Greetings everyone, I hope everyone was able to enjoy their Christmas (or your celebration of choice) with family and/or friends. Ours was a bit hectic as we started early with our traditional gift exchange which has somehow morphed into “EVERY PRESENT IS MINE” event for Ruger. Hit the treadmill to pre-work off the annual feast and then promptly went to work packing up to head south. Thanks to brilliant idea from Linda, this is the first time we didn’t have to take down the 12′ (by now fire-hazard) real tree in the midst of the chaos. All that effort to get to somewhere with temps above single digits. As we will be dealing with some sketchy roads for at least the first long day… maybe 2, thought it would be a perfect time to bring out one of Brad’s post from another warm location. We’ll catch up later in the week… Brad, take it away…(note, you can click on the images to view the full size images)
Our first trip to the Big Island of Hawaii was in 2002 when we met two of our friends from Boston. The four of us decided to go on a hike to see the waterfalls of Waipio Valley from a trail at the top of the valley. Waipio Valley is located on the north side of the Big Island, in the Kohala Watershed Forest Preserve. This wasn’t where all the tourists take the pretty pictures of the black sand and surf. We were way back at the beginning of the entire Waipio Valley. The tour book (Intrigued Legal says I can’t use the name because it’s considered an endorsement) gave us specific non-touristy directions to a fantastic hike with a 1500’ waterfall. Once we had interpreted the instructions and turned at a certain colored fence located 3 (or so) miles outside of Waimea, because the instructions were that precise. Not really sure where the edge of town really was, it took us a couple of attempts to find the references in the book. We parked the rental car and climbed through the security fence. Don’t worry, this was a pedestrian entrance to somewhat public grounds, shared with a private owner. This part of the Big Island is all green; rainforest green not palm tree green. The horses inside the fence were very happy to see us, or at least the treats they thought we were carrying. After a few moments of nudging us with their noses, and realizing we had no treats, they wandered off.
The four of us followed the unofficial footpath past the municipal water supply and started into the rainforest. The elevation was about 2700’ at this point and in the middle of a rainforest. The temps were much cooler than along the coast, but still very much shorts and T-shirt weather at this point.
After a minute or two in the rainforest, we kept seeing forms of Hawaiian Ginger along the pleasantly maintained unofficial trail.
Hit the jump to read more about Brad’s Hawaiian hiking adventure!
This is Kahili ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum) and it’s in the fruited stage after the flowers have been pollinated. The orange and red “fruit” eventually splits open to reveal bright red seeds that attract birds. The birds eat the seeds, digest the seeds and do whatever it is birds do with seeds. (I snuck in a bird reference.) The plants are much prettier in their flower-only stage. Kahili ginger was introduced to Hawaii in the 19th century because it is ornamental. Now it is considered an invasive species. There are many varieties of Hawaiian ginger, many of which might be edible in small amounts if prepared or harvested properly. Having said all of that, Kahili ginger is NOT edible. Don’t eat it! This was one of the original photos from our first hike in 2002. This photo is a digitized 35mm film negative and is not as crisp as the later purely digital photos.
Every now and then we’d find one of these along the path.
It’s called a Parrot Heliconia (Heliconia psittacorum). We found them on both trips (January 2002 and June 2005) as solitary plants and in clumps. This one was by itself along the trail. Parrot Heliconia was introduced to Hawaii from the Puerto Rico in 1950. These colorful plants bloom all year long and can be found pretty much everywhere.
A little further down the rainforest trail, these appeared.
It’s called Lobster Claw (Heliconia bihai). Though some sites call it the Macaw Flower. Since we were with our friends from Boston . . . it had to be Lobster Claw. These plants can grow to up to 20 feet tall. These specimens were all under 6 feet tall. The giant leaves are similar to a banana plant. Lobster Claw was introduced to Hawaii from the Caribbean in about 1958.
After about 20 minutes of rainforest, and occasional clump of bamboo, we came to a concrete lined ditch/canal full of running water. There must have been a bridge here before because there were concrete beams across the waterway. The beams were easily wide enough to walk on, but not quite wide enough to blindly cross over. We navigated the concrete tightropes and then were back to the rainforest trail. At this point we presumed we were still on the right path. There was only a gap in the foliage where many had hiked before us.
Now the weather cooled and the clouds thickened. We had been steadily climbing a slight incline since we started. There was a fine mist in the air. Exposed skin was beginning to bead up with water. A fog was setting in, so away went the cameras (hence no more photos from the 2002 hike). Luckily Jan brought along plastic bags for our cameras and flip-phones. I was sure glad we grabbed our wind breakers from the car before we started. Our intrepid little group kept hiking for another 15 minutes or so and the foliage on one side of the path became noticeable smaller. In actuality, it just seemed that way.
Here the path took a sharp left-hand turn. A reminder from our Boston friends (both are experienced hikers) that we needed to be careful on the narrow trail because the foliage on the right would not stop a fall if we stepped over the edge. Jan and I really didn’t know what they were talking about because visibility was at best about 10 feet in any direction. Decision made; stay close together. The mostly dirt/mud path was about two feet wide. Foliage was still over our heads on the left-hand side of the trail, or at least higher than the fog let us see. We had no idea how deep the valley was or how far up the valley wall went, so we kept hiking. Oh, and there was an occasional root sticking out to trip us up; Brian would have felt right at home.
