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The Wailau Experience

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

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

Stacy "rocking it"

Farther ahead, two impressive high waterfalls became visible cascading along Wailau Valley's steep west wall, and the group took a break in the shade near an impressive, old mango tree. Later, the gang passed a deep, inviting swimming hole below another prominent mango tree located on the east bank of the river. 

At long last, Stacy, Alex, Nandor, Steve, and Patrick forded Wailau stream and rejoined the main Wailau Trail about half a mile from the mouth of Wailau Stream. As they drew near the north shore, a friendly local man named Uncle Eames (Aimes) greeted them (Eames reminded Patrick of Nate Yuen because the two men have a similar demeanor and chin hair growth), and Uncle Eames carried on a cordial conversation with the group.  After fording the mouth of Wailau Stream, the fivesome paused to take in the superb view of Molokai's magnificent north shore, containing the highest sea cliffs in the world.

Arriving to Wailau Beach

And at 4 pm, they reached the mostly shaded campground,  pitching their tents near the bluff which backs the black sand beach. 

Our 2nd night camp spot

After a cool, refreshing dip in the stream, Nandor, Stacy, Steve and Alex walked to one of the temporary shelters just to the east of the mouth of Wailau Stream to talk with Ikaika, a local boat skipper, about a boat ride out. Meanwhile, an exhausted Patrick remained at the campground where he rested from the tough day.  Later, each member of the crew took a pleasant stroll along Wailau's black sand beach, the surf crashing nearby causing white foam to gently flow onto the black sand, and, from the rocks below the campground, they witnessed a gorgeous sunset, the sun disappearing just behind the Kalaupapa Peninsula (a lighthouse also visible in the distance on the peninsula).

After night fell, a crescent moon could be seen to the west above Wailau's Washington Monument spire, and eventually, stars appeared in the night sky (the Big Dipper the most prominent constellation) as the group ate dinner and conversed amongst each other. == Saturday, July 25, 2020 "Hurricane approaching - trip cut short"  At 545 am, 4 of the 5 campers exited their tents to try and catch the sunrise. Meanwhile, Patrick slept in until 615 am. After the sunrise, Nandor and Stacy went on one last beach walk. 

Enjoying breakfast
Crab hunting

With an 8 am boat ride scheduled, the fivesome packed up and proceeded to Ikaika's hale to meet up with him in preparation for the boat ride out. Each hiker gave the skipper $100 in cash for his help.  The amazing but bumpy ride gave the group a nice taste of Molokai's spectacular north shore sea cliffs, including an excellent view of Papalaua's incredibly high cascade. 

Leaving Wailau Beach behind...

The views from the boat were amazing!

The boat arrived at Halawa Bay sometime between 9 and 10 am, and then the backpackers gathered their personal belongings and waded to the small beach, thus completing the crew's unforgettable 2020 Wailau adventure. 

Mahalo Ikaika and crew for the ride out

Our track through Moloka'i

Click to watch our YouTube video about this adventure

Team: Stacy, Steve, Alex, Patrick, and Nandor

Distance: Around 9 miles

Hiking Time: 10h30min (2 days)

Please don't use this documentation as a guide for your future hiking activities. This hiking route it's unsafe and very dangerous, mistakes made up here can have consequences such as serious injury or death. Make sure you know your own limitations and be safe out there!

Tags: #hiking #hawaiihiking #hawaiibackpacking #molokai #wailautrail


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