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Kapoki previously climbed Sat, Apr 22, 2006|
When one thinks of high-priced mountain adventures, one typically has images of the $7,000 Denali expedition or the $50,000 Everest attempt. Kawaikini, barely making it over 5,000ft in elevation, would be my most expensive climb yet, coming in at over $10,000. Of course that included a two week vacation for the whole family with an oceanfront condo in Poipu Beach - the price I had to pay to entice them to let me climb once more in Kauai - and worth every cent, I might add. The climb itself cost little more than $5 for food and maybe $50 for gas plus the wear on my clothes - I'd spent more on day trips in the Sierra Nevada.
There have been few adventures I had anticipated more than a return to Kauai and the island highpoint. My first attempt had been more than a year and half earlier, and the failure had never been far from my mind in the intervening timespan. Having studied the hike beforehand for many hours, I was versed in the route, the terminology, the dangers, and much more. I learned a good deal on that first effort and made use of it in this second attempt. The first and foremost rule is to Play the Weather. The nearby summit of Waialeale is known as the "Wettest Place on Earth" for good reason - 450 inches per year, and that's just counting what falls down vertically. The best source of information for rain is the rain gauge at the summit of Waialeale (little more than a mile from Kawaikini) courtesy of the US Geological Survey. While it can't predict future rains, you can see how much it has rained prior to your visit, a good measure of the bogginess you will encounter. I'd been told that Dec-Jan were the drier months, but I don't think that is very reliable other than as a long-term statistical measure. It rained like crazy just before our arrival, recording more than five inches at the summit on Dec 7, a week prior. Fortunately things dried out a bit after that, raining ten inches in our first week on the island (remember that's at the summit - it rained less than an inch where we stayed in Poipu Beach). Due to scheduling issues with family, the first day I could make an attempt was Dec 21 and I cancelled that because it had a wet 24-hrs prior. With less than an inch of rain on Dec 23, I decided to give it a go for Dec 24.
I awoke to the alarm at 2a. My watch alarm went off as scheduled five minutes later, but I was already up. My first attempt had been spoiled by a mis-set alarm clock, losing me two hours right at the start. This time I was right on schedule, leaving Poipu at 2:15a for the two hour drive to the trailhead. In a rented Saturn Vue, I was able to negotiate the final six miles of the Mohihi Road to its end, though not without some trepidation - the road conditions vary a great deal depending on weather and when it was last graded. By 4:15a I was packed up and heading out at the start of the Mohihi Trail.
Prior experience on the route helped a good deal and there were no route-finding issues for those first hours in the dark. The roads and trails were muddy, but the moon was out with about half the sky clear of clouds. I was able to negotiate the entire trail to Koaie Camp, including the steep downclimb to the stream just prior, completely in the dark. It took a bit over 2hrs to make the four mile trek, arriving just after 6:30a. The inside of the cabin looked much as I had remembered it. A wood and aluminum construct, the whole inside measures maybe 7ft x 12ft. There were some old pads and dirty sheets lying in a heap at one end, a small bench with odds and ends like matches, spent propane cans, and the like. A few pouches of tuna and chicken meat tucked in a wall (still good to eat) completed the picture. It was surprisingly dry inside and would make a welcome sight upon my return. I left a pint of frozen chocolate milk (one of four I carried) to pick up on the way back.
It was still dark out when I left the camp, heading south to pick up the trail I knew was tricky to find here. I went off in one direction for a few minutes before returning and picking up the right trail. A small bog is encountered almost immediately, followed by some wading through shoulder-high ferns. Thinking I was off-trail again I backed up and tried other routes before returning to the fern grotto. Fortunately it was growing light by this time and it was immensly helpful in getting me through the next quarter mile. I think the trail used to follow the ridgeline more directly, but it now crosses the bog (a few key ribbons helped flag this section), through the ferns, then up a very steep hillside that has been eroding badly over the years. Once up on the ridge above Koaie Camp to the south, the route becomes much easier to follow with only minor deviations from the ridgetop.
I followed the flagged route SE for several miles to the location of the arrow, an old landmark log with an arrow carved in the fallen trunk. Alas, the arrow is no more, possibly destroyed intentionally (it was looking quite solid when I saw it on my first visit), and I ended up hiking some distance past the turnoff. When I got to an unfamiliar stream crossing I knew I had gone too far and turned back. Using my GPS, I zeroed in to where I expected the old landmark should be, eventually finding the location, though not the log. It's not obvious by any stretch, and there are no flags immediately beyond the turnoff to make things clear (I suppose I should have added a flag or two myself!). One basically needs to know that you are transitioning from one ridgeline to another (roughly heading SSE to SE), staying as high as possible.
My shoes had been doused with half a can of water-proofing spray the night before, and combined with a pair of neoprene socks I had managed to keep my feet dry for the first few hours. But within an hour of leaving Koaie Camp all was completely wet and my feet were basically swimming in my boots. They would remain so for the next 14 hours. My pants were also soaked from brushing against the wet vegetation, but my upper body was only damp and mostly comfortable traveling in just a capilene shirt.
