large kukui trees with their lovely three pointed silvery-green leaves whose nuts are so oily they were lit as candles. When we finally reached the end, we saw a 100-foot waterfall plunge into a charming little pool at its base! What a neat sight!

But alas... the afternoon was drawing to an end and it was time to leave. As a result, we made our way quickly back out the gulch to Pounder's Beach. As we drove back home, we saw many fire and rescue teams at Sacred Falls, heard the terrible news of the fatal landslide just a few gulches away from Koloa Gulch on the Koolauloa coast, and counted ourselves lucky to have experienced the waterfalls of Koloa Gulch without mishap.

For those of you who wish to see the unique native flora and fauna of Koloa Gulch and experience the waterfalls for yourself, the next HTMC hike to Koloa Gulch will be held on May 23rd. You may view the schedule at http://www.geocities.com/Yosemite/Trails/3660/htms9902.html.

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      o    o     __ __
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        |/   /     __    \      Mai hehi ia'u (Don't Tread on Me!)
      (`  \ '    '    \   '
        \  \|   |   @_/   |        Nathan Yuen 
         \   \   \       /--/
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