With Jeremy Benezra.
Fun fact: In Hawaiian, Kawaikini means “place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Also, Wai’ale’ale is literally translated, “destination where we send stupid white people.”
Our first piece of advice to anyone considering Kawaikini is simple: don’t. You are better off spending your time on the island propping up a tropical drink on your gut while you pretend not to stare at all the eye candy.
Barring that, before I get on to my report, some general observations. Please excuse the obvious, we are just trying to be helpful…
• If you are traveling with a partner or your family, consider placing Kawaikini toward the end of the trip. We limped away from this endeavor as shells of ourselves, and while Jeremy returned home shortly thereafter, I had to buck up in spite of my wounds (more on that later) because my wife and I had 4 additional days left on Kauai. (Though going after at the beginning gives more weather flexibility...)
• Come correct with your navigation skills. I did not think the bushwhacking was as bad as I had anticipated (Jeremy B disagrees with me on this). Even apart from the pig fence, which now traces half the route, the trail is *generally* pretty easy to follow. We found it well-flagged, but many flags were faded or barely visible. We were blown away to see quarter-mile markers for the first 4 miles, stopping just before that steep descent to Koaie Stream -- and we were also shocked at how slowly those 1/4-mile markers ticked by.
• Bring gear you do not mind seeing destroyed. Pretty much everything we brought was something well-used and on its last thread. Those items that weren’t ended up damaged as hell besides.
• Do not expect to find any potable water above Koaie Stream. Based on other reports, we’d expected to find a clean stream in the bog or even a pond near the summit. We didn’t.
• Lastly, keep in mind that Kawaikini is rarely summited and conditions change rapidly. By the time the next aspirant is reading this report, pieces of it are likely obsolete.
Here is our account…
DAY 1, 05/18/21
Having flown in the day prior, we bought our groceries and made sure my wife was well set up at the rental housing. (Note: unlike others, we did bring a stove and planned to use it. Unfortunately for us, we could not find closed-cell canisters anywhere on the island, so we were forced to rewrite our meal plans.)
It took us a couple attempts to find the correct road. Once on it we were surprised both at its quality (for as long as it lasted) and at the number of other vehicles we saw on the way in (which numbered 4-5). This area does see some use. One vehicle we met was a large dump truck whose piles of rocks we encountered, so there is some maintenance going on. We also met a state vehicle. The driver flagged us down and warned us NOT to attempt to drive to road’s end, and “DO NOT ATTEMPT to drive through the large mud hole.”
Shortly thereafter we met one large mud hole and wondered if it was the one he had mentioned, but none of it was a problem for a Nissan Rogue. Several other mud holes later is where we are fairly certain we met the aforementioned mud hole. It *may* have been drivable, but sufficiently warned and only a few hundred yards from road’s end, we pulled to the side. (Only when we returned to the Nissan after our trek did we learn that it was absolutely NOT drivable for most vehicles…)
We started off at 10 am under partly cloudy skies, warm but the winds above the trees brought some cool air. Still, coming from the PNW, neither of us was particularly acclimatized to the heat (however subtle) and the humidity (definitely not so subtle). Once at road’s end (marked by a picnic shelter) we took the trail down to a second picnic shelter; it may be worth exploring whether one might park more easily here, though you will only save ¼-mile walking.
Just below the second picnic shelter came the first stream crossing, a trivial rock-hop. Then we set off up the trail, gently gaining elevation and occasionally having to push our way through thick ferns and brush. The going was quite slow for us. I felt bad slowing Jeremy B down; I can only attribute my sluggishness to a lack of sleep the previous stressful week and an unhappy 6’4” frame crammed onto an airplane for 5 hours. We took a break at 1.75 miles and again at 3.5 miles.
By the time we reached the descent to Koaie Stream, I was utterly soaked with sweat and had already guzzled down 3 liters of water. We estimate the descent to Koaie Stream to be about 500 feet of slippery mud and bushwhacking down a gully. At one point a fixed rope, still in decent shape, was quite helpful in keeping our feet under us.
