Ascent of Kawaikini on 2017-06-28

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Laura Newman
Shannon Dillmore -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Peter Barr
Date:Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
    Elevation:5243 ft / 1598 m

Ascent Trip Report

Useful Info:

As recently as 2006, the trek to Kawaikini’s summit took up to five tough days of intense jungle bushwhacking through soggy swamps and impenetrable brush. However, over the past decade the access situation here has improved dramatically, mainly due to the construction of pig-control fences. At this point, the trip to this peak no longer involves any bushwhacking and is mainly a trail hike. To be sure, it remains a very rough, rugged, and difficult hike of 23 miles round-trip, and the rainy climate can cause issues with stream crossings and deep mud. But a dry-weather climb by hikers with a 4x4 for trailhead access can be a relatively easy two-day backpack trip.

From the Kokee State Park lodge and museum area, a dirt road across Route 550 signed “YWCA Camp” leads east towards the Alakai swamp. This road leads 6 miles to its end, and in most conditions a 4x4 (or maybe AWD) vehicle will be needed to drive the full distance.

From the picnic shelter at the end of the road, the Mohihi Trail leads 5.8 miles to the first pig fence. This path is often overgrown in several places, unsigned, and has lots of ups and downs, but for the most part provides easy footway. A GPS with a trail track is helpful at confusing junctions. The main obstacles are the crossing of the Koaie Stream during times of high water, and several low logs to duck under in the last mile or so.

The pig fence now begins at the spot where a log arrow once existed. A meter-wide swath in the jungle to the right of the fence provides a good pathway for 4.6 miles to the edge of the Blue Hole escarpment in an area of boggy, open moorland. There are some steep and muddy ups and downs and sometimes you have to climb over fences at junctions but overall it is good going. From the fence end it is a mile stroll south to Kawaikini, or a third of a mile north along a fence to Waialeale and its rain gauge and little pond.

The peak has been day-hiked, but most parties will want to camp at least one night. In rainy conditions finding level, dry ground for tents could be challenging, but at dry times the grass at Sincock’s bog, a mile past the start of the fence, makes a logical camping spot for a two-day trip.

Our Story:

Tuesday, June 27:

The four of us gathered together in a Lihue motel on Monday night and got our gear all organized—we were prepared for the infamous rain with lots of wet-weather gear and plastic bags. Unfortunately, our rental car company was all out of 4x4 vehicles. So on Wednesday morning, after doing some grocery shopping, we tried to switch our car, but we would have had to switch companies and we didn’t want to take the time.

The weather looked clear and sunny as we drove from Lihue up to Kokee State Park, and Peter took the wheel of our Nissan Rogue 2WD—we hoped his extensive experience with off-roading would help us coax our soccer-mom SUV to the end of the road. Sadly, after 2.6 miles, we encountered a muddy hill that it just couldn’t conquer, so we had to pull into a turnout, get our packs together, and start hiking 3.3 miles of road. Ugh.

At the picnic shelter we regrouped and started hiking the trail. It was so hot and sunny I wish I had brought my special sun hat and shirt—I had to make due with my rain hat. The trail was good at first, passing another picnic shelter quickly and then becoming a bit narrower and overgrown. After 3.7 miles of minor ups and downs the trail plunged steeply down to the feared Koaie Stream, scene of some epic crossings by previous parties. However, on this dry day, it was a trivial rock hop. We rested on the rocks and Shannon sterilized some water for us. On the far bank was a squalid hunter’s cabin, and we stashed the rope we brought to help with the crossing here.

The trail then led steeply uphill and then undulated along for a couple more miles. It was a bit more obscure here, and I found ducking under low logs with a full overnight pack tiresome. We were looking for the “Arrow” carved into a log as the next landmark, but at its location was a brand-new pig fence. Hiking the swath to its right made for easy going, and in less than a mile we came to the grassy meadows of Sincock’s Bog.

It had been a long day so far for us, with heavy packs, so we decided to camp here. The grassy areas were a bit spongy and wet underneath, but dry enough to pitch our tents on. Peter and Shannon shared one tent, I had a small tent for myself, and Laura elected to sleep under the stars and only come inside a tent if it started raining, which looked unlikely under the blue sky. We could see a cloud bank to the east, over the summit area, but it seemed static in place there.

We had a leisurely evening of gear sorting, eating our cold food (we brought no stoves, anticipating wet and miserable weather), and remarking on our good weather. Laura had been to this spot in 2013 before turning back, and she barely recognized our entire route, since she had been in a downpour the whole time. For us right now, ironically, a big issue was lack of water—we were “dry camping” with just what we had brought from the Koaie Stream crossing.

We turned in at nightfall, around 7:30 PM. During a midnight bathroom break I was happy to see a sky full of stars—Laura might have been the first person to do a dry bivvy so near the summit.

Wednesday, June 28:

We were up around 5:30 AM, and we quickly ate some cold food and got our daypacks together for the summit trip. We left around 6 AM and continued following the fenceline east-southeast towards the summit. The terrain was a mix of low trees and open bogs, and the fence made several steep, short ascents and descents on muddy chutes, where holding on the fence (or, sometimes, a helpful rope left on the path) made things easier. At one point the right side of the fence had eroded away and we had to cross it twice, or do an airy move over the washout.

