SAMPLE TRAIL HISTORY - From Native Paths to Volunteer Trails
O Kama hoi
O kanaka o
ka pali ku,
O ka pali
O ka pali
O ka pali
ka`a o ka pohaku...
Thou art indeed Kama
The man of the high cliffs,
Of the low lying cliffs,
Of the steep cliffs,
Of the cliffs of the rolling stones...
-old Hawaiian chant, Pele speaking to Kamapua`a
In the windward Ko`olauloa district just north
of Punalu`u Valley was the ahupua`a
(land division) of Kaluanui. In the level makai
(seaward) portion, early Hawaiians grew taro in lo`i (terraces) watered by Kaluanui Stream and its two small
tributaries Waimanamana and Ku`umi. Mauka
(inland) the valley narrowed to a rugged gulch framed by high, steep cliffs.
Confined to the canyon, the stream rushed headlong toward the ocean in a series
of rapids and cascades. Hawaiians developed a route up the gulch to the first
waterfall, called Kaliuwa`a (canoe leak) and created a powerful and enduring
legend about the surrounding ravine.
Kaliuwa`a was the abode of Kamapua`a, a demigod
who took the form of a man or a pig. As a hog, he frequently stole chickens
from the nearby Kahana and Punalu`u lands of Olopana, king of O`ahu. While
coming home late one night from foraging, Kamapua`a met a supernatural chicken,
who betrayed him to the king's guards. Olopana quickly organized a search party
from the men of Kaluanui, Punalu`u, and Kahana. Over 800 hundred strong, they
easily captured the surprised pig, tied him to a pole and began carrying him
back to Kahana. In Punalu`u, Kamaunuaniho, the grandmother of Kamapua`a, saw
the procession and chanted in honor of her grandson. The pig merely answered
with a grunt, but in Kahana he burst the ropes and killed all his captors
except one, who fled to tell Olopana.
The legend goes on to repeat the capture and
escape cycle three more times. Each time the search party grew in size, and the
chant became more powerful. For the fifth attempt Olopana recruited the entire
male population of the island. All were armed with clubs, spears, or daggers
and were dressed for battle in feather cloaks and helmets. When Kamapua`a heard
the army coming up the gulch, he leaned against the high pali (cliff) on the Punalu`u side just before Kaliuwa`a Falls. His
family and servants then scrambled up his hog back out of the steep ravine. His
grandmother, however, declined to brave the bristly back of her grandson, so
Kamapua`a pressed into the pali facing
outward, and she climbed up his soft teats to safety. When Olopana's warriors
arrived below the falls, all they saw was a long gouge in the face of the
In early 1838, Edwin O. Hall left Honolulu on
an 11-day tour around O`ahu on horseback. He undertook the journey to relax and
become better acquainted with the Hawaiian people and their language. After
traveling to Wai`anae and over Kolekole Pass to Waialua, he decided to visit
well-known Kaliuwa`a Falls on his way down the windward coast. Hall and his
native guide rode horses about two miles into Kaluanui Valley and then
continued up the narrowing gulch on foot. As the walls closed in, the two men
crossed the rushing stream several times under a lovely canopy of `ōhi`a
`ai (mountain apple) and kukui trees. Farther in, the guide pointed out the
gouge left by Kamapua`a and undoubtedly retold the famous legend. At the trail
end, Hall viewed the waterfall, which
is from eighty to one hundred feet high, and
the water compressed into a very narrow space just where it breaks forth from
the rock above.
At the base of the fall was a large, circular
pool said to be bottomless. The guide also told Hall about two upper falls, one
of which was 200 to 300 feet high and visible from the road along the shore.
During the entire walk Hall marveled at the wild beauty and romance of the
A scene where the sublime is mingled with the
beautiful, and the bold and striking with the delicate and sensitive; where
every sense is gratified, the mind calmed, and the whole soul delighted.
Needless to say, Kaliuwa`a was one of the
highlights of his trip.
In 1875, Queen Emma, widow of King Kamehameha
IV, asked an old friend, John A. Cummins, to accompany her on a tour around
O`ahu. Cummins, the future owner of Waimanalo Sugar Company, readily agreed and
began preparation for a lavish and leisurely 15-day excursion. On November 5,
Cummins, the queen, and her large retinue left Honolulu on horseback bound for
Waimānalo. The cavalcade included 140 women riders dressed in colorful pā`u (skirts). The party spent the
first three nights at Mauna Rose, Cummin's spacious plantation house. Each
evening he treated his guests to a sumptuous luau and hula dancing lasting well
into the night. Reluctantly leaving Waimānalo, the group slowly proceeded
up the windward coast, stopping at Kāne`ohe, Waikāne, Kahana, and
Punalu`u. On November 13 near Hau`ula, Cummins and Queen Emma took a wild surf
ride in a canoe drawn by two horses racing along the beach. Totally soaked, the
two were carried up to Kaliuwa`a Falls to wash off the salt, change clothes,
and enjoy refreshments. A large crowd gathered by the pool, where many jumped
or dived into its deep, cool water. After the Kaliuwa`a outing, the queen's
party continued up the coast to Waialua and eventually returned to Honolulu
through Wahiawā. Twenty-three years later on October 22, 1898, Company H
of the U. S. Army First Regiment of New York Volunteers visited Kaliuwa`a Falls
as part of a rigorous training hike around the island. Undoubtedly the soldiers
enjoyed the fall and pool as much as Cummins and Queen Emma.