(For what it is worth, we did bring an used climbing rope – unfit for climbing but suitable for river crossings – as well as some cordelette, a couple ‘biners, a locker, and a belay device each. We also brought glacier harnesses to save weight and space. We ended up needing none of these items; we left the rope in the hut above Koaie Stream for future use. Yes it is on the opposite side of the stream from the approach, but our intention was for it to endure potentially long storage before it sees use.)
As for others, we lucked into a trivial Koaie Stream crossing. A simple boulder-hop and we were on the other side filtering water above the falls. The water here has a heavy red color to it, though we were later informed that this is just the result of tannins and is perfectly safe to drink (apparently locals call it Alaka'i Tea). Once we stashed the rope, it took us some time to relocate our way back to the trail. The summit side of Koaie Stream still requires some attentive route-finding. (And as a note, future visitors may wish to carry the rope up to Sincock’s Bog; more on that in Day 2.)
Just after crossing the stream, we started noticing rodent traps placed at different points along the trail. We were not far above Koaie Stream when a young woman caught up to us from behind, startling all of us. She told us she worked for the Kaua’i Forest Service as an ecologist. Apparently there is a hut somewhere in the bog surrounded by pig fence, and that was her home for the duration of this assignment. After a brief period of patiently enduring our questions (the rodent traps, for what it is worth, are intended for roof rats, Norwegian rats, and Polynesian rats), we let her past.
Shortly thereafter, we came to the aluminum ladder, helpfully still in place. After the ladder the terrain levels out, more or less, and from there to the summit the only uphill portions are short and steep (and extremely slippery and muddy). What we did have a whole lot of before reaching the pig fence was clambering over and under fallen logs. Several mud-patches reached knee-deep, a foretaste of the feast to come.
Soon enough we came to the pig fence. After some brief initial confusion as to whether to head left or right, we chose to enter fence via the gate and turned left, keeping the fence on our left-hand side as other reports have indicated. This was a mistake! Until Sincock Bog, you really want to turn left and keep the fence on your RIGHT until Sincock Bog, as this is clearly more traveled. Entering the fence when you first encounter it will require a whole lot more bushwhacking.
We met with a significant number of flags of different colors (red, orange, yellow, blue) leading off into the trees at various points. We rightly decided these were not meant for us. Perhaps they marked the locations of pig traps. After about a mile, we came to a clearing and a fence junction. For us it was decision time: we’d had intentions to get as far up the mountain as possible before setting up camp. But although it was still on the early side, we both questioned whether we would find a spot as ideal as this. (The slight rise above the surrounding swamp was not especially ideal, but it far surpassed anything else we encountered between there and the summit.)
(NOTE: It is at this fence junction that you want to enter the gate and stay to the right side of the fence for the duration of your walk to the crater rim. Stick to the main fence line, and do not take the fence that joins in from the left.)
As luck would have it, just as soon as we set up the tent, the first rain of the day began to fall. Yet we were both already soaked with mud and sweat. A cursory search revealed no water either of us was willing to put through our filters – but I only had two liters of water left, and Jeremy only had one. This was particularly problematic as both of us were experiencing severe cramps as we lied down. We were forced to ration our water carefully as we fitfully slept in muddy sleeping bags awaiting the next day.
DAY 2, 05/19/21
The rain continued throughout the night with few interruptions. We opened the tent doors to some promise that the skies might clear, but it was not to be. We set off at 6:30 a.m. As my armpits were pretty well chafed from bushwhacking in a sweat-soaked shirt the day prior (we had brought disposable gear, and though I had been wearing a quick-dry baselayer, it was subpar in quality), I opted to go commando for my upper half.
We were not walking for long when we started hearing an occasional chainsaw, interspersed with the unmistakable slams of a post-driver. We were certain our ears were playing tricks on us, until at about 1.75 miles we reached a work crew of 4 guys.
It turns out that the fence is now being repaired and retrofitted to also contain black-tailed deer and feral cats, the latter of which have been poaching the eggs of endangered birds. We exchanged brief greetings with the fellas, who were as surprised to see us as we were to see them, and we were once again on our way.
