Windsurfing, surfing, Maui, The Gorge, and random rants.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

There And Back Again - A Hana Adventure

Julia and I drove around the island Saturday with an international crew on a mission of fun and adventure. And we succeeded! Now for the whole story....

First I should mention that the last six days we've had no wind. Five of those days we surfed, three at Ho'o and two in lowers, and the surfing has been really fun with a perfect mix of moderate to sometimes a bit too big (for us) waves. Julia and I both feel like we're slowly stepping up in the surfing skills. The great thing about surfing, especially if you mostly windsurf, is it makes the non-windy days enjoyable. And not just as a side attraction. The glassy days can be truly awesome and, assuming not too many, something to look forward to.

But Saturday another plan came up. Our friends from Hamburg (Sven and Gesche) along with new friends from St Petersburg (Natalia and Oleg) wanted to visit Hana and also view the sunrise from Haleakala crater. On the same day. Not only that but Gesche and two of her girlfriends also wanted to hike all the way down the Kaupa trail from the crater to sea level, where Sven would circle the island by way of Hana and pick them up.

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Now that last part requires a bit of explanation. This trail starts at the visitor center parking lot at 10023'. Initially you walk the sliding sands trail into the crater passing both the Kapalaoa and Paliku cabins. The latter is about ten miles in. For most people this is sufficient for one day's hike and they overnight it. But these intrepid girls continued on into the Kaupo Valley (once a deep rift that nearly split Haleakala but was partly filled with lava a mere 100k years ago). The rest of this trail follows a rocky and rough course steeply downhill on a path rarely ever hiked. The total hike is around 20 miles and 10000' vertical descent.

Our plan was less ambitious. I had been to Hana once many years ago, and Julia never. We wanted to see the usual black and red sand beaches, trek the not so secret trails to well revealed waterfalls, take in a bit of Hana, and then hike up Oheo Gulch to stare at the mighty 400 feet of Waimoku falls. We were also traveling with our very friendly and cute friends from St Petersburg - Natalia and Oleg - who were on their first visit to Maui, so we wanted to show them a good time. Plus Julia would have the chance to have Russian conversations (she is fluent) with native speakers - something she doesn't do often on Maui. Anyway, more than enough stuff for one day.

Everything went as planned until we got to Keanae peninsula (where you can find the island's best banana bread BTW). Here we got a report that the Pi'ilani highway was closed at mile 41 due to flash floods. The previous day we had noticed towering cumulus clouds on the south shore so this was not totally surprising. The problem was, according to our map, this meant that Sven would not be able to drive from Hana to Kaupa to retrieve team Gesche, and instead would have to reverse course back around the other side of the island. Bummer! After getting confirmation that the road was **definitely closed** Sven took off on his race back around the opposite side of Maui to meet the girls.

We proceeded toward Hana stopping at Waianapanapa park for the black sand beach and caves (very nice) and after Hana Koki beach (slightly redish brown sand beach also very nice). But we didn't have much time to linger in Hana as we still had to get to Oheo gulch for the hike to Waimoku. We left Pukalani at 9am and didn't reach Hana until 2-ish. At this point we started planning a return visit to Hana, but instead of rushing through we would spend the night (perhaps camping) and bring some bikes to really enjoy the scenery.

So by 3pm we had reached the national park visitor center at Oheo. Leaving the seven sacred's (actually about four and never really sacred) for another trip, the four of us started up the Pipiwai trail to the big waterfall. But before we started we got a huge surprise.

Sven showed up! He had totally circled the island from the opposite direction. Turned out the road closure was a bit exaggerated and wasn't reported at the correct marker. It was at mile 29 (which is on the west side of Kaupa which was therefore always reachable from Hana) and the washout was no big deal and had already been repaired (the road at this point is dirt anyway) by the afternoon. So Sven was able to drive straight through to reach us just as we were parking, to tell us we could drive home that way. Which was a huge help as it took us only 1.25 hours to eventually get from there to Pukalani, and it would have taken at least four brutal (driving in the dark) hours to reverse course back through Hana. We also got some not so good news from the park ranger that the streams, which must be crossed to see the Weimoku falls, were running very strong and might not be passable. Meanwhile Sven headed back to Kaupa to wait for the intrepid ladies.

Sometimes it's good to have no expectations, and in terms of what we might see on this trail I had none. First I had never been here nor had I bothered to read the usual revealing tour guides. Plus there was a possiblity we might not be able to see the big daddy waterfall at the end due to lack of time and possible flooding. So with these diminished expectations we started up the somewhat muddy trail. There are several bridges on the way that cross Pipiwai stream, and on this day it seemed to be really raging with turbulant angry waters. We passed a great banyan tree which had the usual carved initials (why people, why?). And there were several fairly big waterfalls along the way which by themselves would make the hike worth the effort.

