SAMPLE TRAIL HISTORY - From Native Paths to Volunteer Trails

Kaliuwa`a (Sacred) Falls


O Kama hoi paha oe,

O kanaka o ka pali ku,

O ka pali moe

O ka pali ku-hoho

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 cliff.


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 gorge.


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 idea died.


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 $2,544.66.


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 attendant.


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.   



Copyright: University of Hawai`i Press


Last Update: 11/09/13



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