High socks required.
This is what I gleaned from the youtube videos watched by iphone from inside a rental 1984 Westfalia pop-top van (named Denver) parked overnight without a permit (rebels, right?) in a campground on Oahu’s east shores. The youtube videos of the Ka’au Crater hike (Oahu’s most bad-ass hike as determined by the google machine) revealed slogs through ankle-deep mud, scaling waterfalls, bumslides down from a crater-rim summit and rope-assisted ascents up the other side. Comments included such gems as “We didn’t die, but there’s definitely spots where you could. Definitely not for the faint of heart.” Bad. Ass. Indeed. You had me at waterfall-scaling.
Obviously, this hike was a must-do. Impending high-socks fashion catastrophe notwithstanding.
With Nekky’s aversion to checked luggage, we had opted for bringing running shoes instead of hikers. While this was indeed space-saving (especially when one of us wears a size 15), I had some reservations as to the appropriateness of this selection. It brought me great relief to see everyone in the videos also wearing runners. And from what I gleaned, they had all lived to tell the tale (or at the very least had creatively edited out any calamitous consequences of poor footwear choices). Good enough for me.
At the end of a somewhat rural residential cul-de-sac with signage discouraging trespassers (such as us) from blocking driveways and parking on private property, we pulled Denver onto the side of the road. I stepped out of the van looking like a ninja. A ninja wearing high socks. And brand-spanking-new running shoes. My mud aversion technique had also included wearing leggings instead of my standard hiking shorts as I had hoped to avoid getting mud in places I didn’t want mud. Especially since in the preceding three days, it had become clear that I was not mentally prepared to shower while camping in Hawaii.
As we donned our backpack containing water and a full change of clothes (but void, in hindsight, of any sort of first aid kit or emergency preparedness), a man and woman (referenced by us as the ‘turner-backers’ from this point forward) returned to their vehicle saying they had turned back after 300 feet as they didn’t feel prepared. I felt a bit panicked. Mentally prepared? Physically prepared? Just what did they mean by unprepared? I quickly scanned their footwear. Running shoes. We decided (in the way that we often make up stories for stangers who cross our paths (you do this too, don’t you?)) that the man had sold the woman on abandoning the beach for a day and going for a little hike, and she took one look at the muddy descent and the river crossing at the bottom, shot daggers through his soul, and forced the turn around. Hence, the turner-backers.
Undeterred, we headed down what appeared to be a driveway, past the trailhead (camouflaged, in our defence, behind a row of mailboxes), snapped a pre-hike photo, and headed into the jungle on a trail (that was not actually the trail). Oops. The lack of mud and/or tracks and/or people and/or signage eventually led to our return to the mailboxes. And the trailhead. Which was hiding right behind the Private Property: No Tresspassing sign. Obviously.
*Aside/truthbomb: I did not actually personally don a backpack per say. We only had one daypack (remember the space constraints of carry-on luggage), and Nekky opted to carry it. What a gentleman. Or was he saving face and avoiding judgment in case we saw anyone on the trail who would no doubt declare the death of chivalry. Either way, heading out backpack-less made me feel very naked. A naked ninja.
The trail entered the jungle and descended a steep bank toward a creek almost immediately. Use of hands required. This hike would be a scramble indeed!
I immediately affirmed the wearing of pants to be a solid choice, if only for the benefit of somewhere to wipe my muddy hands. Once at creek-level, the trail crossed the water several times and we did our best to accomplish the goal of keeping our shoes dry (not unmuddy, just dry) until at least the third waterfall (as advised by the friendly youtubers).
At the first waterfall, however, Nekky’s soaked his size fifteens, and I could tell that – although the locals who were setting up to rappel down the waterfall offered us a turn with the use of their harnesses – we should keep moving. Soggy socks would only be hilarious for so many hours, and we had at least five more to go.
We could see and hear the third waterfall (which spills from the very top of Ka’au Crater rim and into the jungles below) and snagged a peak at it from across the way before we arrived at its base. I, for the record, arrived with dry socks (not unmuddy, but dry) and made a b-line for the ropes we would use to clamber up next to it. So fun! The Turner-Backers were indeed missing a grand adventure. (But I’m sure the beach was lovely too. And I’m a little jealous of their certain tans).
I was feeling particularly badass, and I took the liberty of commenting that the waterfall ascent had not been as harrowing as I had thought it might be. And then we hit the ‘clothesline’. There was a distinct absence of clothes, but Size-Fifteen-Long-Legs Mcgee hung me out to dry as he effortlessly used it to cross the waterfall in one fell swoop. I found it to be a bit more challenging. Especially as I stood there, looking down watching the water cascade into the depths way (way, way, way) down below. As evidenced by the knot tied smack in the middle of the rope, it had recently lost some of its length and as a result was a bit too high and almost out of reach to me. Holding the rope and keeping feet on the ground was near impossible. At least without a whole lot of contorting and a few false-starts. It took me a couple of tries to figure out how to inch across/straddle across/splash across/not die. But, I did. Without calamitous consequences (that came later) or creative editing. Win.
Soon after, with squishy socks and a sense of accomplishment, we reached the crater rim and began the ascent to the summit. Ridiculously steep inclines requiring rope-assisted ascents brought us to beauty views at the top and the narrow trail that would allow us to circumnavigate (I love this word) the crater rim.
It also meant that after all that climbing, we’d now have to go down.
We met a couple at the crater who were heading back down the way we had all come up. I took the liberty of feeling superior as we, in contrast, pressed on ahead. In retrospect…there’s was probably a pretty good plan. We discovered that only now would the mud, and the challenge, truly begin. And the really…slow.. hiking.
It is a long way around the entire crater, and MESSY! All the downs had to be done basically mono-ski style sitting on one foot (or bums) and sliding down. This naturally made me giggle like a child on a roller coaster ride (the fun roller coasters that make your tummy flop, not the scary ones that make you want to lose your lunch).
It was indeed super fun. Until it wasn’t.
The first words I managed following the cringe-worthy snapping sound that seemed to echo inside the crater, was “We are NOT getting helicopter’ed out of here.” Because that would be so embarrassing, amiright? For the record, there was no heroic fireman’s carry down the crater (altho there was a piggy back through the airport the next day. More confirmation that chivalry is not dead.). Instead, with bruised pride, broken-in runners, and a somewhat impressively sprained ankle, I limped out of Oahu’s most bad-ass hike, feeling slightly less bad-ass. But, really, only slightly.
I sat my dirty butt onto Denver’s hawaiian hibiscus-adorned seat cover, elevated my rapidly expanding ankle onto the dash, and thought one last time about the Turner-Backers. The you-tubers had been right. This hike is not for the faint of heart. But I was right too. It is a must-do!
Crater cankle notwithstanding. Obviously.