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Sunday, April 21, 2013

  There are only a few days in the whole year when the Mt Waialeale, the "Mountain of Rippling Waters" feels in a generous mood to let you up her river track to the very base of the legendary "Wall of the Tears". If you're lucky enough she'll reveal you what has to be one of the most scenic sights on the planet: where the green mountain fuses with white clouds into one as countless silk threads of waterfalls are cascading down the sheer 4000 ft mossy cliffs. On the day we decided to go up the Blue Hole track we were not that lucky as the river dangerously flooded after the ever-present rain, but we still got close enough to taste this incredible world of the very heart of Kauai Island.

     Kawaikini (1593m) is the highest point of the extinct shield volcano (Mt Waialeale) in the centre of Hawaiian Island of Kauai, which has been known as one of the rainiest and most scenic spots on the planet, and (officially) inaccessible by foot. The name Waialeale ("rippling waters") was originally given to the small lake at the northern end of the summit rim, but it's been known as a common name for the mountain as a whole. Besides the heavy rains, which make it almost impossible to summit 345 days out of 365, from the north, east and south, Kawaikini is guarded by sheer mossy cliffs covered by cascading waterfalls feeding the Wailua River beneath, and from the west by miles of dense jungle of the unwelcoming Alakai Wilderness Preserve. The main access route is via forbidding Alakai Swamp, whereas the other documented route via the ridge from the northeast was allegedly used by ancient Hawaiians to climb the summit. The remains of their sacred alter are still there.

Wailua River
     The dramatic base of Mt Waialeale, known as the Blue Hole, can also be approached from the east via the Blue Hole trail. For some time, the Blue Hole has been mistaken for the cauldera of an ancient volcano filled with a lake, which only shows how inaccessible this central part of Kauai used to be. A hike into the Blue Hole can be very adventurous involving numerous stream crossings and hiking up the Wailua River feeded by waterfalls falling down the Mt Waialeale which can therefore easily get flooded within a few minutes. The track itself is unmaintained, rough and muddy and although only about 3 miles long from the gates, it can take up to 9 hours in a bad weather, or even be potentially hazardous. This track is excellently described in the Ultimate Kauai  Guidebook, the best book ever written on Kauai. 

     To access the trailhead we took Kaumoo road west from Wailua. We drove through the jungle to the Keahau Aboretum where we decided to leave out 2WD car. The road from here is very rugged and muddy and only suitable for 4WD vehicles. We needed to cross a few streams and walk another few miles to the gate, and then pass the gate where the road ends and the Mt Waialeale base track starts. We didn't mind hiking this extra distance as the weather was gorgeous and we were walking through one of the most unique tropical rainforests in the world.
     We knew however that the closer we get to the mountain, the progressively worse the weather gets. Most of the year the Mt Waialeale is swallowed by thick cloud and persistent rain guarding the eastern wall of the Mt Waialeale by swelling the Wailua River beneath and preventing walking up the stream. The only other way to spot this legendary Wall of Tears is to go by one of the helicopter tours, however they don't fly in a bad weather or later in a day, so we enjoyed walking in a complete solitude for the rest of the afternoon.

     As we proceeded beyond the gate, the weather did get worse and soon we were walking in a heavy rain turning the road into muddy pools.

     When we got to the river where the track continues up the stream, the river was still crossable and we disappeared in the forest on the other bank looking for the path that would lead us along the stream. We knew that walking within the stream itself during heavy rain in one of the wettest places on Earth wouldn't be very life-friendly.

     When we got back to the stream 10 minutes later (founding out there's no other way up the stream), the river swole up by incredible half a meter and it was still rising in front of our eyes. We crossed the dangerously fast-flowing river more than knee deep and turned back. There was no way we could continue up this "river trail". We still got close enough to glimpse the white threads of waterfalls falling down the sheer walls of the Mt Waialeale in the distance. Nothing we've ever seen so far. It was one of those days out there when you simply have to bow before forces of nature and be thankful you've got that far.


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