#Kaua’i: Winter Hike

Hiking in winter is occasionally just like summer, but more often than not it’s wetter and muddier all across the Garden Island. Because Sleeping Giant (Nounou) is nearby and has three trails, I most often hike there (although it appears that I rarely blog about it). The eastside trail, from the Wailua House Lots, is the steepest, but undulating along the west slope from the southside is the Kuamo‘o (‘backbone’)-Nounou (‘throwing’) trail, the longest trek of the three. My favorite approach however is from the west trailhead, principally because it is usually the driest.

At the end of Lokelani (‘red rose’) Road, there is a cash only/honor fruit stand at the west trailhead, just in case you didn’t pack enough of the right kind of snacks, or you just happen to see something you’ve been craving. The winter selection is slim, but even when fruit is plentiful, don’t be surprised if all you find is a half a dozen limes.

Fruit Stand
Fruit Stand

Off Kamalu Road, the west trailhead follows a grassy lane which yields abruptly to a lattice of Eucalyptus roots crisscrossing the trail as it gets steeper. One other prominent feature of winter hikes is vog (volcanic smog), which blows in from the Big Island, and sometimes blankets Kaua’i for a week or more.  If you often have difficulty breathing, either do not hike on vog days, or plan to take plenty of breaks.

Then, just beyond the quarter-mile marker, the lattice transitions to strawberry guava.

Crisscrossed root of Eucalyptus trees in red dirt lane.
WenYu hikes up through the eucalyptus lattice . . .
Strawberry Guava Lattice
. . . and through the strawberry guava lattice













A little beyond the strawberry guava lattice is a fork in the trail. Be nice instead of taking the shortcut to the left, and help prevent erosion by veering right, up to the four-way intersection with the Kuamo‘o-Nounou Trail. Straight ahead, it’s two miles to Kuamo‘o Road, often through muck and mire, and mosquitoes, and the broad pathway to the right ends about 2oo yards down mountain at the western edge of the Nounou Forest Reserve. The latter course is an interesting diversion that offers a magnificent view up the continuation of the west trail through a tall grove of Cook Pines.

Shards of Light
Shards of light













Fortunately, the upper trail was dry, but not too dry. When it’s too dry, you can easily lose your footing because a fine dust settles over the clay and can be like walking on marbles, invisible marbles. Luck was with us on this hike, as evidenced by this four-leaf clover near the three-quarter mile marker.

Four-Leaf Clover at Center
A four-leaf clover can be seen almost directly in the center

Lichens form on the bark of both living and fallen trees, and are more noticeable in winter when much of the greenery surrounding them is missing. Because lichens fatten up by storing water in winter, they are a treasured food source for many of the fowl and field mice with whom you share the trail.

Lichen on a fallen branch
Lichen on a fallen branch

So after hiking through this and that, around a few bends, and doubling on many switchbacks, you will pass by the intersection with the Wailua House Lots trail on your left, and about three switchbacks later you will arrive at a picnic shelter. Just east of the picnic shelter is a narrow bench or love seat with a scenic view through a break in the trees. Sit a spell, have lunch if you brought it, or just talk story with other hikers who happen by every few minutes.

Still Dry beyond the One Mile Marker
Still dry beyond the 0ne-mile marker – WenYu stops to catch her breath
Lookout at the Picnic Shelter
Lookout at the picnic shelter – vog blocks the view













Thus ends the state sanctioned hike. That is, the trail is only maintained up to a point about 25 yards beyond the picnic shelter. While the views are stunning, hiking past the “End of Trail” sign, which someone has recently twisted 90 degrees away from hikers, is strictly at your own risk.

View Just Before End of Trail
View just before end of trail
NOTICE: End of Trail
NOTICE: End of Trail!













Up ahead the trail runs a few yards along a narrow spine, scarcely wide enough for two people to pass, then continues ever steeper over a widening course to an 8-10 foot near vertical climb to the path along the summit. Going left at this juncture leads either to a hollowed out cave or up onto the “face” of the Sleeping Giant. Use extreme caution if there is any wind at all over the top because a light breeze becomes a shearing wind up there and there is no path, only rough stones, some of them loose, and a 500-foot drop to the east.

