I couldn’t see anyone above me, nor could I see Saepae below. There was just me, hanging there on a rope, and a very long drop down. “Mom, you’re not going to want to do this,” I yelled, more to myself than to her, though she’s the one with a particular dislike for heights.
Then a terrible thought gripped me - how would we get back up?
Saepae’s voice pushed the thought away and gave me strength as he called out instructions. “Most people would swing left, but you want to move to the right ... Reach your foot to that rock ...” Inching down the line, roots and rock crevices offered support. I could finally see Saepae and the wave of panic gave way to the thrill of the adventure. There were a few more steep rope climbs before reaching the bottom. The climb up the third peak was marked by narrow, gravelly slopes, crumbly rock and more ropes. Eventually, all five of us reached the top, but I was too exhausted to feel anything but dazed.
We relaxed while relishing Tsukamoto’s stories about hiking with Saepae on Molokai - anything to take my mind off the fact that I couldn’t just slide down the side of the mountain and that no helicopter would be my flight in shining armor and whisk me off the peak.
By the time we reached the ropes leading up to the second peak, we were old pros. Step by step we wended our way up, retracing our route all the way back to firm ground on the paved Luana Hills Road.
Saepae’s speedy three-hour weekend jaunt had turned into a five-and-a-half hour strenuous feat for the rest of us. I have to admit that I was too drained to feel accomplished or energized. I was just relieved that it was over ... until I noticed an adventurous twinkle in Saepae’s eyes.
“You should come on the Molokai trip,” he said of the four-day, three-night expedition that only his company is extreme enough to offer (www.hawaiisbestactivities.com). Tsukamoto, who breezed through Olomana, described the Molokai venture as one of her more challenging excursions. The hike can only be reached by boat and the ocean is so rough that it is only accessible in the summer. Even then, the boat can only go so far, so thrill seekers have to kayak in or sometimes jump into the ocean with dry bags and swim to shore. Once there, they are rewarded with unforgettable meals cooked by Saepae using vegetables from a nearby garden and fresh fish from mountain streams. They also have the rare privilege of viewing one of the world’s tallest waterfalls with a height of more than 2,000 feet.
Saepae notes, “People think they’re seeing beautiful views, but they don’t know what an amazing view is until they visit the north shore of Molokai.”I feel Molokai beckoning.
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“I’m concerned about that cloud,” he said pointing to an ominously dark sky just above the peaks. “We’ll keep our eye on it.”
Surprisingly the path was dry. In fact, the day was quite warm, and along with the steep ascent and our brisk pace a couple of us were overwhelmed by dizziness. Saepae took the helm and Tsukamoto hung back with us slowpokes.
Born in the jungles of Thailand, Saepae is at home in the forest. He alerted us to various bird calls and pointed out indigenous flowers and plants, naming some that have medicinal uses. He pointed out patches of strawberry guava and at one point held up a papaya lilikoi. Adopting his best Crocodile Dundee accent, he announced, “That’s not a knife, this is a knife” as he pulled out a sizable hiking blade and sliced into the delicious tropical fruit, offering samples to a couple of grateful first-timers.
As we panted our way uphill, we were thankful for Saepae’s descriptive explanations, as they were both informative and gave us a chance to rest.As a professional tour guide, he had come prepared - his equipment included a backpack full of climbing rope. That brutal-sounding third peak lingered menacingly in the back of my mind.
Forging on, we approached a group of fellow trekkers who were already returning. “Did you do all three peaks?” I asked. “No,” they chimed unanimously, and then chuckled patronizingly as though I had asked if they’d ever been to the moon. I got a quick and definite “no” from the next few returnees as well. Finally, four fit young men in their 20s came bounding toward me and I repeated my query, “Did you do all three?”
“No way,” they scoffed. “The third peak is nuts!”
It didn’t take long for us to realize that even the first peak was nuts. Some who had brought up the front suddenly held back when we came to a vertical rock wall fitted with a thick knotted rope. Comments about turning back broke out. Saepae assured us we were almost at the top of the first peak and he gently encouraged us onward, helping us find our footing, one by one. After a few more rope climbs and some frighteningly thin paths lining deathly sheer cliffs, we arrived at the first peak.
We soaked in the stunning views of Kaneohe Bay on one side and the majestic Ko’olau Range on the other before one couple headed home to pack for their flight to Korea the next morning (or so they claimed!). The other two couples were thoroughly satisfied (or scared) by the trip to K-1. The remaining four - Saepae, Tsukamoto, my mom (Lynn Weir) and I - took a moment to compose ourselves for the task ahead.
It was a quick and easy hike to the second peak, where we met Craig Stier, a military man recently stationed in Hawaii, who had served as a hiking guide on the Mainland for years.
“My wife read that this is an intermediate hike,” he said. “But there’s nothing intermediate about it. This is definitely for experienced hikers.”Craig’s wife Melanie was only too happy to stay on K-2 while he ventured out with our group to tackle the infamous K-3.
The moment of truth was at hand. We stood looking at a rope that descended down from the second peak and my stomach lurched. Saepae, his sinewy body toned by years of steady hiking, deftly maneuvered over the cliff and down the rope. “Next!” he called out from below the ledge, where he was hidden from sight.
Before I had a chance to back out, I heaved myself over the edge and, dangling with a death grip on the rope, I struggled to find my footing.
“The trick is to put your weight on your feet,” offered Chris. “You don’t want to grip the rope so tight or you’ll tire yourself out.”Already exhausted from the climb up the mountain, my knees were like rubber.
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The following is from the featured article: TO THE TOP OF HAWAII’S MATTERHORN from http://www.midweek.com http://archives.midweek.com/content/story/midweek_extrastory/to_the_top_of_hawaiis_matterhorn/
MidWeek’s intrepid reporter braves sheer faces and razor-thin trails to successfully reach the summits of the three peaks of Mount Olomana. The three peaks of Olomana are so daunting that they’re known around the island as The Matterhorn.
Wednesday - December 05, 2007 By Rasa Fournier
The three peaks of Olomana are so daunting that they’re known around the island as The Matterhorn. Our informal guide for the day, Yeayin Saepae, refers to the triple gauntlet as K-1, K-2 and K-3, after K2, the second highest mountain in the world, known to be more lethal than Everest.
“I hike Olomana, all three peaks, every week - I’ve been doing it for eight years,” says Saepae, the president of Hawaii’s Best Activities, adding, “Even after all these years, there is one place where my legs still get a little shaky.”
He’s talking about the climb from peak two to peak three, which is so arduous that it’s only described in hyperbolic terms.
“I did it once many years ago,” said one experienced hiker. “It was so scary, I will never do it again.”
Another adventure seeker recounted how he had trained for Olomana for two months only to start up the first peak and turn back because rain from the night before had made the path too slippery.
With nervous anticipation, I joined a group of seven other newcomers who had banded together to join Saepae on his weekly climb. We were also accompanied by his friend Jean Tsukamoto, who also had conquered Olomana a few times already, bringing our group to 10. Like the wide, deceptively peaceful river that suddenly turns into a tumultuous maelstrom, we meandered along the manicured roads of Luana Hills Country Club and then ducked into the wild undergrowth to begin our ascent.Near the door of the path a tree trunk was pregnant with a busy swarm of bees - sinister keepers of the gate. Being that I’m allergic to bee stings, the hive increased a foreboding feeling that had been hanging over me. Already we had left our cars parked on the side of a road strewn with glass from broken car windows. Even worse, a steady rain had continued through the night. Since I live only about a mile from Olomana, I called Saepae first thing in the morning to confirm that the hike was off, but he hadn’t answered his phone.