Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Koke'e, Kalalau, and Pihea

The Ohe Ohe cabin at Koke'e State Park

Kalalau Valley from Kalalau Lookout; I think Pihea Peak is the highest point on the ridge

So there we were, at 4,000 feet, 20 degrees latitude north (about like Cuba), end of February, wearing our down jackets from the Himalayas. Cold and very wet outside. In order for us (me) to do some hiking in this area, Vicki booked us for two nights in the Koke'e State Park cabins. “Cabin” apparently is an Hawai'ian euphemism for shack or shanty. It was not as cheap as the county park ($3 per person); actually, at $75 a night we thought it was overpriced. There is a wood-burning stove in the “cabin,” and we are feeding it everything that will burn, especially considering the concessionaire charges $7.95 a 5-gallon bundle for firewood. I figure, at this price, a typical Hawaiian tree must be worth about $795 trillion. Ever collected fire wood in a rain forest? In the rain?

Saturday I did my hike. It was raining, of course, when I left the cabin. We are only a few miles from Kaua'i's big old volcano, which, at about 5,000 feet, is officially the wettest place on earth. 450 inches a year wet.

My hike was the Pihea trail, which takes you out via a long sort-of knife-edge ridge over the Kalalau canyon to Pihea Peak, and then down into the Swamp. I arrived at the Kalalau Lookout trail-head in the rain, sat in the car for half an hour while it rained, optimistically, and then, sure enough, some blue appeared, and then some more, and then it stopped raining, and then you could actually see some of the canyon below. I knew, in my non-Islands wisdom, it would clear up, the clouds and moisture would soon burn off.

So I donned my rain suit—just a precaution—and set forth over the red lava slabs that cover, or underlie, the ridge. After a few hundred feet, it became apparent this was the same volcanic mush that constitutes the Kalalau trail. The “rock” degenerates into mud of the slipperiest kind. At the half-mile mark, my clouds-burning-off delusion ended, the canyon disappeared, and it rained, and rained, and rained.

Mercifully, the trail was short. I can best describe it as a mixture of rock-climbing and solo mud wrestling. I am sure there was as much exposure as on the Kalalau trail itself, but the vegetation on Pihea entirely covered it. The wind was terrific, rain blowing side-ways. I reached the summit, photographed the marker--in the white-out there was nothing else to photograph—rested and reflected briefly on how much a person can accomplish through delusional determination and persistence, and headed down toward the Swamp. Here, the State of Hawaii has installed wooden staircases, the only concession to trail “improvement” I have seen on Kaua'i. But, after awhile, it occurred to me that a swamp was even less interesting in a white-out than a “mountain” “peak.” So I headed back, ascending, then descending, step by deliberate step. I slipped half a dozen times, but never actually fell. My ribs still ached enough from Kalalau.

We spent the rest of the day feeding the stove and going over the 38,000 photos we have taken on our trip. I think this is what you have with nearly 40G of pix. A few people have asked for slide-shows, and, of course, we will oblige, cutting it down to mere scores, or hundreds. Eventually, I swear, I will do the Picasa albums I have promised.

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