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The Wailau Experience

Updated: Mar 6

By Patrick Rorie

Wailau Valley Panorama

Thursday, July 23, 2020 "Wailau here we come!!!" On Thursday, July 23rd, 2020, five intrepid backpackers (Nandor Szotak, Alex Timely, Stacy Paquette, Steve Lin, and Patrick Rorie) flew over to the friendly isle of Molokai to visit the huge, magnificent, and remote north shore amphitheater valley of Wailau. For all but Patrick, it was the first time making the trek to Wailau. After completing final preparations at Molokai airport, local resident Kawika Kaahanui drove the crew to the road leading to Iliiliopae heiau.   After praying for the group, Kawika drove off as the hiking quintet began walking toward the heiau at 5 pm.

After inspecting the heiau briefly, the group started climbing the ridge, Stacy leading followed by Alex. As they progressed upslope, nearby neighbors could be heard saying, "Hey! hurricane warning!".  Stacy and Alex set a brisk pace and it wasn't long until the crew reached the ironwood/eucalyptus section and then, farther ahead, passed thru the long guava section.

Looking for the trail...

Above the guava forest, the group ran into a train wreck of uluhe, the trail completely overgrown. Nandor, Stacy, and Alex took turns plowing thru the thick fern to continue progress. Eventually, after much effort, the fivesome reached the canopied upper campsite (elev. 2100 ft) at 7:15 pm, and, almost immediately, commenced pitching their tents for the evening. 

High Camp on Wailau Trail

After consuming dinner, 4 of the 5 backpackers hit the sack at 9 pm while Patrick descended the ridge a short distance to enjoy the view of the west Maui lights and to star gaze (the constellations Scorpio, Serpent's Caput, and Corona Borealis clearly visible between passing clouds).  == Friday, July 24, 2020 "Welcome to the jungle!!!" Passing trade showers inundated the campsite at 2 am (some moisture entering Patrick's slumber jack bivy tent). At 5:45 am, Nandor was the first to rise, and he and the others had breakfast then packed up for the arduous trek to Molokai's spectacular north shore. Leaving the upper campsite behind at 7:30ish, Nandor led the way as the group continued gaining elevation on a now distinct yet brushy trail. After passing through the shin-deep mud of the bog area, the crew reached the summit (elevation 2800 ft) and received their first view of lush, verdant Wailau Valley, massive Mount Oloku'i dominating the vista. 

Oloku'i 2nd highest peak on Molokai

Wailau Valley between towering steep mountain walls

Group photo: Nandor, Steve, Stacy, Alex and Patrick

After taking a group photo via Nandor's GoPro, the fivesome commenced the difficult, steep descent into Wailau Valley at 8:15 am, Stacy in the front followed by Nandor.

As the crew accomplished the 8 rope sections, Wailau's steep east wall (heavily vegetated 'wall of tears' - Kawaiuliuli') and gently cascading 1000 ft high Waiakeakua Falls came into view.

Wailau's "wall of tears" when they don't cry

Pristine Hawaii landscape

Stacy fighting the overgrowth on the steep descent

The weather was perfect - an abundance of blue sky and sunshine with breezy trade winds. 

Closer to the valley floor, the ridge became more gradual but also more overgrown, with 3 uluhe tunnels to duck/crawl through.

When the group reached the floor of the valley in the Kekumu'ili, they became separated. Alex yelled for the others to wait up, and then the fivesome followed faint pink ribbons to Waiokeela Stream (not Waiakeakua Stream, where most Wailau hikers bail). 

Once in the stream, 4 of the 5 participants attached spikes to their hiking shoes. To save weight, Patrick had decided not to bring tabis or spikes, which was a mistake. At 10:37 am, the group began methodically slogging along the stream bed, slipping occasionally on slick rocks. The moss made for good traction, however.

Stream walking at it's best

Between beautiful canyon walls

Tracy and Alex took pictures of a damsel fly. 

Rock hopping in the shadows of Oloku'i

Eventually, the crew transitioned into Waiakeakua Stream, and, farther north, carefully negotiated a mini gorge, complete with at least 3 beautiful waterfalls that fed deep pools. At the highest waterfall, the fivesome had to climb out of the stream bed to get around the falls. 

At approximately 1 pm, the group reached the junction with the main valley stream (Wailau Stream). Wider and having more level dirt areas to walk on, the backpackers found the going easier in Wailau Stream.  

Wailau Stream