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Pu’u Ali’i, Kalawao County, Molokai

Posted by Don Nelsen (2007-12-16)

OK, so its still drizzling rain and overcast in the Pacific NW and I guess I'd better write up another Hawaii trip report: Enjoy!

Geologists tell us that some time about halfway through its nearly two million year existence the island of Molokai split for about 25 miles down the middle and 600 cubic miles of the north side fell into the deep ocean abyss. This cataclysmic event created a 2,000 foot wave as the rock and debris slid for scores of miles to the north inundating large areas of the neighboring islands. Subsequently, with the pressure of over a mile of rock removed, a new volcano erupted near the fissure line and spilled a low shield of lava out into the sea.


Here's a view of the only inhabited land in Kalawao County from the cliffs to the west:

This new land was gently sloped and surrounded on the one side by the three to five thousand foot cliffs of the new north face of the island and on the other by the deep and often violent Pacific Ocean.  Once you are on this little triangle of land, barely 2 ½ miles north-to-south and about the same at it’s widest along the cliff wall you are very well isolated from the rest of the world.  Only sturdy crafts brave the ocean approach and only one steep narrow trail was ever built from the highlands above connecting to the rest of the island. (This isolation potential was not lost on mid 19th century people of the Hawaiian Islands. Fearing those in their midst who had the great misfortune to contract the dreaded disease of leprosy the infamous leper colony of Molokai came into being. – but that is another story.)


Here's what the ocean looked like for the first four days of our trip:


A line was eventually drawn around this place - generally along the high ridgelines and it became Kalawao County – the smallest by far and in the present day the second least populous county (129 residents est. 2005) in the entire United States. It is also one of most difficult county high points in the United States – partly because just getting to the island of Molokai is not particularly easy – but also because there is no trail for the last mile or so to the highest point and even that is at the end of a 10 mile long rutted, steep, and muddy dirt road; another 2 ½ miles of an even worse dirt road and yet another mile of narrow boardwalk (7 1/2  inches wide or less!) through a swamp punctuated rainforest. This was to be my second to last Hawaiian county high point (only the legendary Kawaikini on Kauai to go) so off to Molokai I went.


The weather was horrible – it rained torrentially for four days. Diving was out so we set out to explore the island. Here's another pic of the ocean:


We went on a few very wet and windblown shorter hikes - All unpaved roads were impassible, and most roads are unpaved on Molokai and many have streams flowing over them when it rains. We made the best of it and simply climbed a few ridgelines from the main road to see what we could see. Here’s the kind of damage feral hogs do to the soil digging for grubs with their tusks. This destroys sensitive plants and causes much erosion:


Finally, a day without rain so off to Kalawao we went: Sunrise on day five from the condo looking across the strait to Maui:


Oops, back on the car rental companies “do not rent list”! This is the road we drove up for almost ten miles:



The next 2 /12 mile of dirt road is for 4WD and high clearance. Come to think of it, this hill was even hard to walk up.


After about 2 1/2 miles of this, we came to the actual trailhead that started out as a boardwalk.

The boardwalk was welcome but hard to balance on - most of it consisted of 2 x 8's with a 6-inch wide metal grid for traction:


Once at the end of the boardwalk, there is this great view spot. Olokui across the way is one of the most difficult peaks to get to in the world and has many endemic species.  The camera barely does justice to the scale of this mountain: It’s 4,606’ high and the valley in the foreground is 3,900’ deep.



Looking to the right of the previous picture, that’s the island high point, Kamakou in the distance, 4,960’ high and with no documented climbs I could find anywhere. I’ll be going back to give it a try!



Here's what the little viewpoint looked like. Clouds would come and go in seconds - alternately clearing and enveloping us in dense mist.


At first, we were stumped and unable to find a route. No hint of a trail beyond the viewpoint so you have to crash through the bushes into the deep steamy jungle beyond.  Here is what’s on the other side of the wall of vegetation:


A little farther in we found a partially constructed feral hog fence and some recent clearing made the going a little better.  Only GPS was able to locate the true high point a mile into the jungle.


Muddy and soaked, we made it back to the car.  A total of about 9 miles and 2,100 vertical for the day.



Sunset the next day from the beach:


Here's a map of the journey:

Re: Pu’u Ali’i, Kalawao County, Molokai

Posted by Splintercat (2007-12-16)
So Don, just to be clear - you flew 2,500 miles so that you could hike around in the rain and mud, bushwhack a bit, get stuck on some dirt road... and try out your GPS unit..? Some things never change..! :-)

BTW, excellent geo-commentary and photos!


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