I continued on, following ribbons of various colors and ages along the narrow trail to Sincocks Bog where I arrived at the five hour mark. The faded orange cone marking the return point was still there. I hopped the fence, then headed SE to the red gate at the other of the bog. I picked up the flags that began again outside the gate and continued on through the forest to the fenced Boggette. Traveling NE to the highpoint of this second bog after hopping the fence, I was thrilled to find the old orange flags left by the Gang of Four nearly two years ago. I was surprised to find the flags and the route in roughly the same shape I had on my first visit (which had been only a few months after their excursion), and was happy to follow them as the really difficult section of the journey was to begin.
Within about half an hour I found some additional flags, these colored pink, that were newer than the orange ones. They generally followed the same course, but would make deviations from time to time. At first I would follow the known orange flags religiously, but began to see that the pink ones cut a more direct path through the forest as opposed to the meandering whims of the orange ones. On top of that, the pink flags were more numerous and done in longer strips, making them a good deal easier to follow. It seemed someone had been out this way more recently and made a significant improvement in the route. I was soon enough convinced of this that I began to follow the pink ribbons exclusively, using the GPS from time to time (signals could only be obtained occasionally to use the GPS). When I reached the Kapoki waypoint I was happy to see that the pink ribbons followed the crater rim rather than dropping into the crater floor as the orange ones do (the Gang of Four had camped in the crater and went down to find water - but it's not the easiest route to follow). The semicircular traverse around the crater rim was far easier, and I was soon around to the far side of the rim. Blue ribbons made their appearance in this area but I continued to follow the pink ones, periodically checking in on the GPS and compass (the compass was also indispensible as it worked where the GPS would not, and though it couldn't tell if I was on the right track, it could at least tell me I was heading in the right direction). I did manage to lose about 20 minutes in the thickest part of the jungle when I found myself heading in the wrong direction at one point. Just like on my previous visit, I had stopped to take a GPS reading and check the sky above me for clearing. The act of looking up had disoriented me and upon continuing I was headed off in the opposite direction! Fortunately I was aware of this possibility and I caught it early with the help of the compass.
Sometime before noon I reached the waypoint called END HELL, a point just beyond my furthest progress on my first visit. I had come to believe that beyond this point the going was much easier with the open range of the summit plateau, but alas I found little difference. There were certainly fewer trees, but these were replaced by larger shrubs and deeper bogs and in the end I made no swifter progress. Emerging from one particularly dense bit of forest, I found myself in a small clearing with two large pigs about 75ft distance engaging me in a stare down. I think they were as surprised to see me as I was to see them. Why I didn't try to get a picture is beyond me, but after about 15 seconds I raised my hands shouting, "Begone!" Off they ran into the bush. Eventually things did get better, but not until I was at the fence on the summit plateau itself which I reached around 12:30p. The pink ribbons stopped at this point - the last one tied to the fence itself - but they were no longer necessary. I had merely to follow the fenceline east to the edge of the Blue Hole.
Aside from the fence corner marking the demarcation, the wind blowing up from the east side made it quite obvious I had reached the edge of the abyss. The wind blew up and over the lip of the rim at something like 20-30mph, a combination of fog, wind and light rain. Looking over the edge I could see it dropped off sharply, but the fog obscured what would have been a spectacular 3,000ft drop nearly straight down. The sun made weak attempts to break through, but without success, though I did have fleeting glimpses through the clouds of the east side of the island that lasted only fractions of a second. To stay warmer I put on my fleece pullover and stayed away from the very rim as I turned south for the last mile to the summit of Kawaikini. With visibility limited to about 200ft, I couldn't tell just where it might be so I followed the undulating rim up and over various smaller bumps along the way. It was easy to navigate by keeping the windy rim within sight to my left. Eventually I came to a bump within about 150ft of my GPS waypoint that had to be the summit. It was little more than a bunch of grass and small bushes. I took the requisite summit photo. A little to the south and a bit lower was a small grove of trees that I ducked under to get out of the wind and rain, and to have a snack. South of this the summit dropped off steeply and the view disappeared into the fog. It had taken just about 9hrs to reach the summit and though I was both happy and a bit surprised to have made it, I was in no mood for celebrating - I was a long way from a safe return.
I retraced my steps back to the fence, then followed it north to the summit of Waialeale and the famous rain gauge (or gauges) found there. There were three or four gauges to be found, but only one appeared to be in operation, a white cylindrical container with an open top about 8 inches wide funneling into a one-inch opening with a metal screen to keep out debris. I would have loved to have another hour or so to spend exploring further north for the ancient Hawaiian rock altar or Heiau, but I was afraid I was already pressing my luck with the visit to Waialeale. I would be getting back after darkness set in - it was just a matter of where along the route I would find myself getting out the headlamp again.