Each of these guys told us it was only 2 more miles to the summit, but this did not seem right. Regardless, we encountered them at a junction with another fence that shot in from the south – and which required us to pass through another door.
From this point, the navigation continued to be straightforward – just follow the fence – but the conditions continued to worsen. This included the precipitation, which was pretty well constant and ranging from misting to pounding rain to sleet. So too, the mud varied from trivial to knee-deep plunging. At several points it was necessary to scramble up a steep and muddy slope. Handlines have been left at these points (likely from the fence crew), but they are slippery and difficult to grip from the mud. I found it easier to use the fence for handholds. Although we were at points on an obvious wet and slippery ridgeline, only one small section felt a bit hairy, when we had to scramble down some wet boulders above a steep and muddy gully. Barring this the primary risk was sinking up to mud above our knees (or, at a couple points, our waists).
Also from the point we met the workers, we encountered long expanses of string that periodically ensnared us. We learned from the fence crew on our return trip that this was used by the client to measure distances for contract negotiations before it was abandoned.
When we finally reached the end of the fence, we rejoiced, not knowing what lie ahead of us. Here the wind started battering us with intensity, and I finally opted to pull on a mid-weight layer and my rain shell, having been topless since we left camp.
For our part, we did our best to rely on a compass bearing to make our way to the true summit from the fence. A primary reason for this was that neither of us cared to expose our electronics to the elements. However eventually we succumbed to the desire to expedite this traverse across spongy ground, up and over seemingly countless rises and dips in the terrain. Gaia proved invaluable to this end, though it should go without saying that any rendering of topographical features up there is effectively useless. Our verbal communication at this point was minimal, reduced to only mistaken impressions that the next rise might be the true summit and the occasional “You alright?” after one of us took a spill down a slope after the ground collapsed beneath us.
We shared a very brief celebration atop the summit, where Jeremy found only an intentionally-placed rock marking it. (Truly, a register here would be about as useful as a triangle anchor.) It is worth noting that the USGS placement of the summit is 50-100 yards (incidentally, the maximum range of visibility we had all day) off the rise we visited and clearly is not the true summit.
Making our way back to the fence, we found that our path varied from our approach. It did afford us one good look from the crater rim into the white expanse 3000 feet below, from which we heard sightseeing helicopters throughout our entire time on the rim. Presumably at some point below us the whiteout shelf gave way to views of the Weeping Wall and Blue Hole worth paying for; otherwise helicopter clients paid a lot of money to see the inside of a ping-pong ball. Of note, on our way back to the fence, we saw a group of four nenes who seemed perfectly at home in this harsh environment.
We’d encountered an ostensibly promising flow of water for filtering on our approach to the summit; however, when Jeremy filled his filter bag from it, we found no small amount of sediment and moss. Possibly usable in a pinch, but neither of us were yet desperate enough to attempt to filter it. Still, Jeremy opted to carry it as it represented the best option for water we had encountered all day.
While both of us had been interested in visiting the rain gauge, Wai’ale’ale Lake, and the heiau, by this point we were in no mood to prolong our time at the crater rim. It is possible that the lake may provide a better option for water, but neither of us was willing to invest another hour in misery for this uncertainty.
Our walk back, while uneventful, was a miserable slog, our pace dramatically slowed with the realization that while we had planned to extract on this day, we knew we were better off spending another night camping in Sincock’s Bog rather than endure what would certainly culminate in a pitch-dark bushwhack in unfamiliar terrain. As we only had two liters of water between the two of us for the day, poor hydration also surely played a role.
We encountered the first pair of the trail crew a short distance below the last mud scramble. Within 1.5 miles of our tent, and knowing we could not possibly get muddier or wetter than we already were, we took some time to visit with them as their work day was nearing its end. They very kindly offered us two .5-liter bottles of water, untouched from their day’s rations, which we promptly guzzled down. A few hundred yards later, we met the man in charge of the operation and his son. They told us that in 18 months of working on this fence, we were the very first people they had encountered up there. (Take a moment to consider the conditions that would limit a 4-man crew, working four 10-hour shifts a week, to improve and reinforce only two miles of pre-existing fence.) This man and his son then offered us five more bottles of water, which we received with no small amount of gratitude – and for which Jeremy procured a handful of airline-sized liquor bottles that otherwise would have been our only consolation at day’s end.
