Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Kalalau Curiosities

Avast! Whales; They're There, I Swear

Much of the Trail Passes Through An 
Old Coffee Plantation

Beans All Over the Place

This Was One of the Relatively Dry Spots

Part of the "Campground" at Mile 6; a Disgrace
Feral Kitty on the Trail

Another Hiker, After Quitting the Trail, 
Disgustedly Deposited Her Shoes in the 

Rubbish Bin; I Retrieved Them and Began 
This Incipient Kalalau Shoe Tree at the 

Vicki adds:

February 24, 2009—Kauai

So we are back one day early from our hike of the Na Pali coast. For me it was very disappointing not to have made it back all the way to the last beach. That beach and the surrounding valley and cliffs (and illegal hippie camping), are what everyone wants to see--maybe in my next reincarnation or when we have won the lottery and can afford the helicopter tour. The trail has been rated a difficulty of 9 out of 10 by the Sierra Club, so even to have done more than half was an accomplishment.

The day hike part ends after two miles—that is also the end of most maintenance. One of the semi-permanent residents who was hiking out to get provisions said that Hawaii doesn't maintain it because the rangers don't walk it; they fly into the last valley by helicopter to issue citations for all the illegal campers and then fly out, at $500 an hour. I can see that the state does have a dilemma. If they make it easier then even more illegals will be able to get back there and walk in and out for provisions, etc. However, if Hawaii put a ranger back there and collected the camping fees and enforced the rules, they could probably collect enough money to pay the ranger's salary. We did have permits, but I had a very strong feeling hardly anyone else did. You can only get them by mail or in person in Honolulu and at least 7 days in advance. The weather was part of the reason we couldn't make it. Though it was pretty dry on our four days, it had rained for two weeks solid before. If we could have waited two days for the trail to dry some, it would have made all the difference. But crazy us, we try to follow the rules! I take comfort in the fact that after the day hike part, I saw no woman over 30 and only 1 man our age—a German.

So now we are back at our cheap $100 a day motel, a mile from the bus stop and beach—and not able to get a rental car until tomorrow. Today I rest my knee, wash clothes and boots, and spend hours on the Internet. For those of you not familiar with our future plans, I will explain the need for all this research.

We head back to the mainland next week for 4 days with our daughter Rebecca in San Francisco and then on to our “home” in Missoula for 2 weeks or so. Next we head to Orlando where we will stay with my sister Marie during most of April. Both our daughters are also coming for a 5 day long weekend. Sometime during that 6 weeks, we have to locate a small diesel RV and arrange to have it shipped to Europe for the next 18 month leg of our adventure.

Tsunami Beach

72 Killed, So It Says

Big Waves on the Bench

Just Down from Our Campsite

Despite It All, We're Happy Campers

How Others See Na Pali

Were They Taking Pix of Us?

This Is the Correct Way to Do It

The Buzz of Sceni-Copters Was Constant

Kalalau Trail

Typical Na Pali View


A BIG Waterfall

Vicki on the Trail

Kaua'i is the oldest of the Hawaiian islands, much older than Hawaii. The lava is greatly eroded, and there is none of the sharp a'a nor smooth pahoehoe of the newer islands. And there is vegetation—much of its transplanted from elsewhere—everywhere. It is a smaller island, but has two major scenic attractions, the Waimea canyon, aka the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” and the Na Pali cliffs along the northwest coast. Other than boat or helicopter, the only way to see Na Pali is to hike the cliffs along the 11-mile Kalalau trail.

We had hoped to do the entire trail back to the beach at Kalalau, 5 days and 4 nights, a leisurely pace, but a variety of circumstances changed our plans. Vicki's knees had not really recovered since the Routeburn tramp in New Zealand. I slipped the first day out and bruised some ribs. The trail—last “improved” in the 1930s—was the worst we have ever seen. It had rained prior to our departure, and the lower tracks were ankle-deep in incredibly slippery mud. The upper tracks, along the cliffs, were narrow (a foot and a half wide mostly), slippery in places, and frightfully exposed, hundreds of feet to the raging sea below.

