Wailele Gulch - May 29th, 2011

Back to Wailele. Yep. After one week of hiking the same place, we were back. The last time we just hiked to the first pool/waterfall. Within the past week, I found out that the first waterfall is also dubbed PCC Falls and Turtle Falls. PCC Falls seems apt, so I'll call it that from now on. It's the waterfall that people usually visit, and then when they've had enough, they turn around and head back home. The REAL Wailele Falls is the waterfall that is five miles in at the very back of Wailele Gulch. Our intent was to reach the back of Wailele Gulch, but the stream at Wailele had other ideas.

Wailele is a quite a gulch. It's lush, serene, peaceful, and, more than not, untouched. The stream was still clear and flowing, just as I remembered it. The birds chirped, the wind rustled through the trees: why is there not a traditional Hawaiian song named "Beautiful Wailele"? Someone needs to make one. Someone had marked the stream route with red tape since the last weekend we were there. I don't know why. It's hard to get lost when all you have to do is follow the stream mountainward. The stream, vibrant as ever, harbors giant prawns and o'opu. The prawns in Wailele are ridiculously huge, almost the size of a small lobster. Lei snagged one for a photo op; the prawn spread out its long limbs and "smiled."

We reached the first pool and took a quick swim before heading upstream. Above the first pool is a nice little camping area under some ironwoods. Nearby, nesteled in bushes, we found a geocache. Inside the cache was a camera and log book. The camera looked pretty beat up, and ants were colonizing inside of the camera, so we wrote the day's date and our names in the log book and began our journey upstream.

Beyond the first pool there is no trail whatsoever. Getting our feet wet was the only option. The stream, though, never got too deep to the point where it couldn't be walked in. But because we hiked directly in the stream, our progress was very slow. We passed our first sign of something manmade about an hour from the first pool -- a steel cable anchored horizontally to a rock wall on the left side of the stream. Another 45 minutes in and we reached another steel cable, this time connected horizontally to a rock wall on the right, extending across the stream to a rather large rusted tin can and a splintered block of wood. Not sure what the cables were for, but we would use it as landmarks to indicate our progress on the way back -- first cable: 45 minutes to the 2nd cable. 2nd cable: one more hour to the first pool.

Further into the gulch we went. We then entered the largest tangle of hau I had ever seen. The hau plant is a native plant in the Hawaiian islands. Ancient Hawaiians used the inner bark of hau to make cord for slingshots and spears. Hau branches grow close to the ground and intertwine. It is a beautiful plant, but a downright nuisance to hike through, especially in a narrow stream. The hau tangle we encountered was massive. It clogged the entire stream and even slowed the flow of water to a trickle. At first glance, the hau was such a mess that we debated on whether or not we should press on. Closer inspection proved that it would be a daunting task, but navigating through the mess was doable. Ryan Chang and Kyle Rennie and his two other friends decided to turn back. I, with Lei Yamasaki and Keith Mahon, decided to push forward. Over, under, up-and-over -- the hau tangle took a long time to pass through. The stream opened up periodically, only to greet us with other short stretches of tangled hau.

Once we passed the hau tangles, it was very apparent that we were in no-mans land. Not a single shred of evidence showed that anyone had been past the hau tangles: no machete marks, no ribbons, no footprints on the muddy embankments, nothing. It was a bit eerie, and the gulch walls were noticeably higher and closing in as we hiked further and further upstream. The gulch walls acted as a corridor for the breeze, the cool wind eerily blowing downstream. Looking upward we could see what we thought to be the very back of the Ko'olau mountain range, hoping that our trek would soon terminate at our destination. Instead, the stream kept bending at every turn, seeming to never end.

After four-and-a-half hours of hiking in the gulch, we finally reached a site worth dawdling at. A quaint little falls with a nice clear pool at its base situated in a remote area near the base of the Ko'olau mountain range. We set down our packs, took some pictures, and prepped ourselves for the chilly swim in the mountain pool. Keith elected to climb the falls to see what was upstream. He came back and said that the stream just kept going and going. Who knows how long it would take to reach the back of stream? The stream could bend more than we had wanted it to. It was 2:00pm, and we started at our cars at 9:30am. Considering the amount of time and labor it would take to head out, we decided to not head upstream to find the real Wailele Falls. It was a bit disappointing, but the regret was washed away once I jumped into the mountain pool below the falls. The water was instantly shocking, yet revitalizing. We ate our lunches, tied an orange ribbon to a guava tree on the right side of the pool, wrote our names and date on the ribbon, and made the long, arduous trek back to our car.

On the way back, we passed the landmarks we pointed out that would indicate our homeward progress. We passed more prawns, more o'opu, and the hau tangle was still as taxing as it was heading in. We reached PCC Falls at around 5pm, took a quick swim in the pool, and headed back on the main stream trail to the farm road. Ryan had texted Lei on her cell phone that he and Kyle and friends had made it safely back to their cars but was worried about our situation. Lei texted him and reassured him that we were fine. Once on the road, we looked back at the Ko'olau mountain range and were taken aback at how far we had walked. "Somewhere in there," I pointed for Keith. Somewhere. An understatement. We were as far as you could get. Our bodies were exhausted. Eight-and-a-half total hours along a stream -- unheard of on Oahu! I kept saying "never again, never again." But now, as I sit here typing this, I wouldn't mind going back. With an early start, we could definitely make it to Wailele Falls -- the real one. An overnighter would suffice, too. But for now, the real Wailele Falls sits at the back of the gulch, lonely and cascading, waiting for a camera flash to show off its rarely viewed beauty. That is what intrigues me. That is where I want to be. That is what I want to accomplish. That is why I will be back.

Monster prawn.  (photo: K. Mahon)

PCC Falls.  (photo: K. Mahon)

The Wailele Cache.  (photo: L. Yamasaki)

photo: L. Yamasaki

The "trail" through the hau tangle.  (photo: L. Yamasaki)

In the stream.  (photo: L. Yamasaki)

The pool and waterfall after hiking four-and-a-half hours upstream.

Keith spotted a cool looking rock.  A  bowl fit for a menehune?  (photo: L. Yamasaki)


Kelly Fitzgerald said...

Hi Kaleo, I really enjoyed reading about your hike. Thank you for sharing your experience. I hope you make it to the real Wailele Falls and I look forward to reading all about it. Mahalo.

Anonymous said...

Your website it awesome. I read all your stories about your hikes. I'm so jealous i don't live on ohau! I hike and climb around here (illinois) but unfortunately there are not a lot of places to go. Me and my girfriend and friends are coming out to ohau this summer, we come out every year. It's awesome. I would really like to explore the island and do a really fun hike; the problem is i don't know too much about any of the trails. I was wondering if you could suggest me a hike to go on. We would like to make it an all day thing. My girlfriend and her sister are coming with however so it can't be a suicide ridge to climb (she's not coordinated)but would still like a challenge. You seem to know everything about everything when it comes to hiking and climbing around oahu. It would be a huge favor if u could help me out and maybe suggest or give me some good hikes. We are staying on north shore but will drive anywhere. My email address is logan_hoeltke_05@hotmail.com It would be muchly appreciated man. Look forward to reading more of your stories. Mahalo.

Anonymous said...

I missed this place. Thanks for sharing :) It's beautiful!

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