On our first full day on Kauai we paid a visit to Waimea Canyon, known as
"The Grand Canyon of the Pacific." There are no summits with significant
(over 300ft) along Highway 550 that follows the canyon's western edge,
but we would have fun tagging a bunch of the minor named summits found on
the topo map and ListsOfJohn. Po'o Kaeha is the one peak with over 300ft of
prominence, but it is found near the bottom of the canyon, oddly. We had no
beta about it and were going into this one blindly. We descended
the Kukui Trail from the canyon rim, a 2,200-foot drop in
2.5mi that makes for a very scenic hike. The trail was mostly dry
today and a bit brushy near the bottom. We got down to
Wiliwili Camp at the edge of the Waimea River in an hour and
a quarter. After
a short break we continued north on the trail for about half a mile until we
got our first good view of Po'o Kaeha. It was terribly discouraging.
We had glimpsed it from the trail earlier, noting it was ringed with two
levels of cliffs, but hoped it would look better closer up. We were only 0.4mi
from it now, but it looked worse, not better. We decided to give it
up and take a swim in the river instead. We'll leave it to
someone else to do this one first. On our way out, we stopped briefly at
Wiliwili Camp to finish off some whiskey that had been left by a
previous party - our way of fortifying for the big climb out. Once at the rim,
we paid a visit to the nearby highpoint named Kukui. Approaching from the
south where we found a partial opening through the heavy forest cover,
we worked our way slowly upwards, taking 20min for the 1/4mi distance.
At the summit we found a strawberry guava tree with some
out-of-season ripe fruit that we snacked on.
From an informal canyon overlook spot along the highway south of
Ka'ana, one can follow the edge of the canyon rim to this modest
summit, no bushwhacking required. A fall from the edge will likely not be
stopped, so we were very slow and cautious on this one. The summit has an
excellent view of the canyon, but not appreciably better than the
usual lookout spots.
This summit has a federal telecom installation, with a sign indicating
No Trespassing right from the highway. We walked up the spur road to
reach it, tentatively asking the guy we found inside the fenced property
if it was ok to walk the perimeter. He said yes, so we did just that.
The highest point seems to be on the east side of the fence.
Pu'u o Kila - Pihea
Pu'u o Kila is the lookout found at the end of the road, overlooking
the Kalalau Valley on the Napali Coast to the northwest. The 1.1mi
Pihea Trail leads along the crest to the northeast, ending atop
the summit. I had done this at least once many years ago and found it
terribly muddy. It was
better today with a several days of little rain, but it was still a muddy
affair. We shared the trail with dozens of other parties, mostly families
with some members enjoying the mud, others less so. At the end of the trail
is a pig fence to keep the hogs out of the adjacent Hono Onapali
Reserve Area. There are decent views from Pihea, but the Pu'u o Kila
and the Kalalau Lookouts offer better vistas.
We parked at a gated spur road that shortly leads to
the mid-level nursery for the state park. We walked the perimeter fence
around the left side first, running into an impenatrable wall of brush. We then
went around the right side, climbing up into the jungle where the fence turns
sharply north. The going was moderately tough until we discovered an
old trail higher on the ridgeline. This made the going very easy all
the way to the top where we found a signal reflector installation just
south of the summit and nothing in particular at the actual highpoint which was
devoid of any views. We did find some small fruits to sample before
heading back down. We followed the trail further to see if it would take us back
to the nursery, but it seemed to just continue following the ridge, so
we backtracked to our original route, returning to the nursery and our
This turned out to be one of the better ones. A gate at the highway
north of the summit is signed for No trespassing, but leads to a large
grass area, regularly mowed and maintained by the state of Hawaii,
purpose unknown. But the grass extends to the rim of the canyon where
some great views can be had. There is also a use trail that follows
along the rim, again with a dangerous drop-off, that can be followed
to the summit with some of the best views of the canyon yet.
It was getting close to sunset and the colors were quite nice with a side view
of Waipoo Falls.
Pu'u Ka Pele
Our last summit features another telecom installation, this one a bit
old. A spur road from the southwest leads to a utility building, behind
which a steep trail leads up the ridge to the summit. There is a survey
monument at the summit, a tad higher than the telecom tower.
Good views of Waimea Canyon from this one, too.