Haupu P1K
Puu Keke
Puu Pihakapu

Mon, Apr 17, 2006
Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

Haupu is the highpoint of a long E-W ridge that separates the Poipu area from Lihue on the southeast side of the island of Kauai. It is a very rugged area with steep cliffs and dense vegetation, with no public trails at all that I know of. Much of the surrounding areas lie on private land, and it appears impossible to reach the ridge without crossing at least some private ranchlands. From either Poipu or Lihue, Haupu looks impressive. At first glance, vertical walls appear to surround the 2,297-foot summit, and even after a good deal of close examination, it is not at all evident that the peak can be climbed. And so I made it the goal of my first week in Kauai to both get a taste for Kauaian cross-country, and to explore the possibility of a route to the summit of Haupu.

Starting from our condo at Poipu Beach, I naturally focused on getting to the peak from the south side. Utilizing some private dirt roads that are open to the public during daylight hours, I was able to drive within about three miles of the summit. The trick would be to find a route that minimized exposure to human observation since I was pretty sure they weren't going to like me crossing private property outside of the usable roads. From this point there are two ridges that climb to the base of the main summit, one on the southwest side, one on the south. My first effort would be to the closer, lower, and more direct Southwest Ridge, so when I reached an abandoned entrance booth near the start of the ridge, I parked and quickly got out of the road.

I whacked through some runaway sugarcane growth alongside the road before climbing up to the start of the South Ridge. Hiking along the ridge was easy thanks to the rocky ground (and thus low vegetation), but it was also a dead giveaway to anyone within a quarter mile of the ridge. To the northwest was the Mahaulepu Valley, actively under farming and ranch management. A building could be seen half a mile away with some cars parked around it, so I ducked down on the east side of the ridge to avoid detection. Shortly I came to a dirt road which I followed to the northeast. This led to a ranch home perched just below the ridge that looked both shabbily maintained as well as occupied. I halted where it came into view to see if I could ascertain whether it was occupied at the moment or not. After a few minutes, I was no nearer determining this than when I started. I hesitatingly decided to pass the home to the south and east giving it a wide berth while following the road, and fortunately no one came out to chase me off. The road led over the ridge and down to a small reservoir between the two ridges, with cattle wandering about the vicinity of the water's edge. I gave the cattle plenty of room, passing the lake to the west, passing through a gate, and then aiming back onto the Southwest Ridge. Back atop the ridge, I came across another barbed-wire fence which I skirted under. I wasn't sure, but it seemed I was now off of private property - there were no more fences between here and the summit.

Following the ridge proved easier than I had expected. Cow/pig trails led along the ridge making for easy going. The land here is drier than most other places on Kauai, and consequently it was mostly grasses and modest bushwhacking to contend with (at least until I got to the base of Haupu). I made good time, and in about an hour and a half I was at the base of Haupu, staring up at some very steep cliffs between myself and the summit. My choices appeared to be limited - climb thinly vegetated cliffs, or steep jungle hillsides. I chose the jungle route. I picked out portions of a route threading through the initial steep walls before I might reach the upper half of the mountain where the angle looked to lessen. I hadn't really expected to get this far, and was a bit unprepared - somehow I had forgotten to bring any water with me, and by now it was clear that this was going to keep me from getting to the top. I decided to go a short way to see how the steeps would fare, and tagged my route with orange tape in order to keep me from getting lost. The undergrowth was now quite heavy and it would have been easy to lose my way - an ugly prospect without so much as a sip of water to slake my growing thirst. I only managed to get about 100 feet up through the jungle before I called a halt. The route was steep with very loose soil that came down in buckets as I tried to claw my way up, grabbling trees and branches to keep me from tumbling back and allowing me to make progress. I got too hot too quickly and really needed some water. So back I went. I made a few diversions from the route I took out. Nearing the lake I could see a truck down by a small shack along the lake while I was still up on the ridge. A few moments observation showed there were two persons in or by the shack. I guessed that the shack might be a duck blind for hunters on the lake, though I was never able to confirm this. I stayed high on the ridge and then dropped a bit on the west side to stay out of their view. I stayed on the same side of the ridge, dropping lower to pass the ranch home to the west and completely out of its view. I also diverged from my original route when I again reached the dirt road, this time following the road down and back to the car, bypassing the cross-country over Puu Keke.

The next day, I again got the afternoon free to go exploring. This time I brought water, but I didn't make a serious attempt for the summit of Haupu because frankly I had been intimidated by it the previous day. I decided to explore the South Ridge, and so drove out to the end of the private road to a point past Kawailoa Bay. I hiked out to Haula Beach following the directions provided in Kathy Morey's guidebook, then continued past that point. I crossed a barbed-wire fence (adequately marked Private - No Trespassing, but conveniently ignored), and started up the South Ridge a short ways. I was struck by the impressive point marked "Kawelikoa" on the map, less than 700ft in elevation, but rising steeply from the ocean shore around it. I also noticed what looked like tents perched among the cliffs on the southwest side of the peak and decided to investigate. So instead of continuing up, I began traversing about 200ft above sea level along the steep hillsides. I made use of thin trails where I could find them, bushwhacking and scrambling where I couldn't. Eventually I was among the rocky cliffs on that side of the peak and found myself enjoying some fun scrambling along the fairly solid, weather-beaten cliffs. The "tents" turned out to be old blue tarps that were cached/abandoned by local fishermen. There were small pockets in the rock where lead weights were stored, an old ice chest, folding chairs, and other junk that looked to have been long in disuse. From this point I decided to climb straight up the cliffs above me, a somewhat exposed, but fun class 3 scramble. This gave way to easier slopes that I followed to the top of Kawelikoa.