All of these waterfalls had deep pools at their feet, and above them signs reminding people that it is illegal to jump into said pools. Now I have to admit, looking at the turgid waters on this day, that I had absolutely no desire to be jumping into anything like that. However it's my understanding that back in the day this was the main point of this trail. Waterfall, pool, jump, that kind of thing. But no doubt some fool had done something foolish and the park service lawyers put an end to all that. My point is, no jumping. And I was happy to obey.

Then we reached a thick bamboo forest. At this point it was 4:30-ish and this time of year the sun sets around 5:45. It was starting to rain a bit harder and once we got into the bamboos it was definitely dark. Almost spooky. But as we headed up the now conveniently elevated trex boarded pathway (I guess to prevent some fool from getting stuck in mud, not that I'm complaining) we were encouraged by folks coming down with radiant smiles, and hearing that Waimoku was putting on a special show today. I started hiking faster as I was worried it would be too dark to see anything when we got there.

I was starting to hear a roar and the rain or mist seemed to be coming down much harder when the forest opened up a bit to reveal Pipiwai stream. Definitely raging, but I watched an average american suburban mall dwelling woman get through it with an assist from her BF, so I knew it could be navigated by mortals. Looking between and above the trees on the the other side I wasn't sure at first what all the white stuff in the sky was. It was so misty that vision at this distance was uncertain. But wait, OMG - is that the waterfall? Really it was much much bigger than I expected.

Now Multanomah falls is 620 feet, but Waimoku seems much bigger. First Multanomah falls into a primary pool (the one we all see) and then has a second plummet, and I believe the 620 feet counts both of those together. Waimoku does it all in one big plunge. Second, you can easily see Multanomah from a distance so it doesn't sneak up on you the way Waimoku does through the thick tropical jungle. Third, you can't get very close to Multanomah as it's surrounded by paved paths and fences, and you definitely don't/can't wade through the stream at its base to be up close and personal. Finally, people normally hike to Multanomah in the summer when the flow is less (and the weather nice). But on this day I'm guessing that Waimoku was closer to peak flow (later I found out that the stream that we waded through is often just a trickle). And that made a huge difference.

Gingerly at first, and then quickly once I realized I would not be swept downstream to my doom, I crossed the stream to the other side. I brought my camera but soon realized that pictures from that side would be futile. The heavy mist had turned into an absolute downpour along with some wind, and it was apparent that most of this weather was in fact coming off the waterfall itself. It was essentially creating a mini hurricane at it's base. So I stood there in the soaking mist and wind staring with gaping jaw at this impressive cataract. Then I turned back and helped Julia across the stream so she could join me and stand equally slack jawed.

By now Natalia and Oleg had reached the rowdy river. I should mention that Natalia was wearing some very tiny shoes which reminded me of ballerina slippers and perhaps not something I would wear on a muddy hike in a jungle, though she had no problems at all. And speaking of ballerina, Natalia had that very look of grace and refined beauty, so I was thinking she might be more comfortable crossing busy urban streets (which are actually more dangerous) than raging jungle streams. So I wasn't sure if she would cross this churning torrent, but to her great credit she took off the slippers, rolled up her fashionable jeans, and with an assist from Julia and Oleg (I was holding the cameras and taking pictures) she and Oleg crossed to see the great Waimoku and made it back in fine shape.

We reached our cars as the last light left and the full moon rose, and we drove back via the south side of Maui - the return trip taking only 90 minutes. We encountered one ridiculous/weird moment on our way home. For a long stretch the road is single lane and mostly unpaved. At one point it suddenly became freshly paved with separate lanes and bright new stripes and everything. Woo-hoo! I thought, clear sailing from here. Then in less then 1/2 mile the pavement suddenly and without warning ended and we are back on a single lane of dirt. Of course we all had sped up on the short teaser pavement section. And to make it worse, there was a herd of cows loitering on the road right past the paved section, almost daring us to hit them. I had a "Far Side" moment when I saw these cows. They just stared straight at us clearly thinking "what the hell" were we doing driving through their bedroom.

The girls all made it to Kaupa in one piece, arriving not long after Sven for their scheduled pickup. I saw Gesche the next day and couldn't believe it - she looked fresh as a daisy and had no blisters or any indication that she had just hiked a rugged 20 mile 10K ft descent. And I have to mention that Gesche is my age plus a few. But she (and Sven) have more energy than most people 1/2 their age.

I also want to say "Privyet" to Natalia and Oleg who are now on their way back to St Petersburg. We had fun! Next time more vodka, da? And hope you can visit Maui again soon. Aloha!

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