The bus/taxi/foot transportation to the trail-head took all the morning, and consequently we got a late start. With my injury and the ultra-slow pace required by the poor trail and terrain, we decided to camp well before the six-mile campground. It was a beautiful campsite, probably not authorized—although we had camping permits for the whole trek—where what I will call the Lepsis Creek spills out into Tsunami Beach. Beautiful as it was, the surf raged all night, and we kept listening for tsunami warning sirens (as if!).

Vicki was determined to press on, and the next day we marched, in improving if more exposed conditions, to the six mile “campground.” This is two or three apparent “sites,” a covered cooking area, and a privy, all trashed very thoroughly. We had been warned about the condition of the “campgrounds,” but they were still disappointing. After another cold night in the tent (we left our sleeping bags in Honolulu), neither of us could face an 8AM cold, deep river crossing, so we began our march back out. The retreat was marked by one real gift, watching humpback whales spout and breech and flap their tails in the distance. We arrived back at Tsunami Beach as darkness approached, ate, and settled in for another cool, breezy night. The surf had really picked up at this point, and the constant roar, a hundred feet away, was just about deafening.

We walked back out on the fourth day. We had enjoyed excellent weather all four days, sunny skies in the 70s, with very light rain occasionally in the valleys away from the coast. The breeze had dried out the first two miles of trail to the point they were actually almost decent. We hitched a ride back to Hanalei and then caught the bus back to Lihue and the Kaua'i Inn.

The scenery is indeed beautiful, maybe even “world-class,” as advertised. For us, it was all marred by the condition of the trail and the campgrounds. All were disgraceful, especially in view of the spectacular surroundings. I hope enough people will complain, as I will, to the state government. Alas, we saw no persons of our age doing the over-night hike, and younger folk often just don't have the perspective to see that something is seriously wanting.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Lihue, Kalalua Trail

Someone else's photo, to be replaced by ours shortly

We're off, Friday morning, by bus, taxi, and foot, from Lihue to the start of the the Kalalau Trail, in the Na Pali State Park. If we do all five days we have planned--which I seriously doubt--there will be no posts nor emails nor anything else until probably next Wednesday. At least the weather forecast is pretty good. Until then....

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Back to Kona

Coast north of Hilo

Variegated Hibiscus


Coast north of Kona

Monday we continued our circumnavigation of the Island, driving north from Hilo, to Waipio, then across to Waimea and then back south to Kona. A leisurely day, enjoying sights, sounds, and tastes. Tuesday we strolled along the beachfront in Kona, had lunch at Kanaka Kava (Hawaiian food: the pulled pork and sweet potato pie and garlic bread were great; the kava, well, it was another of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences), and then spent the rest of the day gearing- and provisioning-up for our Kaua'i trek and doing internet research.

Update: Wednesday we flew from Kona to Lihue, Kaua'i, via Honolulu. We're at the Kaua'i Inn here, will explore Lihue a bit tomorrow, and then begin our Ne Pali/Kalalau trek on Friday...five days, four nights, backpacking. We'll see how Vicki's knees hold up. The Sierra Club rates Kalalau a 9 out of 10 on the difficulty scale.... But it's said to be spectacular.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Mauna Loa

I got up quite early

White rainbow seen on the way to the observatory on Mauna Loa

Mauna Loa's caldera, crater, summit plain, whatever

Mauna Kea from Mauna Loa; note "shield" shape

What Mars would look like if it had a road and telephone poles

While Vicki slaved over a hot laptop, researching the next phases and modes of our journeys, I got up very early, drove out to the observatory on Mauna Loa, and climbed the 6 mile, 3,000 foot trail to the top. It is less than a trail: rather, a "way" up the mountain--over a'a and pahoehoe (the two kinds of Hawaiian lava), both much crumbled, some finer gravel higher up, and more snow than I would have liked--marked every hundred feet or so by a cairn. The cairns are well placed, range from 3 to 8 feet tall and are easy to follow. It would take quite a white-out to get lost on this mountain. Given the terrain, the 6 miles are a ten-hour trudge, up and back, especially starting from 10,700 (sea level, actually) and reaching 13,700, without proper acclimatization. One can never establish a pace, as the terrain is continually changing--imagine 3,000 feet of alternating boulder hopping/jagged scree/snow, scanning for the next cairn--but continually interesting. The lava flows are fascinating, especially the pahoehoe, the smooth black type that forms itself into braids and other life-like designs. It is almost like climbing on a living thing. Let's see, Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984, so I guess it is a living, if sleeping, thing.

