Last week my wife, Hannah, was invited to the Haleakala Waldorf School
on Maui, Hawaii, to give a presentation on early childhood development. I was able to break away, too, and join her.
“Too bad there’s no climbing in Hawaii.”
These words were repeated to me over and over again by my co-workers, friends and Facebook community. Sometimes people would say (or write), “There’s climbing
but it’s super sharp,” or, “It’s all choss,” or simply, “Don’t bother, dude.” So, despite my certifiable OCD condition when it comes to this sport,
I went into the trip with low expectations.
The first two Hawaiian words I learned were aloha and mahalo. It started on the plane with the pillow-lipped, brown-skinned airline stewards—laid
back, thick-armed men and smiling women with straight white teeth and good posture. They all used aloha and mahalo.
By the time we landed in Maui I had mahalo figured out. It was the Hawaiian word for thanks, appreciation, gratitude. But even by the fifth day
of the trip, driving from the upcountry town of Kula toward Lahaina to check out Maui’s rumored bouldering, I had no clue what aloha meant.
People seemed to be using it for hello and goodbye, peace, love, compassion, what’s up, right on, thanks, solidarity, bitchin’ and go for it. There
was even a hand signal for aloha called the shaka sign—thumb and pinky extended, three middle fingers curled (and if you’re really feeling
the aloha, you rotate your hand so that the extended fingers pivot like a sprinkler head).
I met Justin Ridgely, the owner of the Oahu climbing gym, Volcanic Rock Gym, at the Macgregor Point Lighthouse. He and two other Oahu climbers, Curtis
Loo and Tyler Williams, had flown to Maui that morning at 5 a.m. just to give me the tour. Belying Hawaii’s reputation as being one of those god-forsaken
places like Kansas and Florida with no climbing, Ridgely told me that he and his friends on Oahu have been finding lots of blocks—over 50 areas
with dozens of problems. Triads (one of the Oahu areas) alone has 50 boulders with established lines. Ridgely has also made five trips to Maui, a 30-minute
fight, and established a few classic lines including a beautiful, 20-foot long, wave-sculpted roof with a good landing called Grandmas (V9).
The day I visited we scrambled to a sea-level cave just below the lighthouse, a mile or two east of Grandmas and sessioned a new V6 with a heads-up
landing. Ridgely sent and called the problem The Viking after a geo-cache we found at the base.
The rock was OK. Blocky basaltic greenschist reminiscent of the Bay Area’s Mickey’s Beach. A little gritty, a bit friable, but—in contrast to so many lauded bouldering zones in the continental United States—the bouldering I did in Maui required zero prep. No prying or scrubbing or building landings. We just hopped on and worked out the sequence. A couple of holds broke. We used a boar-bristle brush to scrub some sand from the footholds, but no big deal, especially when humpbacked whales were spouting just off shore, scooped tails flopping up like, well, shaka signs. I looked along the rocky shoreline and saw another potential bouldering cave at water level. It appeared that the cliff was etched along the coast for miles promising lots more routes and boulder problems, especially given the obvious stoke of the locals.
The thought made me smile and I realized for the thousandth time that good climbing is more about the vibe—the amiability of your comrades and the pure love of moving your body in a dance choreographed by nature—than it is about the quality of the rock. Just then a sea turtle head as big as a pineapple popped out of the shimmering, crystal-clear water and looked at me with wise, sentient eyes and it just came out of me—I whispered “aloha” to the turtle.
I glanced around furtively to make sure nobody had heard me being so warm and fuzzy and luckily nobody had. The turtle, on the other hand, eyed me with obvious interest, fanning his front flippers through the faded-jean colored water, studying me over his narrow beak.
“Aloha, braddah,” he said holding up one flipper and rotating it in a sort of fingerless shaka sign.
Wow. I’d heard Hawaii was magical—in fact, the term “magical” is employed almost as often as aloha and mahalo—but I had not realized that the animals actually spoke!
We moved our party to the parking area above Grandmas and Justin pointed uphill to a squatty cluster of ocher boulders. On a whim, we decided to hike up there. Five minutes later we were feeling the holds on two 15-foot boulders of near-perfect, pocketed, volcanic tuff similar to the stone found at El Diente near Guadalajara, Mexico—better, for example, than most of the tuff at Smith Rock, Oregon. Texture like 40-grit sandpaper, comfortable sloped holds, incut top outs, flat grassy landings, afternoon shade, logical sit-down starts protectable with one regular-sized pad. Kinda perfect, really. Kinda … magical.
The boulders, which we called the Grandpas, are situated at the start of a five-mile trail rife with drainages and other clusters of ocher boulders. We put up eight new problems from V0 to V7 with the king-line arête, probably V8 to V10, still waiting for somebody with three pads and lots of “geev’ um.”
At the end of the day we sat in the warm sun drinking Budweisers and talking about the future of Hawaiian rock climbing. In contrast to the reports, I’d found a literal “choke” of “da’ kine” rock on Maui and an eager, super-friendly crew of “kamaainas” out there developing it.
So the next time anybody asks you about the climbing in Hawaii, you can tell them that it’s there “fo’ shua,” and it’s totally aloha, braddah.