Without further incident we returned to the tent, where the precipitation finally stopped, but where it had also clearly been raining all day. After ensuring we were dragging as little mud and moisture into the tent as possible, we collapsed on our pads and consumed some of the last of our available calories. We conserved one bottle each from the laborers to sustain us for the walk to the stream.
DAY 3, 05/20/21
We procrastinated a bit after our 6:30 a.m. wake-up call, neither of us looking forward to the walk out but neither of us wanting to spend a minute more than necessary on Wai’ale’ale. Fortuitously, we woke up to clear skies and did not receive a drop of rain all day.
The remaining mile tracing the fence was uneventful, and both of us expressed relief we would never see it again once we departed it for the trail. We had little difficulty following the trail and bushwhacking our way back, with one exception. It seems that the ¼-½ mile between the creek and Alaka'i Swamp offers a spiderweb of options. We clearly selected a less-optimal route, as we were deposited at the stream several hundred yards upstream of the hut. Rather than retrace our steps, we chose to follow the creek down to the hut, rock-hopping across it a couple times for the more ideal shore for walking. One piece of serendipity is that this course took us past a small stream that fed into the creek -- with water much clearer and cleaner-looking than the creek itself.. We were also fortunate that the creek levels remained low enough for a trivial crossing.
From the creek, we managed the steep ascent with no problems, only the determination to finish on our minds. The remaining miles flew by. Neither of us felt particularly sore nor winded. This was just a mental grind sustained by minimal water and a lack of proper sleep. Speaking only for myself, afflictions from my armpits and stretching south of the border that resulted from prolonged movement in soaking-wet gear for three days left their mark. So while we made good time for the remaining miles, it was with no small amount of wincing and gritting of teeth on my part.
When we reached the true trailhead at the picnic shelter, we encountered a man and a woman changing into dry clothes outside their Jeep Cherokee. They told us they were ornithologists working for the county (or was it the state?). For a third and final time we shared astonishment with strangers at encountering anyone else out that way. We returned to the vehicle and began changing out of wet clothes ourselves as the two others boarded their lifted Cherokee and drove through the puddle that gave us pause. This puddle was more appropriately a pond, as the water almost breached the hood of that lifted Cherokee. No rental vehicle would survive that.
We made it back to our lodging and to my wife. Later that afternoon, the Creator provided a broad rainbow across the sky as a reminder that we would never have to suffer through Kawaikini again.
13 hours. Ecosystem at the top seemed really fragile... I regret hiking along the plateau towards the summit as the route is poorly defined and clearly multiple pathways have been trodden over the bog. Many endemic species here. The view doesn’t get significantly better than the terminus of the fence... wish I had stopped there.
I'll be adding a much more detailed trip report. Climbed the peak with Simon who did it barefoot (seriousness). Cloudy most of the time but opened up for us at the Summit. We primary used the Maui Revealed App to follow the trial.
Not a technical hill but a long day, and if it's raining a lot could see it becoming a whole different ball game.
Lucked out with weather (dry, but no views on top) and had a nice adventure hike to the summit. Rented Jeep for the rough dirt road. One day trip idea inspired by Bob Burd's trip report. I'm thankful for the GPS track picked up on Peakbagger.com. Total trip time was just a shade under 17 hours. Could have shaved off a couple hours if things had gone perfect, but the route is hard to follow, especially when it got dark at the end of my day. Besides being tired near the finish, and besides the GPS track, it is still very difficult to stay on route in the dark. The trail wanders in the brush, and false pathways lead you astray. I spooked off a BIG black boar, and heard another stomping in the dark as I neared the finish back to the Jeep. Thankful that the McDonalds near Hanapepe was still open. A good way to do this trip would be in two days, avoiding time in the dark, with an overnight at Kaoie Camp. It's not the greatest backpacking country though. I was glad to finish in a day and return to beach life.