(I’m going to intermix photos from the 2005 hike with the story from the 2002 hike to help illustrate the story a bit better. Imagine this view completely fogged in.)
What seemed like twenty minutes later, we could hear the waterfall. However, with the thickening fog, we couldn’t see a darn thing. My glasses were completely covered with droplets of water at this point. We did find a small cave along the trail so we went inside for a moment just to get out of the heavy mist/fog to discuss strategy. But water was running through the rocks and into the cave so it didn’t help all that much.
After a short break we continued on the trail a bit further, but it began to narrow significantly. The chill in the air increased. (Imagine your own ominous music here.) The trail was so narrow that we were walking sideways single-file (like in the movies on the ledge of a building) with our backs to the wet rock wall and vegetation. The trail was wafer thin. It was group decision time. Since we still couldn’t see anything and the trail seemed to be getting more and more sketchy, we decided to abandon this attempt, head back to the car, and try again later. (Which happened to be three years later.) This decision seemed to anger the rain gods. Within minutes the skies opened up with a heavy, cold rain. Just craptastic weather! We were as far away from the car as we could get, already soaked to the skin, and on a narrow muddy trail somewhere near the top of a 1500’ waterfall. Needless to say, our return hike would be much quicker than on the way out. Once we made it back to the rainforest, the leafy canopy helped slow the deluge, but only a little bit. The rain made the concrete beams a bit more slippery on the way back across. By now, the rain made the volume of water in the ditch a little higher. The water was also flowing a little bit faster. Careful foot placement was in order.
As we cleared the rainforest and started across the meadow, the horses were all gone. I think they all ran for shelter in the nearby barn. We spun through the pedestrian gate and jumped into the car as quickly as possible. There was not a dry patch on any of us. Water was running off of us onto the floor mats; we squished loudly as we sat in the car shivering. Thoughts turned to a warm, dry place for lunch. I started the car and turned on the heater, an odd activity on a tropical island. We drove away to find somewhere to wring ourselves dry.
Fast forward to the summer of 2005, Jan and I, and our daughter Allyson, are traveling to the Big Island. It was Allyson’s first trip to Hawaii so we packed in as many activities as we could across three of the islands (Hawaii, O’ahu and Kaua’i).
The weather indicated that this might be a good time to retry the hike to Waipio Valley so off we went. The three of us followed the same secretive instructions (still no Intrigued Legal approval to use the book’s title, but it has a picture of the Big Island from space on its cover) and fortunately ended up at the same starting point. This time the horses couldn’t care less that there were humans in their domain and didn’t even try to nuzzle us for treats. The skies were overcast and the temperature was a bit warmer.
After about 45 minutes, with no fog or mist this time, the trail exited the rainforest on the rim of the valley. I was first out and taken aback from the view.
Allyson quickly grabbed Jan and said “Please don’t make me go out there, Mommy! Don’t go out there, Daddy!” I said not to worry and that I was only going far enough to get a few photos, then I ran back to the cover of the rainforest. I can see now why our friends told us on the 2002 trip not to slip off the right-hand side of the trail because the foliage would not have stopped a rapid descent. We took a few photos and headed back to the car. If the first hike in 2002 had been on a clear day, I think I would have stopped at the rainforest end of the trail before the ridge trail started. I do not normally have issues with heights, but am not a huge fan either. Being on the edge of a steep valley on a narrow and slightly sloped trail is not my idea of a fun time. Jan is more adventurous than me and even she said she’d rather not hike along the ridge trail. We already knew Allyson’s opinion.
Fast forward again to summer 2010. Jan, Allyson, and I are traveling to the Big Island again. The three of us took a horse trail ride adventure at the bottom on Waipio Valley. (BTW, to get to the bottom of the valley, we started at the top. We rode into the valley, down a 25% grade in a 1980’s 4WD passenger van. The ride down was an adventure in itself.) During the trail ride the wranglers asked if anyone had been in the valley before. I answered “sort of”. He asked what that meant. I explained we had taken a trail from Waimea past a certain municipal fixture, through the rainforest to a very narrow trail along the valley edge. His eyes got very wide when he realized we had actually been on THE ridge trail (at the very top of the valley). He said, “you all are braver than I thought.”
You can see the ridge in the middle back of the photo where the waterfall was. We were hiking on the opposite side of the valley just out of view to the left. The trail we took is still in the clouds in this photo. Around the middle of the trail ride, which went a mile or two into the valley, Jan captured this nearly vertical waterfall.
It gives you an idea of how high the trail was and how far the water actually falls. The foliage would NOT have stopped us if we had stepped off the trail on the wrong side.
Thank you for reading. If you want to see more photos from our trips to Hawaii, please visit here.
Thanks again to Jan and Allyson for proofreading and editing. Thanks to Jan for some of the photos in this article.