In 1906, windward sugar baron James B. Castle
leased the makai portion of Kaluanui
Valley from B. P. Bishop Estate. He built a horse trail, later known as the
Castle Trail, from Punalu`u Valley to the upper Kaluanui drainage to measure
the stream flow. He then diverted much of the lower stream into a ditch to
irrigate sugar cane and rice fields. He also built a mountain house in the
gulch near a stream gaging station at an elevation of 250 feet. In 1917 the mauka portion became part of the Hau`ula
Forest Reserve. On August 8 of that year, Superintendent of Forestry Charles S.
Judd hiked up to the falls while inspecting the forest.
By the late 1910s, Kaliuwa`a Falls had become a
popular destination for kama`āina
(native born) and tourist hikers. They observed Hawaiians carefully placing a
leaf, twig, or flower along the path, usually on a boulder and kept in place by
a stone. Those simple offerings to Kamapua`a insured a safe trip without injury
from falling rocks or from slipping in the stream. Non-Hawaiian hikers often
followed that ritual and soon began calling the cascade Sacred Falls. In the 1920s,
one haole (white) hiker neglected to
leave an offering, fell into the stream several times, and then asked if the
place was called Sacred Falls because each fall was more sacred than the last.
On June 27, 1920, the Hawaiian Trail and
Mountain Club (HTMC) scheduled Sacred Falls as part of an around the island
autobus trip. About 60 hikers enjoyed lunch on the beach at Hau`ula and then
headed for the falls. They followed the tracks of the Ko`olau Railway and soon
swung right, through cane fields into the gulch where they crossed the stream
eight times. Presumably some of the group left an offering because they all
came out safely and continued the tour up the windward coast.
In early 1934, Kermit Kosch decided to explore
the upper waterfalls along Kaluanui Stream. One morning he and his friend David
Hague hiked the old Castle Trail from Punalu`u Valley and then began rock
hopping downstream toward the ocean. In short order the two reached the top of
a first waterfall, which dropped about 100 feet. After some searching, the men
found a steep, treacherous route around the fall. They swam across the pool at
its base and continued downstream past several smaller cascades. Suddenly the
stream narrowed to a deep channel flanked by vertical cliffs and spilled 30
feet into the forbidden pool,
a capacious, deep circular contour so named by
me on account of its stymie position, shutting off further advance toward the
head of the [next] falls.
Without ropes for rappelling, Kosch and Hague
could not safely negotiate the pool and the waterfall just beyond, and so
reluctantly turned back.
On December 10, 1934, Honolulu Mayor George F.
Wright met with Bishop Estate trustee Albert F. Judd to discuss Sacred Falls
becoming a city park. The estate proposed to turn over 350 acres in Kaluanui
Valley to the city in exchange for property elsewhere. The city and county
would then build an access road into the valley and upgrade the trail to the
falls. On December 15, Territorial Forester Charles Judd met with the trustees
to discuss the proposal, as the road and trail entered the Hau`ula Forest
Reserve. However, the three parties involved never reached agreement, and the
After World War Two, Sacred Falls became trail
number 15 on the 1947 forestry hiking map. That same year HTMC resumed hiking
to the falls. In 1952 the club erected signs showing hikers the correct route
up the valley. In 1954 workers under the Hawai`i Employment Program rerouted
the trail to eliminate all but two of the stream crossings at a cost of
During the 1960s, the Sacred Falls Trail
continued to be very popular with the hiking public. In 1963, however, Paradise
of the Pacific magazine railed against the creeping commercialization of the
area in an editorial entitled "Nothing Sacred at Sacred Falls".. A
concessionaire charged fifty cents for parking and sold soda pop and candy at a
small stand near the entrance. Even worse, no one could start hiking after 4 p.m.
We were staggered to think that a god's domain
could be opened and shut like an amusement arcade at the mere whim of an
In early May 1963, HTMC member Richard H.
(Dick) Davis and four others attempted to descend the upper Kaluanui waterfalls.
