Historically climbing was a common practice for Hawaiians whether they were moving through the sheer mountain cliffs or up and down the sea cliffs to access fishing areas, or establishing burial caves on every Hawaiian Island. Inside the burial caves, they have found remains of stretchers, canoes, ropes, and torches, indicating that our ancestors used the ropes for rigging the large canoes up and down the sea cliffs and mountainsides. Whether or not they used the rope or free climbed the areas is unknown.
KAUA’I KĀNAKA CLIMBING HISTORY: The upward trek from Nuʻalolo ʻĀina to Nu’alolo Valley from Nu’alolo Kai began at the base of the 300-foot high Alapi‘i (path of ascension) Point. First, climbers had to travel along the reef to a 25–30 foot vertical free climbing section up to a ledge, then up a ladder made from two long olopau sticks that were lashed to the cliff with olonā ropes. This carried the climber up to another ledge where carved hand holds aided another 8–10 foot free climb. After this, they needed to traverse a narrow trail cut into the rock leading up to Alapi’i Point. Because of the challenging access, the village of Nuʻalolo ʻĀina could be protected by just 3 men.
This route was also used by Kānaka to climb to the top Mount Kamaile to celebrate ‘ōahi (fireworks) and mark meaningful events. Brave and expert climbers ascended the cliffs with bundles of dried sticks to set them on fire and throw them off like flaming spears. Because the sticks were light and hollow, they burned beautifully while floating on the cliff's updrafts before falling to earth.
The missionary Gorham Gilman, who visited Nualolo in 1845, described his attempt to negotiate the trail: "There I was, my chief support a little projecting stone, not sufficient a hold for my whole foot, and my hands clinging with a death grasp to the rock ... which would have proved my death place if I had made the least mistake or slip. I had strong curiosity to go forward, but discretion prevailed and I returned. I was then told that few white men had gone as far as I had, and none had ever passed the ladder."
The Nualolo locals, however, went up and down the ladder with ease, often carrying heavy loads. "What we see today as inaccessible," observes regular volunteer Randy Wichman a dashing and able historian, yachtsman and woodcutter of aristocratic Hawaiian and missionary lineage "was laughable to the Hawaiians that were here."
We canʻt wait to witness the next generation of Kānaka from Waimea, traveling the same path as our ancestors and reinvigorating this tradition.
Because Nu’alolo is culturally significant and has sensitive archaeological sites, it is only accessible by boats with a REQUIRED PERMIT!