Gum, Thanks very much for the great report! Good to know about the fence line - that should help isolate the wild hog population even more. Great time, too - you and your wife are a tough pair for sure. BTW, the arrow always did point back to the west. I wonder why it has been moved, too? It wasn't in the way or anything.
My wife and I climbed Waialeale in 4.5 hours from Kaoie Camp. We are members of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club with lots of BC bush experience. I guess that helped in the Alakai because we had no problem recognizing the turn-off at the 'Arrow' location. We searched and found the arrow behind a pile of wood debris. Oddly though, the arrow was pointing the way we came. The edge of Sincocks bog was marked by a faded orange traffic cone. The scene looked familiar. We had seen this cone before in photos on the Internet. What was new is that there is now a brand new KWA (Kauai Watershed Alliance) galvanized steel fence-line. All we had to do was follow it to Waialeale. At first we were able to walk on top of a fence mesh laid flat on our side of the fence. Eventually though the convenient mesh ended and nothing prevented us from sinking into the swampy ground. We came upon several nearly vertical slopes where we had to hold on to the fence posts 'for dear life' or else we'd slip right back to where we had come from. Mindful of the cost of such an elaborate fence we were very careful not to stress the new construction. The fence faithfully follows the divide that splits the Waimea and the Wainiha watersheds. At the rim the new fence kept going, dropping off sharply. It ended far below barely within view. We spent two hours exploring the 'rippling waters' pond, the hillock with the famous rain gauge, and the Kawaikini summit proper. But we failed to conclusively locate the heiau. We found a mound with somewhat different vegetation and a recent skid mark from a helicopter landing nearby so we declared this feature to be the heiau. It took us the same time on the return for an 11 hour day. Not unexpected it drizzled and rained all day with no views. We brought solid leather hiking boots but those got soaked just the same. Good to have, nevertheless, and gaiters. It was muddy most places along the fence and with traffic it'll get muddier still. In summary, we found the route finding and the bit of bushwhacking on route very similar to our experience at home with our temperate old growth rain forest. It's not so different to the tropical rain forest up on the Alakai plateau except, of course, the plant species are not the same at all.
It took me two days to reach the top and one day to get back to the bottom. I met a nature photographer along the way, took him close to the top but he baild near the rain guage due to the horrible weather. Hiked blind due to the intense wind and rain to Kauaikini from Wai'ale'ale using my GPS and compass. Thank you Bob Burd and Don Nelson. This ascent wound have been far more dangerous without the help of your trip reports. After all that climbing I got back to my car only to find that it would not start. I had to walk the six mile dirt road and hitchhike back to Lihue. BEST TRIP EVER!
Congratulations to you and Sean for hiking to the summit! I really enjoyed your trip report and photos and am glad our trip report helped out. Also, glad to see our old friend, "arrow" has survived.
All the best,
Me (margot) and my boyfriend just made it up! Special thanks to Waialeale.org, Bob burd and "The Gang of Four." Your trip reports were very helpful.
We made it to the Waialeale rain gauge and Kawaikini! Had some trouble with navigation on the way in but one the way out,no problems. Took over 20-30 hours of hiking to get in but only 9.5 to get out. Navigation = hardest part. GPS and compass and maps got good use.
It was very clear when we got there. Pics and trip report can be found here There is an additionally gallery on my page too of some great views!
Came back for a second try at the dayhike, this time successful in 17hrs. One of the more memorable ones I've done yet. Trip Report
I set out to dayhike the Kauai highpoint, but was thwarted by a few tactical errors. I'm convinced it can be done and will have to go back for another try in the future. This place is great fun! Trip Report
It took a total of three day under perfect weather conditions. Magnificent views from the top.
I drove right to the end of the road and then took the trail to Alakai Swamp. Great views of the north coast as you are skirting the ridge. Occasional clouds blew up the side of the island and past me from time to time. Its strange seeing a swamp way up on the top of a mountain, but it was pretty nice. I liked how most of the trail is a boardwalk. I didnt have time to make it to the actual summit while I was there. The summit area is very hard to get to for a mountain of this size due to the extreme amount of rainfall.