The nearer we got to the summit, the cloudier it got, and when we finally reached the edge of the huge Blue Hole escarpment we were in a windy, foggy white-out. It never rained on us, but the fog was unfortunate, severely limiting visibility. We followed GPS tracks south over easy but somewhat frustrating terrain—there were many low hillocks to circumvent, and the grassy moor was marshy and spongy. The faint paths we found were muddy and therefore not much use, and navigation was hard in the dense fog.

At last we made our final climb and found ourselves on the prominent little knoll that clearly marked the highest point of Kawaikini. Ecstatic, we passed congratulations all around—Laura has just become the 11th person (and first woman) to complete the Hawaii county high points, while I completed a long-term goal of finishing the “Apex” (“twenty toughest”) county high point list, the third person to do so. We then sat down in the lee of the strong wind, and, since there was cell reception, those with phones let the world know where we were.

After resting, snacking, and texting, I had one last task—to scatter some ashes of my late friend Edward Earl, who, like me, was stuck at 19 on the Apex list for many years. We had talked about making this trip together, and Kauai had a special meaning for him. Shannon filmed my brief ceremony while Laura and Peter, who both also had known Edward, looked on.

We then packed up and navigated back north over the foggy, windswept terrain, taking a route that was slightly longer but better protected and with less vertical gain. Back at the fenceline we turned north, with two objectives—the world-famous rain gauge at Wailaleale, and a small pond that Shannon had located while web surfing on his phone at the summit, where we hoped to fill up our dry water bottles.

It was not far along the fence to where we struck off left up a small knoll to check out the gauge and its associated infrastructure—Shannon stayed below to conserve strength. We went back down to him and shortly located the little pond further north. The weather was atrocious at this point—no rain, but very intense wind and very dense fog—so we didn’t feel like waiting around to use the Steri-Pen. We just dunked our bottles in the clear water and hoped for the best. Peter made a brief foray to look for the Heiau (ancient Hawaiian altar) in the area but the rest of us were not interested.

We returned to the fence gate stairs shortly and were soon retracing our path back towards camp. The weather improved with every step we took, and by the time we were back to our tents was hot and sunny again. It was along here we saw the only other party on our entire hike, a two-person state pig hunting crew, complete with GPS-collared dog and high-powered rifle. They had us going for a minute by kidding that we had pitched our tents on an endangered plant.

We were at camp by around 1 PM, and we elected to pack up and head out today—the weather was holding and we saw no need to hang out. Before 2 PM we hit the trail and followed the fenceline to the “Arrow”, and then the Mohihi trail towards the trailhead. As before, it was nice going. My relatively new leather boots had kept the water out during our summit bog traverses, and there was hardly any mud on the trail, so I had the luxury of dry socks for the entire hike. This may perhaps be a first for this trip!

We had another long rest at the Koaie Stream to refill our water supplies, and then grunted up the very steep slope up from the river and then the miles of good trail towards the trailhead. We made the picnic shelter at the road’s end by 7 PM and began hiking the road towards our car, cursing out our rental car company (and all the posers who had taken our Jeeps merely to look cool). We thought it was 2 miles, based on GPS straight line distance, but the twists in the road added up to 3.3 miles total. We had to break out headlamps halfway along, and at last arrived at our car at about 8:30 PM, quite tired after hiking over 19 miles this day.

One thing that kept up going was the knowledge that Peter’s wife Allison had reserved a large cabin for us right at Kokee State Park, so we did not have very far to go for shelter, food, and showers. We pulled in to the cabin within 10 minutes of ending our hike, and Allison even had pizza, beer, and other snacks waiting for us. The cabin had 3 single and 1 double beds, perfect for our party. The four of us took showers in turn, ate, and passed a relaxing evening before turning in after a successful ascent.


We called ourselves the “fortunate four”, in contrast to the “soggy six” Laura had been part of in 2013. We had zero rain for the two days we were out, no issues crossing the stream, and no bushwhacking due to a reasonable trail, a fenceline, and open grassy terrain. June is known as the driest month in Hawaii, and while this in not reflected in the Waialeale rain gauge statistics, it could be that the permanent cloud bank we encountered on the summit is the reason for this, and the bulk of the area sees better weather in the drier summer.

Our trip would have definitely been better with a rented 4x4 vehicle, and no fog on the summit, but overall it was a successful and enjoyable trip to a rarely-visited spot.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4583 ft / 1396 m
    Extra Gain:1400 ft / 426 m
    Round-Trip Distance:29.4 mi / 47.3 km
    Trailhead:Kawaikinana Stream  3460 ft / 1054 m
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Mud/Swamp
    Gear Used:
Rope, Headlamp, Tent Camp
    Weather:Pleasant, Very Windy, White-out
Ascent Part of Trip: 2017 - Kauai (1 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Kawaikini2017-06-28 a4583 ft / 1397 m
2Waialeale2017-06-28 b188 ft / 57 m
Total Trip Gain: 4771 ft / 1454 m    Total Trip Loss: 4771 ft / 1454 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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