Ascent of Waialeale on 2020-11-26

Climber: Marcus Lostracco

Others in Party:Angela Wells
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Thursday, November 26, 2020
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
    Elevation:5148 ft / 1569 m

Ascent Trip Report

As gnarly as the trip reports describe it to be, if not more. It's the rainy season on Kauai, so this candidate for the wettest place on Earth was putting up a good case for the distinction. The rain gauge at the top of Wai'ale'ale had registered 10 inches of rain the day before we started our hike. This gauge regularly records 450 inches of rain every year. The hike involves a 4-mile maintained trail section, a 3-mile approach to a "pig fence" and a 7-mile slog through the Sincock bog and along said pig fence to reach the summit of Wai'ale'ale. There are plenty of trip reports describing the details of the route, which was nearly unclimbable until the construction of the pig fence in 2011. It's now very accessible, for those who consider 22 miles through water-logged mud and bogs something they would enjoy doing. Not many people attempt this peak, nor would I recommend it, unless you are fully prepared to endure being wet for the entirety and putting up with route finding. Ironically, there are no water sources on this route either - the streams are not potable (even if you boiled it - that water is gross), so you need to cary everything with you. This trip was a 2-nights out type of deal, camping on a patch of moss along a ridge alongside the Mohihi-Wai'ale'ale trail. My hiking partner, Angela, was a great companion for this slog.

Day 1 - 4x4 Jeep was not capable of driving the road to the trailhead - the red mud in some sections was so slick, the car just slid. I had no control. We decided getting a tow out of here was not worth risking, so we backtracked and parked the car 4 miles from the trailhead at a picnic area. We hiked with our heavy packs (no rain though!) to the trailhead, arriving at 4:20pm. This is where I started my GPS - so the file does not include the additional 4 miles to get to the start of the trail. There is a stream crossing early on which is quite straightforward. We had a relatively enjoyable golden hour hike with clear views from the top of the ridge. Stunning place. After the sun went down we found a level patch of moss (there is a lot of moss here) and we set up camp for the night, about 2 miles into the Mohihi-Wai'ale'ale trail.

Day 2: We started at 6am, headlamps on for the first hour until we reached a steep and very muddy downclimb to the Koaie stream. I had read that the Koaie stream is sometimes impassable after heavy rains, and we were receiving flash flood emergency alerts on our phones all day prior to starting, urging people to stay away from streams, so I feared the worst, and was fully prepared to turn back at the stream. Luckily, the stream looked crossable. There was one sketchy part, but overall not too crazy. After you cross the stream, there is no more maintained trail, only a use path with flagging to mark the route. It is relatively well-flagged, but in some areas, there are downed trees blocking the path, and re-finding the route around all the new growth is sometimes a challenge. We went off path several times, requiring back-tracking, etc... We arrived at the forsaken pig fence I read about in the half-dozen or so trip reports online around 9:30am. I was optimistic we could make it to our goal, Kawaikini, the highest point on Kauai. From this point, you pretty much follow the fence all the way to the top. It is not pleasant terrain. Very soggy, muddy, boggy, sloggy, and everything in between. We reached Sincock's bog at 10am and began the slog towards the summit. Along the bog we had an interaction with a bird I will never forget. It was an Elepai'o - native only to 3 of the Hawaiian islands, and is known to be bold and curious, and quite rare, and super cute. It approached us and looked at us inquisitively for a solid minute, until we eventually kept on walking.
The slog to reach the summit is sloppy, with many sections requiring one to cling onto the pig fence and drag oneself upwards while ones feet are humorously sliding all over to no added benefit. By the time we were near the top, the rain was coming down sideways and the wind had picked up and visibility was at about 20 meters. The temperature also felt like it had dropped a solid 15 degrees F. My rain jacket was totally soaked through, as was my waterproof suit beneath. I had a poncho I was tempted to throw on top for a 3rd water layer but it seemed pointless to do so. We actually saw 3 herd animals we thought were tiny donkeys - we both saw them so it was not a hallucination! We were told there are no wild donkeys on Kauai. So they were either deer, goats, or pigs. We ruled out pigs and deer, so they must have been goats. Very very fat and bloated goats.
We reached the end of the pig fence around 12:30pm. The 2-mile roundtrip ridge walk to the summit of Kawaikini was out of the question - with the strong winds, limited visibility, and strong precipitation, it would have taken at least an hour with route finding, etc. We opted to go for the nearby Wai'ale'ale summit which is where the rain gauge is situated. 2nd highest peak on Kauai, and an accomplishment nonetheless. We began our hike back to camp and arrived there around 7:30pm. The last hour in the dark was a pain - the forest/jungle is very dark at night, and following the trail was challenging. We only went 1.5 miles in the dark and it took about 1.5 hours. Our tent scenario was pretty gross that night.

Day 3: hiked out to the trailhead where we met a local with a Tacoma. We sort of talked him out of doing the hike (he did not seem prepared at all) and he said he'd pick us up if he saw us on the way out - we still had 4 miles of road to hike back to our car. Sure enough, he came by and scooped us up and dropped us off. What a blessing. We then went to have a meal and warm up by the fireplace at the Koke'e Lodge - a must-stop if you are in the area. Lilikoi pie is incredible.

An alternative Thanksgiving, and one to be remembered. I might have to do this again to get the high point, Kawaikini, but it would take some serious motivation to go through this experience again.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2700 ft / 822 m
    Route:Pig fence
    Trailhead:Mohihi-Wai'ale'ale Trail  2448 ft / 746 m
    Quality:1 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack, Stream Ford, Mud/Swamp, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Headlamp, Ski Poles, Tent Camp
    Weather:Drizzle, Cool, Breezy, Low Clouds
Very wet and limited visibility
Ascent Part of Trip: Kauai Trip (2 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
 (Attempt) Kawaikini2020-11-26 c 
1Kuaohukini2020-11-26 a 
2Waialeale2020-11-26 b2700 ft / 823 m
Total Trip Gain: 2700 ft / 823 m    Total Trip Loss: 2700 ft / 823 m

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