Like Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa is a shield volcano. All the Hawaiian volcanoes are of this type. The angle of ascent is slight, barely noticeable (except for one's heart thumping away...), and the distant views stay pretty much the same. Nearly all day long I could see from the Kona coast all the way to the cloud bank over Hilo Bay, with Mauna Kea rising prominently in the middle. Mauna Loa is a huge mountain, the world's largest "ultra" when measured from its root thousands of feet down in the sea.

Were I to do this again (who knows?), I think I would spend the night before at one of the parking lots, at 6,000, 9,000, or 10,700 feet, for acclimatization. Nonetheless, it was a memorable climb. I have done volcanoes before, e.g., Lassen, but nothing like Mauna Loa.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


The National Comfort Food

At First We Thought These Were Mini-Durians; Within the Red Skin and Thorns Is a Lychee-Like Grape; This Guy Described the Taste Experience Like It Was a 1947 Mouton-Rothschild, "Finish" and All; Tastes Like Lychee

The Pacific Tsunami Museum; Excellent Treatment and Displays

Just In Case You Never Saw a Tsunami Gift Store...

Despite the persistent rain, we like Hilo. It feels Hawaiian (whatever that means), more authentic, less touristy. Apart from moving from one hostel to another (downtown, old hotel), we spent the day at the Saturday market, browsing the abundant and excellent used bookstores, and visiting the Pacific Tsunami Museum. Hilo suffered a catastrophic tsunami in 1946.

Over the Volcano: Ascent of Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea, From Near the Saddle Road

A Few of the Observatories Near the Summit

The Summit and Its Traditional Shrine

In the Astronomy Gift Store (!) at the Visitor Center

Our major achievement for Friday, apart from doing the wash, was an ascent, by me, of Mauna Kea, Hawaii's highest peak ("peak"), about 13,800 feet. Via Arnott's Tours, we established camps at Rainbow Falls, at the Hilo 7-11, at 6,000 feet on the Saddle Road, at 9,200 feet at the visitor center, and the final ascent camp on observatory row at 13,700 feet. All this for acclimatization, like Nepal. From there I pushed on the final 100 feet to the summit. There was a foot or more of snow, gale force winds, and temperatrures below freezing. Seriously. (This is Hawaii? We foolishly left all our down and polartech in Honolulu.) But I made it, snapped a few pix, and then hustled back to the warmth of the van.

Mauna Kea is contested ground. To traditional Hawaiians, it is sacred space, the nexus between heaven and earth. To a variety of universities and national agencies, it is prime astronomical observatory real estate. There must be a dozen major observatories up there, some with reflectors over 15 meters, making significant discoveries--in addition to the hundreds of tradititional shrines and sites that have been there for ages.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Under the Volcano, II

From a Huge Petroglyph Site, Pu'uloa, on the Chain of Craters Road

Ditto, a Pretty Universal Symbol

Another Double Rainbow, over the Forlorn Royal Gardens Subdivision

A Bit Further South of Kaimu Beach Is Where the Lava Presently Enters the Sea; One Drives Out, Then Walks the Last Half Mile, on Recent Lava, to an Observation Point, Still Some Distance from the Action; Only Open 5-8PM

Here It Is at Dusk; Too Dark for Pix After That

We spent Thursday exploring Kilauea and environs (all pretty much in the NP): the visitor center, the crater, the caldera, the lava tubes, the Chain of Craters Road, petroglyphs, the sea cliffs, the overall volcanic landscape, and, finally, the site where the lava presently enters the sea. It's all pretty overwhelming. We're just along for the ride on this planet....

We're staying at a hostel in Hilo and will operate from here the next couple days.

Under the Volcano

Kilauea Crater, Halema'uma'u, Inside Much Large Caldera

Part of the Caldera

Lava Once Flowed Through the Lava Tube; Now It's Moist and Icky, But BIG

The Road Does Not Go Ever On From Here Either

Bench Along the South Coast; These Things Collapse Into the Sea Now and Then, 40 Acres at a Time...

I had a large martini last night in honor of Malcolm Lowry; alas, Vicki does not appreciate the significance of these things....

You Have Been Warned

They didn't say anything about all this in the tourist literature.