Kauai's Canyons. Waimea, Olokele, Loli Waialae, Koaie, Poomau, Iliiliula, more.

The Canyons of Kauai.

Waialae Gorge

Unlike streams to the north, east and south of Waialeale, which begin in the typical Hawaiian pattern in huge, waterfall festooned, amphitheater box canyons (not craters as helicopter pilots and guidebook authors would like you to believe) there's several streams rising in the Alakai and draining west that follow a different pattern. After meandering around at high elevation on the plateau, they waterfall steeply into gorges finally draining into the Waimea River.

Photos taken of flooding in Waialae Gorge.
Like all Kauai streams, Waialae Stream is subject to rapidly changing flow that can turn a drainage into a deathtrap. This can occur without a drop of rain falling at your locale.

Over the past years, I'd crossed Waialae Stream and it's Helehaha, Halepaakai, and Loli tributaries many times. Last year(2005), climbing the Kukui Trail, I was mesmerized by Waialae Falls, leaping out of the rain forest into an arid canyon, and decided to explore the canyon.

Unable to find anything on the internet about the gorge, I spent a lot of time Googling photos of Waialae Gorge and eventually found almost two hundred (mixed into thousands and infallible called Waimea Canyon). I discovered no less than thirteen waterfalls, ranging up to about 300 feet along a short, narrow stretch of the canyon. Hiking that was out of the question, but the area below the waterfalls looked reasonable. I decided to see how far I could hike up the gorge.

I collected some beta that indicated the bottom waterfall could be passed on the left. But which was the bottom falls? Later it'd be obvious.

Anyway, I'm digressing from a fantastic hike.

I considered doing it as an overnight but came across a Sierra Club blurb that mentioned a ten mile, dayhike up Waialae Gorge so I decided to dayhike it, starting at first light.

I started down the Kukui trail, passed the famed Leaning Compost Toilet of Wiliwili and headed down Waimea Canyon. The trail stayed on the west side of the canyon but as it approached Waialae it climbed above the river, dropping back down a little south of the mouth of the gorge. An obvious path led upstream to a crossing of the Waimea to Poacher's camp a short distance up Waialae Gorge.

Leaning toilet at Wiliwili Camp in Waimea Canyon at the bottom of the Kukui Trail.
Italy's got nothing on Kauai. This is the famous Leaning Compost Toilet of Wiliwili installed several years ago by the State. Folks come from all over the world to crap in this wonder of technology (however I find it somewhat difficult but then I've never been that coordinated).

A trail led further into the Gorge but soon faded out as the talus slopes came down to the stream. I crossed to the other side, to ancient terraces covered with Kukui nuts and trees.

No mosquitoes but I know they would be a nuisance on some days. Maybe the credit goes to the drought.

The canyon narrowed, as did the terraces, finally fading out. The lower gorge was heavily vegetated which made walking the stream banks problematic but the trees faded away and the going was fairly easy once you accepted that you'd be crossing the creek every five or ten minutes to avoid cliffs, etc.

I passed the entrance to the Loli Gorge which promises to be an spectacular hike. It looked like a boulder strewn tunnel through trees, flowing straight out of its gorge.

I passed several easy waterfalls and finally met one large, challenging one about fifty, sixty feet tall. Later I realized it was first waterfall that I'd been told could be passed on the left.

Hurrying, I didn't do as good of a job route finding, thinking that the upper falls would be the dangerous one and scared myself sh---ss waving around a formerly bombproof handhold about the size of a basketball, desperately grasping a few blades of grass in the other hand.

Still hurrying, clock driven, I slipped a couple times, fortunately only breaking my self confidence.

I slowed down, adding my stock phrase "I'll be back," if I didn't make it all the way. And it'd definitely be worth revisiting as it'd transformed into a spectacular gorge unlike any I've encountered. Somewhere along here, my GPS went on strike -- seems they don't work in narrow gorges.

Waialae Gorge narrows under high cliffs and talus slopes.
You enter the realm of rock.

It was hard walking and gawking at the same time. If JR had been along, I'd been walking, gawking, talking at the same time and falling down every ten or fifteen feet.(I'm afflicted with HADS. Hiker's Attention Deficient Syndrome.)

The gorge twisted, turned, becoming every more narrow and arid except for the stream. Huge, dry waterfall chutes dropped from somewhere above. I suspect that any brush or vegetation that dares to grow near the stream gets swept away by the flashfloods like the one that came down the next day.

View down Waialae Canyon Canyon.
It only gets better. And narrow.

Cliffs a thousand feet above steep talus. All around, shattered rock, evidence of rock falls. I came around a corner into a spectacular amphitheater. On the north side, the Waialae leaped out of a narrow slot. The first step was a cascade onto a ledge, then it jumped, fanned out into a drop into a huge pool. Well, this hiker wasn't going any further. I suppose some folks, or goats, could climb further with ropes and bolts, but not I.

The waterfall was spectacular at 3-4 cfs. It jumped to 50 cfs that night and the next week jetted up to 800 cfs. The record flow is 4500 (equal to the mean flow of the Colorado River) at the stream gage several miles upstream -- so it'd been undoubtedly much higher in the gorge seeing that dozens of drainages and waterfall chutes enter the gorge. That would have been something to see.

Waterfall blocking access to Upper Waialae Gorge.
Sacred Falls in the desert and on steroids.

I chased some goats around on the talus, then headed down as the Casio demanded. Hogs and goats aplenty. It started raining on the way down and confronted by wet rock at the waterfall, I decided to contour around the other side, through the small trees then cut down.

Do not do this. It is not the thing to do! Got that?! Even with this idiot excursion, I made it back to the car by five or so.

This was one of the most enjoyable hikes I've yet had in Hawaii. I shall return and spend the night next time.


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