A USGS benchmark was found at the top, but nothing else. The views were phenomenal. The ocean and Poipu lay to the east, south, and southwest, Haupu to the northwest, and Kipu Kai to the north. Kipu Kai is a lovely verdant valley about a mile and a half long, maybe half a mile wide, tucked between Haupu and the sea. It is entirely private land and rarely seen, let alone visited by outsiders. A private road comes over the ridge to the north, the only access other than by foot into or out of the valley. Farming seemed to be the main use of the valley, with some small amounts of cattle roaming about.

From Kawelikoa I followed a subsidiary spur back to the main South Ridge and Puu Pihakapu. There was some over-the-head bushwhacking for a short distance of this, but most of it was easy and pleasant enough. From the top of Puu Pihakapu I followed the South Ridge north, utilizing cow/pig trails for much of the way to the 1,327-foot highpoint, Naluakeina. It was getting late in the afternoon by this time and I would have no time to attempt Kaupu, but I hoped to scout a route out from my fine vantage point. The way looked daunting. There was a good drop between Naluakeina and the base of Haupu, heavily overgrown and an uncertain way to bridge the gap. It looked like a lot of work and I decided not to pursue the ridge further. But looking at the steep south side of Haupu, I eyed a promising start on the south side of Haupu. It looked like I could get to it more easily from the Southwest Ridge, providing the bushwhacking to get to the start wasn't too formidable. Elsewhere on the south and east sides that I could see, Haupu was protected by unclimbable, highly friable cliffs. The Northeast Ridge, named Queen Victorias Profile, could be seen on the skyline from where I stood and appeared quite jagged (either the queen was very ugly, or someone had a mean streak in naming this feature after her). It was time to turn back. I retraced my route back to Puu Pihakapu, then headed south down the ridge and back to my car.

My next chance came two days later when I got an earlier start than the previous two times, hitting the trail at noon. I was prepared with plenty of liquid and more than enough daylight to make the 6mi round trip. I took the first hour to reach the base of Haupu via the Southwest Ridge, a short distance from my highpoint the first day. Rather than follow my ribbons I'd left previously, I headed right along the base of the mountain, searching for the route I had eyed from Naluakeina. Crossing the drainage between the two ridges wasn't nearly the hard effort I expected, as vegetation wasn't so thick in the understory of the dense forest found there. I clambered to the highest point I could on the south side until I ran up against the cliffs - the easy part was now over.

Looking up, it seemed the route could go at class 3, and for about 50 feet I found myself on exposed, but solid rock - a regularly good scramble at that. It didn't last long enough. From here the route was more circuitous and it took more thought to map out a way to make progress. The mountain on this side is roughly 45 degrees as measured on TOPO! - 1,000ft of gain to the summit in just a fifth of a mile. Because I would take a roundabout route to get there, the average angle of my route was less, but probably rarely below 30 degrees. The mountainside was covered in thick grasses, much of it seasonally dead. I could rip out huge chunks of the stuff with my hands, yet I needed to crawl over this stuff to make progress. The underlying earth was damp, slick, and crumbled away under my boots. I would have to go over the grasses to have any chance. The hardest parts were just above where the rock scramble ended, and I danced around a few ledges, crawled up and under a few key trees, and once again used my orange ribbon to tag my route. The idea of coming down a different way and running into cliffs was an unpleasant prospect I would be happy to avoid. Another serious concern was what might happen if it started to rain. Wet, dead grasses might be very slick and significantly more dangerous. Out of concern, I kept a very wary eye on the cloud-covered skies for any such change in the weather.

Where I thought it would take me an hour to make the climb from Haupu's base to its summit, it took me twice as long. The steep, uphill bushwhacking was incredibly draining. The angle of the hillside was unrelenting, and though it was only a thousand vertical feet, it seemed to go on forever and ever. Just as I was nearing what I thought was the top and easier going, the slope steepened and the grasses gave way to thick fern jungle that was even slower going, and I still had several hundred feet to gain. Eventually I persevered, and shortly before 3p I pulled up onto the summit area. From below it appears that Haupu has a single prominent summit, but once atop I was to find that there was more easy bushwhacking over several minor bumps in order to reach the highpoint on the northwest end. The bushes weren't too difficult near the summit and there was even evidence of pigs rooting on the upper northeast slopes. It looked from up high that the easiest route to the summit might be along Queen Victorias Profile (circumventing the tougher pinnacles along the ridge), starting from the dirt road leading to Kipu Kai Valley.

Near the highpoint I found a few very old ribbons along with a discarded 24oz beer bottle. If there was a USGS marker somewhere, I couldn't find it, as the whole summit area is pretty much buried in vegetation. I looked down the more precipitous North Face and took in the views north to Lihue, Wailua, and beyond. As usual, Waialeale was shrouded in cloud cover. I stayed atop about 15 minutes before I headed back down. The descent down the steepest slopes wasn't nearly so treacherous as I had feared (thankfully no precipitation fell), but I was still pretty cautious descending to avoid something as nasty as an unintended glissade down the grassy slopes (that could have been unstoppable). I retraced my steps by following the ribbons, retrieving each one as I came to it.

As expected, I got back to the car with plenty of daylight, for an outing lasting 5 1/2 hours. It felt really good to have tagged this summit, and even if I wasn't to be successful on Kawaikini or any of my other outings, this one alone would make the trip a success. As it turns out, it was the most technically challenging and exposed of all the hiking and scrambling I was to do on the island, and a truly wild adventure.


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