Over several days they climbed the Castle Trail and rappelled down several
good-sized cascades before being stopped by a waterfall so high that it took
their breath away. Davis later decided to climb upstream starting at Sacred
Falls. On November 3, he reached its top by driving pitons into the rock and
rigging fixed ropes. On November 10, Davis and seven companions ascended Sacred
Falls and camped along the stream for the night. The next day the group rock
hopped upstream and climbed past two smallish falls. At the base of a 100-foot
cascade, they ran out of pitons. Just beyond was the immense waterfall reported
to be over 300 feet high.
In 1977, Sacred Falls officially became a state
park. HTMC soon visited the new park as part of their outing of February 25,
1978 and continued to schedule the hike as a Saturday outing for novices and
families through 1985. Hordes of tourists and locals also walked the trail to
marvel at Kamapua`a's gouge, admire the lovely falls, and swim in the
bottomless pool. Some still placed an offering on a boulder to insure their
immunity from the occasional falling rock.
In 1995, HTMC developed a difficult outing
starting from Sacred Falls State Park. Called Kamapua`a, the hike climbed the
steep divide between Kaluanui Valley and Punaiki Gulch just mauka of Pu`u Waiahilahila. The hikers
then followed the rugged ridge to a junction with the Castle Trail well above
Kaluanui Stream and the last waterfall. On March 24, 1996, Mike Mottl led the
first Kamapua`a hike; no one reached the Castle junction.
On the afternoon of Sunday May 9, 1999, about
60 people were relaxing around the pool at the base of Sacred Falls. Around
2:30 p.m. a small section of the cliff 500 feet above the pool on the Punalu`u
side broke away and slid down a dry waterfall chute. Airborne for the last 150
feet, the rocks and debris smashed into the streambed just below the pool,
killing eight people and injuring 32. The State immediately closed the park. A
U.S. Geological Survey team later investigated the site and determined that the
rock fall was caused by the long term degrading of the slope, an ongoing
process in the gulch. The team recommended that the park be closed permanently
as there was no way to lessen the hazard without totally destroying the
aesthetic of the hike. As of 2009, Sacred Falls State Park remained closed,
although several proposals have surfaced to reopen a portion of it.
After viewing photographs of the two highest
waterfalls taken from a helicopter, Merlin Wollenzein, a database specialist at
Brigham Young University-Hawai`i, decided to attempt the descent of the upper
Kaluanui falls in 2006. On September 15, he and two companions followed the
Ma`akua Ridge Trail and then climbed the ridge separating Papali and Ma`akua
Gulches to a saddle, known in the 1930s as the "pig wire". There the three men
took the Castle Trail down to Kaluanui Stream, where they camped for the night.
The next morning the group headed downstream and easily rappelled the first
waterfall, 100 feet high. The three then negotiated the short drop into the
forbidden pool and descended a second cascade, 80 feet high. At its base
Wollenzein decided to turn around because of continuing rain, high water, and a
shortage of rope.
On October 6, Wollenzein made a second attempt
to reach the "big drops" under much drier conditions. He and three friends took
the same approach route and again camped where the Castle Trail crossed the
stream. The next day they quickly descended the first three waterfalls, the
last two by jumping, after setting up ropes. The group bypassed the fourth
cascade by crossing over a side ridge and rappelled down the fifth, 110 feet
high, using their next to last rope.
Soon the four reached a precipice where the stream dropped over 700 feet
in two long cascades. Wollenzein started down and later enthused,
As I was descending I was astounded by the
sheer magnitude of the drop. The rappel was thrilling, the view was awesome,
and the splash of the cool water felt good in the warm sun.
He reached the bottom with no rope to spare,
and one other joined him there. After the two climbed back up the waterfall
using ascenders, the group backtracked up the remaining five waterfalls and
headed for home.
On April 7, 2007, Wollenzein attempted to
descend the Kaluanui waterfalls and hike out the Sacred Falls Trail all in one
day. His team included seven members, David Paddock and Jenne Anderson, both
veterans of the second trip, Jared Halterman, Yo Phetsomphou, brothers Adam and
Nate Wadsworth, both experts in ropes, knots, and anchoring techniques, and
their friend Jeff. The seven men and one woman left the Ma`akua trailhead at
5:15 a.m. and had breakfast at the campsite by the stream. The group then
methodically descended the six known waterfalls, jumping the low ones and
rappeling the high ones. At the top of the huge seventh cascade, the team
carefully setup their gear. Seven members then descended the 510-foot drop
without incident. Wollenzein, the last to go, was 300 feet down the chute when
he felt the rope detach. He crashed into the wall twice before free falling 100
feet into the plunge pool at the base of the falls. After surfacing with only
minor injuries, Wollenzein yelled to his worried companions, "That sucks!" With
daylight running out, the shaken group settled down and descended two more
waterfalls, 50 and 140 feet high, and finally 87-foot Sacred Falls. Wollenzein
and Adam Wadsworth jumped Kaliuwa`a because they didn't want to wait for the
rope. The entire team made it out safely sometime after dark.