I visited the cave on this hike simply because I was tired. Nonetheless, a trip to the cave is always refreshing both for its shade and the venturi effect. NOTE: Field mice also enjoy the cave, although there were none up there the day of our hike.

West portal of the “Giant’s Eye”
View from the East Lanai
V0g-less view of Kapa‘a from the east lanai













From the junction above the little rock climb, the trail continues south up to the true summit at 1,280 feet above sea level ~ give or take. There you’ll find a concrete slab that served as the base of an abandoned warning beacon for the disused grass landing strip up the Wailua Valley (which is behind me in this photo).

Warning Beacon at True Summit
Warning Beacon at True Summit

 Your return trip to the trailhead may take nearly as long as the climb, not only because of variable terrain, but because you may find some of the views you missed as captivating as anything you saw on the way up. My personal favorite of the day was seeing Wai‘ale‘ale, like a floating dragon between the vog and clouds to the west.

Wai'ale'ale Amidst the Vog
Wai‘ale‘ale amidst the vog


Paying My Dues: Preserving the Trail for Future Hikers

boy crawling out of a dirt tunnel

As alluded to in a previous post, I got an early start in the woods, more specifically in earthworks—working with cinder blocks, logs, rocks, and sod—building dams, forts, and trails. My sister shared this photo with me the other day, to remind me of my roots, after I shared a photo of the days work, and that inspired this post.

Twenty years ago, I volunteered at Hoyt Arboretum in Portland, Oregon, as a weekend tour guide, as well as helping with trail restoration and invasive species control. Wishing to do contribute locally, I contacted the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and was thrilled accept an invitation to volunteer on Nounou (Sleeping Giant), and work with interns from KUPU Hawai`i Youth Conservation Corps. It’s the least I could do since I used these trails as if the mountain was my own front yard.

The project was nearly finished by the time I joined the team, and they had done some really awesome work, including cuts and fills, abutments, diversion trenches, retaining walls, and especially blocking “shortcuts” using fallen trees and brush which the crew removed from the trail. Some of these “shortcuts” had been used so heavily that it was often difficult to tell whether erosion brought about the shortcut or if overuse had actually caused the severe erosion observed in several places.

In some cases, only minor intervention was necessary to preserve the trail. Elsewhere, a little structure had to be added to stabilize the grade and/or simplify the ascent or descent for hikers. In the area shown below, what had been the trail was simply peeling off the slope, so the crew added poles, anchored with steel rebar, to retain what soil remained and channel some of the runoff so that the fill was less likely to wash away with the next rain.

downhill trail
Stabilizing Rail

Occasionally, erosion was so extreme that alternate diversion trenches as well as extensive structure and back-fill were required to restore the trail in cases of total washout. The last time I hiked the East Trail, this was an area I had to vault across or scramble through clinging to the red dirt wall at right with my bare hands because my chin was at about the same level as the restored trail. As you can see, diversion trenches were dug well above the former pit.

backfilled trail
Diversion Trench, Abutment, and Back-fill

Being the steepest approach to the summit, this trail frequently winds around or runs along solid vertical faces that do not lend themselves to alteration. The retaining wall shown below was cut from the stone face above it. I recall this switchback from earlier treks as a smooth blend that was slippery in all weather and reminded me of trying to climb up a spoon. At the left corner, it’s still a little slick, but thanks to the Division of Forestry and Wildlife and the Hawai’i Youth Conservation Corps, that “spoon” is much shorter and narrower.

a cut-and-fill retaining wall
Cut-And-Fill Retaining Wall

A few of the interns did some really nice work in stone just up the trail from where I was working with the everyone else on a series of back-filled abutments, retaining walls. Regrettably, I forgot to photograph the stonework, but wanted to share the photo of the area where I made a contribution. Shown below are two levels of log abutment (a third level lies below left), and a rock retaining wall through the center of this photo to the white rock above center.

abutment and rock wall
Split-Level Abutments, Back-fill, and Stone Retaining Wall

Before I could get there the next day, the crew finished another abutment and back-fill further down the trail, and afterward, a few interns who had never completed the hike were taken on a guided tour to the summit. Meanwhile, I look forward to working on Nounou again in September.