Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

Babymoon canyoneering on the Big Island

Posted in Hawaii by canyoneering on March 5, 2016

Big Island 16

A year ago things were different and we knew changes were coming. To celebrate these changes, Laura and I journeyed to Hawaii’s Big Island for what could be called a ‘babymoon”. Such an appropriate place to celebrate the coming of two new lives to our family in a land that geologically speaking is in its infancy. The Big Island is less than half a million years old. To put that in perspective the earliest lines in the human genus evolved nearly three million years ago. What Hawaii Island lacks in age it makes up for in contrast and depth. It is surprising that a land that is so young can be so full of complexities. Laura and I looked to explore this land of contrasts, in addition to some second trimester relaxation for Laura.

Deserts, rain forests, beaches, mountains, grasslands, lava fields and one of the the most active volcanos in the world define this landscape. It is also a land of hundreds of canyons. The majority of them draining the abundant rains that fall on the northeastern slopes of Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain on planet Earth (that is if you measure it from its base at over 19,000 feet below sea level.) Three years earlier, my good friend and fellow canyoneering adventurer, Eric Leifer, moved to the Big Island and was the first to explore many of these drainages. After several days of hiking, beaching, snorkeling and exploring, we hook up with Eric for several days of Big Island canyoneering.

Big Island 01

Waikaumalo Creek, 3CIII
Big Island, Hawaii


It is good to see my old friend. I am excited to see what he has been exploring for the last few years; the same amount of time since we have seen each the other and shared in a descent. Not far from the ocean we drop Eric’s jeep along a nondescript park on the banks of Waikaumalo Creek. We begin hiking up a road and after not long are picked up by a local who drives us to the drop in spot. Creekside we don shortie wetsuits despite the warm Pacific Ocean air. The adventure begins. The canyon gets going immediately. After several rappels another fork of equal significance joins our own forming a staggeringly beautiful double waterfall room. Just downstream of this we are presented with what should be the next rappel, a 60- footer between a two ribbon waterfall. This, however, is the big jump Eric had been preparing me for. It will tie my record for my highest jump with a 60- foot plunge I did in Devil’s Canyon in the Superstition Mountains. That jump wasn’t all that pleasant when impacting the surface of the water. I am nervous but I don’t waste anytime. With a little guidance from Eric I line it up and hock my body over the edge, skipping the obligatory “1,2,3.” It seems to take awhile to hit the water but when I do I land it perfectly making for a much more comfortable landing than my previous jump of this height. As we continue downstream I marvel at the fact that a little over half a million years ago none of this existed. What did exist was a seemingly endless ocean punctuated by gases beginning to bubble to the surface from what would create this magical land. The waterfalls continue, some we rappel and  some we jump. As the drainage begins to lose it’s intensity we rock hop back to that park. Wetsuits come off with grass between my toes and the smell of the ocean not too far away.

Big Island 13

Kilau Creek, 3BIII
Big Island, Hawaii


On day two Laura and Eric’s friend, Kathryn, join us for a descent of Kilau Creek. We drop into the drainage with considerable less flow than the day’s previous. The first drop comes quickly. Laura hops on rope rappelling for three. Undoubtedly she is the first pregnant woman with twins to descend this route and probably the first to canyoneer on the Big Island, period. The flow dissipates and the route loses some of its luster but the vegetation is exquisite. A 115- foot fluted drywall covered in some of this luscious vegetation brings us  to an arched tunnel under a long abandoned road. Through the tunnel the ocean is in both eye and earshot. It reminds me of Grand Canyoneering bringing us ever closer to the roar of the Colorado River, except this body of water is infinitely larger, more powerful and complex than any other previous confluence. If followed long enough every single canyoneering descent I have ever been a part of would end up in the Pacific Ocean (the exception being the handful of descents I have done in Europe). This descent literally ends where the powerful waves of the Pacific crash onto the final boulders of Kilau Creek on a rocky beach. Stealth rubber meets salt water for the first time while canyoneering. I shimmy up a nearby Palm tree to pull down some coconuts. Passing around fresh coconut milk as we stare into the endless water will remain one of my more special moments in the canyonlands.