Three waterfalls, a desolate crater, and a perilous peak: Ka’au Crater Hike.
TEXT BY JACKSON GROVES // IMAGES BY JACKSON GROVES, JUST SALVESEN & JOSH LYNOTT
This trail doesn’t ease you in. From the very first moment it throws you into a world of enchantment. After no more than five steps I felt like I was in the middle of the jungle, fighting for survival, on the swivel looking for wild animals. A glistening creek was lined by majestic trunks, so tall my neck hurt looking for the treetops. Dangling vines were strewn from the canopy as rays of sunlight broke through the dense foliage creating a natural theatre with a magical atmosphere.
Shortly after being blown away by the surreal amphitheatre, we began our trek along what we suspected would be a round trip journey of five hours. It didn’t take long for my shoes to be engulfed in thick mud and for my first slip of the hike to send me to the ground.
We criss-crossed the creek several times, rock hopping our way along the trail. A pipe maintained by the Board of Water supply was the tour guide for more than an hour. Take my advice, do not try and balance on this pipe despite how muddy the trail. Unless you are a ninja you will slip on this pipe as I managed to do multiple times. Yes, I am a slow learner.
As the muddy path steepens, the trail begins to get narrower and the mud grows thicker. A slow, measured pace was needed for us to manage this part of the trail safely before we finally heard the sound of a waterfall.
A huge waterfall billows into a small pool of chilly water. I thought it would be a perfect spot to wash off all of the mud I had managed to accumulate halfway up my legs.
We stopped for lunch at the top of this waterfall after clambering up with the assistance of the ropes. It was a great spot to rest the legs while chilling on the edge of the waterfall, taking in the views.
After only another 10 minutes the next waterfall, similar to the first, came out of nowhere. We decided to look but continued on as we feared we would set the record for the slowest hike completion of 2015. However, we were taking some awesome photos so we let ourselves off the hook for being passed by multiple groups.
We had been hiking for two and half hours when we reached the bottom of the third waterfall. We passed two women and a dog, who would be later airlifted by helicopter off of the trail up third waterfall.
For 20 minutes we pulled ourselves up the side of the waterfall, aided by strong rope. The waterfall itself followed a staircase pattern, with inclines and flat sections that allowed us to rest and of course take more photos.
At the top of the third waterfall we felt accomplished, and there was a trail that looped back around to the beginning of the hike, but we were not done. Many people loopback after the third waterfall, however an out and back trail leads up a steep, perilously narrow ridge that overlooks the desolate Ka’au Crater.
Despite our legs screaming ‘no’ we began the to tackle the incline. Looking down every ten steps confirmed we had made the right decision as the crater began to open up and Waikiki crept over the mountains in the distance. The earlier parts of the trail were bustling with hikers, but now we felt a sense of isolation and subsequently, vulnerability.
An almost vertical rope-climb used our remaining energy before we finally crawled to the top of the ridge. We now overlooked the entire east coast of Oahu, much of the south coast, the Ka’au Crater, and extensive mountains.
Fog flowed heavily throughout the mountain tops and created an eerie atmosphere as we enjoyed some snacks to begin preparing for the loop back.
Just as we decided to begin heading down a helicopter flew straight at us, within fifty yards. It was a weird feeling and we began discussing what the pilot could be doing. The low-flying chopper emerged from within the ridge, airlifting a woman to safety. The pilot then went back for the tired old Bulldog and the second woman. We found out later from other hikers that the Bulldog had refused to go up or back down and the women decided they had no other choice but to be airlifted out with the dog.
Feeling recovered after our break at the summit and our ten minutes of rescue entertainment, we began the descent down the slippery ridge with extreme concentration on our footing.
This Ka’au Crater hike took us a total of six hours, however, 45 minutes to an hour was spent taking photographs. Due to the muddy terrain and the need to be able to pull your body weight out of holes and over ridges in certain sections, this trail should probably not be done without a group.
We dragged our tired legs onto our mopeds and went to the beach to wash off our mud-caked bodies and shoes. I decided my shoes had run their last race and threw them away, a small price to pay for one of the most amazing adventures on Oahu.
Duration: 4-6 hours
Altitude: 2500 feet
Open: Sunrise (enforced by guard)