With the help of the pink ribbons, the return was almost as cleanly executed as I could have hoped. I followed the ribbons until they ended at a fence that I assumed was for Boggette, but soon realized was another fenced area just east of Boggette. The vegetation inside the fencing was higher, about waist level, and more difficult to navigate compared to the ankle high grasses found in Boggette and Sincocks Bog. With the GPS I was able to make my way over some untracked ground and find Boggette. I still had some wandering back and forth inside Boggette until I could get my GPS to agree with my recollection of my outgoing route (oddly, it was my GPS that was off by some hundred yards or so - despite the reading that said it was accurate to 53ft!). I was happy to be able to return to the (non) arrow junction with the Mohihi Trail before dark, and would be thrilled if I could return to Koaie Camp in daylight. It was not to be. Before I got to the tricky part, the last half mile before camp, I was engulfed in darkness. I lost some time in trying to retrace my steps on this part, losing the way several times. I was almost afraid I had lost it for good at one point, only to find a blue ribbon appear in front of me as I scrambled over some ferns. The ribbons are non-reflective so it is pretty much impossible to see them until you are right on top of them. A huge help was to keep my head down looking for all those mud holes I had plunged into along the way - ensuring I was indeed retracing my steps. By now I was soaked from the waist down (the fleece did a wonderful job of keeping my upper body mostly dry) and it mattered little whether I was wading through mud or not. The sight of the camp shelter was a very welcome sight which I celebrated by downing the pint of milk I had left there in the early morning. Only four miles to go.
The crossing of Koaie Stream was done easily enough - no need to hop across boulders when your feet are already soaked. I found my way up the steep bank on the opposite side for some 300ft or so until I gained the east-west ridge heading back to the trailhead. I was happy to tick off the short, metal mileage markers found in this section, each one 1/4 mile apart, as proof that I was on the right track (I think the State of Hawaii originally intended a maintained trail all the way to Koaie Camp). On my previous visit I had gotten lost briefly on this section, but not so today (there is a junction with a faint track leading off in a NW direction, with the correct E-W route marked with ribbons here). I had expected I'd be pretty much exhausted by this time, but happily I was still feeling pretty good. No doubt I was tired, but I felt I could have kept going for several more hours at least and was actually enjoying the adventure a great deal. All those long hikes over the preceding months had certainly paid off.
It was 9:30p before I finally returned to the car, making for a long 17 1/4hr outing. It was not the hardest dayhike I had done, but it was definitely one of the more rewarding ones. The drive back out on the muddy road was (thankfully) non-eventful and I was back in Poipu by 11:30p. Whew! If ever I deserved a long sleep, this was it...
Additions/Corrections from the first trip
The biggest change was the addition of pink ribbons marking a well-flagged and more direct route for that portion past Boggette. They do not start at the same location as the Gang of Four's Trail of Destruction (ToD) which I started to follow initially. Unfortunately I lost the pink ribbons near the end upon my return so I can't say exactly where they start. I would probably start again with the beginning of the ToD and then pick up the pink ribbons for the rest of the way to Waialeale. The pink ribbons are much easier to follow and usually mark a better route. It would seem that a good sized party had used them (maybe 4-5 persons going both ways) judging by the degree of trail that has developed under them. I don't know who put these ribbons up, but they were awesome.
The second most notable change was the destruction or deterioration of the log marked with an arrow (waypoint ARROW). This is a critical junction and is one of the keys to keeping on the correct route. One should approach this junction carefully. If you reach a stream crossing, you have gone too far by about 100 yards.
The outing was made easier by lighter rain, only 1/2 inch in 24hrs as compared to almost 2 inches on my first visit recorded at Waialeale (maybe a quarter of that actually falls on you during the hike, most of which takes place in the drier west).
I used the same waypoints as given in my first visit. The ones marked START HELL and END HELL were to demarcate the toughest section of the route as described by the Gang of Four (they referred to it as "Purgatory"). It really wasn't all that bad and was quite enjoyable with the comfort of the pink ribbons to follow.The waypoint names are really a misnomer, as they don't really mark the hardest sections, at least any more.
The 4x4 road was easier to negotiate on this visit, though still a tough one. I'd expect conditions to vary greatly and if possible, it's best to drive out on the road beforehand to test conditions. 4WD is a must.
I had no trouble with my compass like I had on my first visit in the area of Kapoki. I had recently discovered the trouble with my old one had to do with too much air leaking inside the needle housing and I discarded it.
I took three quarts of water/milk on this outing and consumed two of them. I would still have been comfortable with a pint less, though it would have been tough indeed if I had had less than a quart. Much of this was due to the chilly, drizzly nature of the outing. Others have reported drinking a great deal more in hot, muggy conditions - your needs will certainly vary.
Summertime would probably be a better time to visit with the additional daylight it affords (13hrs in summer vs 11hrs in winter).
Paraphrasing Bob Larkin from our ensuing conversation: Bob L. did the Kawaikini trek in August of the same year. The pink ribbons had been established at that time. While on the trek they ran across a party from the Nature Conservancy. He believes they had recently installed the pink ribbons in preparation for a new fence that is going to run the entire distance across the drainage boundary. Were such a fence to be constructed, it would certainly reduce the hardest portions of the route-finding to a triviality. It is not clear who removed the arrow at the trail junction, but it was also gone during his visit.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Kapoki - Kawaikini - Wai'ale'ale
This page last updated: Wed Jul 24 22:33:38 2013
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