Kalawao County High Point Trip Report

Dates: December 12-14, 1998
Author: Bob Packard

Late in the day, hoping to attempt the HP the next day, I drove the 10 miles of dirt and muddy roads to the Campground (CG) at the overlook into Waikolu Valley and camped in my tent. One needs a jeep, as rental cars are not allowed on this road. A jeep is desired anyway because of the condition of the road. Couldn't see into Wailoku Valley. Rained during the night. I could get neither a permit nor information about Kalawao HP as it was Saturday and all offices were closed.

Weather was just as the next day but I decided to make an attempt as this was planned to be my last day on Molokai. The road keeps going another two miles to a trail head, but I didn't dare risk the jeep on it as my guide book told me it was bad and it was. Rutted and muddy with steep places. My guide book told me that the trail of sorts led a mile through a bog to an overlook into Pelekunu Valley, a point just 3/4 mile south of Kalawao HP. Much to my surprise and delight I found that a 6-inch wide boardwalk had been built (obviously since the guide book had been written) that whole mile. About 2/3 of the boardwalk had a metal grid, the rest had wooden cleats. Nonetheless, it was quite slippery and took some care to negotiate. Without the boardwalk, into the swamp you go. At the Pelekunu Overlook I hoped to see a way to go north and I did find what looked like a path that could be followed and even a blue ribbon. But the path looked horrible, it was raining, the trade winds were blowing hard and I had no visibility. Could not see even a few feet into Pelekunu Valley and I could see no landmarks of any kind. Miserable and not knowing what I was doing I turned around, hiked back and drove down the mountain. I went to the airport and added a day to my jeep rental and changed my flight to Oahu. Camped at Palaau State Park, again without either permit or information. It was Sunday, you know.

The next day was a beautiful, clear, sunny day with soft breeze. Visited Ed Misaki at the Nature Conservancy. By both reputation and his own admission he knows Molokai and the Molokai Forest Reserve, where the Kalawao HP is located, like the palm of his hand. Would he tell me how to get from the Pelekunu Overlook to Puu Alii. Nope. They discourage people from going into that area. He told me to be satisfied with getting as near as I had gotten already, that it was nothing but up and down and that Puu Alii had no distinguishing characteristics (he's wrong on that) and that there was no border marker (he might be right on that), but he did say that locals could negotiate it. Ha, ha! I now had a hunch about that blue ribbon, drove up the 10 miles of dirt road, walked the 2 miles of road (1 hour) and the 1 mile of boardwalk (1/2 hour). Warm and clear, I could see into both Waikolu and Pelekunu Valleys and I could make out the ridge leading north to Puu Alii and southeast to Kamakou (4,970 feet), HP of Molokai. Turns out there was a trail, marked with blue ribbon heading north, up and down along the ridge, exactly where I wanted to go. It took me 1.5 hours to go the 3/4 mile from the Pelekunu Overlook which is definitely north of Pepeopae over Puu Alii (4,250+ feet) to the 4,200+ foot point to its north.

The trail is not for wimps. I got lost a few times trying to find the next ribbon. I had to walk on tree roots and hang on tree limbs to avoid the mud holes which you could sink into up to the knee. I got better and better at this and eventually learned how to recognize the bad places by their gray flat appearance. Most of the time you could see nothing except the swamp and the slimy trees and tropical vegetation, but every once in a while you would find yourself on the ridge edge looking straight down into Pelekunu and could get an idea of where you were. I went up 5 times and down 4 on the way north and the steepness on the last down and the closeness of the last up were just right to agree with the map. A recount on the way back, which took me only 1 hour, gave me confidence that I had been to any potential HP of Kalawao County. I saw no border marker, but at the north end of the Summit of Puu Alii a fence goes off to the west perpendicular to the Pelekunu Ridge. I followed it west for a bit and then returned to the Ridge.