Maui – Waihee Ridge Trail: Acrophobe’s Delight

The welcoming sign at the trailhead to Waihee Ridge

The welcoming sign at the trailhead to Waihee Ridge

With only a couple days left on our Hawaiian adventure we thought it a good idea to get out and get some legitimately strenuous exercise. What better option than a beautiful nature hike!?! After a few minutes on the Google, we settled on a “moderate” trail hike known as Waihee Ridge–or, as I like to call it, the “holy f&*%ing s*%t this is terrifyingly high” hike. Read more…

If you have no fear of heights and are in decent shape, go do this hike and have a nice, worry-free couple hours. For everybody else, keep reading.
First, I don’t know who labeled this hike as “moderate” but I work out 3 times a week including a very strenuous cardio class (most of the time) and I would label this hike as “strenuous.” To make that point, here is a view of the trailhead

This path is actually steeper than it appears in this photo - be warned

This path is actually steeper than it appears in this photo – be warned

This was at least a 45 degree incline, and it lasted for about 20 minutes. So no, not moderate at all. Before I get on to the trail I think it important to make one point. There are NO bathrooms

The lone "bathroom" in the area - VERY important to go before you arrive

The lone “bathroom” in the area – VERY important to go before you arrive

I know, about now you’re not clear what I mean by “no bathrooms” given the whole photo above. Well, this blue thing pictured above certainly *looks* like a place where bathroom visitation occurs, I can assure you this is NOT a place you want to spend any time. It was the fullest, most vile smelling port o pottie ever. So vile in fact that I get my information second hand from my wife but am sure by the look on her face when she emerged that I’d much favor a UTI over even a moment inside. Heed this warning: Stop at a bathroom–ANY bathroom—in Wailuku before you head to Waihee Ridge. Nothing about this vile blue stink box suggested it was to be serviced any time soon.

*pausing to go shower*

The first thing I noticed as we started up the trail was the unstable cliffs sign posted above. Greeeeaaaattt.  How unstable could these cliffs really be, right? Probably more like those safety warnings  long Sunset Cliffs in Pt. Loma, not actually unstable, right? Still, not the most comfort-inducing first signage.

As we made it up the initial trail I started to wonder why the term “ridge” featured prominently in this description of the mountains. As we rounded the first truly flat portion of the hike I was greeted with this

Hard to describe the initial onset of acrophobia - fast heart beat, sweats and vertigo come to mind

Hard to describe the initial onset of acrophobia – fast heart beat, sweats and vertigo come to mind

At this moment, it occurred to me that perhaps I’d bitten off just a bit more than I could chew. I mean, I’d already scuba dived with sharks this week, wasn’t that enough potential death for one trip? I’m joking about the death part, but this is a useful point to have a talk with some of you who aren’t in love with heights. I am a member of the “extreme heights suck” club, so I can relate. Actually, I like to say that I don’t have any fear of heights, I have a very acute and well-developed fear of falling. What, you may ask, is the difference? If you strap a zipline harness on me, tell me it could hold the weight of an airplane, and act like you’ve done it before, I will happily plunge out onto a 50 or 100′ gorge without a second thought. Ditto for the top of the Empire State or any other tall building THAT HAS HIGH FENCES OR BARRIERS. See, my fear–relived numerous times over the next few hours on this hike–emerges when there are no restraints and nothing but my own prayers that I don’t lose my balance to keep me from plunging hundreds of feet to certain death. No sooner had I recaptured my perfect sense of this adrenaline-inducing worry than we rounded another trail corner and found this

If there was any question about the depths involved in a fall, this removed them

If there was any question about the depths involved in a fall, this removed them

You know those elderly people who move exceedingly gingerly down the street over sidewalk? Nothing really in their way, but life and time have robbed them of some motor skills and now every step is a carefully considered placement. This was me at least a dozen times up the ridge. I did, however, have two mental keys to keep me moving forward. The first came about 100 feet before the photo above. It was a charming family of seven–yes, seven–happily making their way up the ridge trail in front of us. To be clear, I mean 40-something mom and dad and five kids ranging from about 11 years to an infant. Yeah, I felt like Kevin Hart (LINK) even thinking about punking out with these kids shuffling along without a care in the world. If they could make it, it MUST be safe. Plus, ya know, dad had the infant on a shoulder carrier over his head, so what was my problem? Then, to channel a bit more internal strength I thought about a buddy of mine who routinely puts his fears in the crosshairs as a means of confronting them. I found this cool and hoped it would be useful for me along the way.

The other thing I thought about more than once was the number of Marines and Soldiers who enlist and  are simply told that they must face their fears. Some of them probably like the adrenaline rush from jumping out of planes or standing at the top of the world. But I bet many more carry dozens of pounds up narrow ridges with no support because they have found a way through whatever fear they may have had.

In case it’s not obvious, my VACATION isn’t remotely close to some young guy or woman risking their life so a little girl can learn to read. I am only saying that many people overcome things like a little acrophobia and thinking of these things helped me a bit.

Of course, they didn’t help right away, and when I saw the actual ridge in Waihee Ride I almost called it a day

The path isn’t very wide and there really is nothing on either side to keep me from finding out with certainty that I can’t fly. *deep breath* I put my head down, focused on the dirt in front of me and got to “safety” on the other side. That’s in quotes both because I was never in any real danger and because I found comfort between scrawny, mostly dead tree branches that gave me the illusion that I had something firm to grab onto. From one such perch, I turned back around and got this pretty breathtaking shot

Amazing shot of coastline

Amazing shot of coastline

These views were everywhere along this hike. If you have no height concerns and enjoy natural beauty, this hike will be a real treat. Heck, as I finally got to the top I felt pretty good about the views, especially this one


I’d like to spend more time on what we found, but the views from the top looked a lot like the views from near the top. So that last time I thought about turning back I could have. Still, it felt good to make it, event if I wasn’t looking forward to the trip back down the trail. One last photo before offering some helpful tips.

For perspective on heights

For perspective on heights

You see that tiny speck near the top of the ridge line? That’s a 6’2″ man we passed on the way down. So, yeah, it was pretty high.  Now, a few quick tips for those considering this hike:

  1. Use the bathroom in Wailuku!
  2. Wear shoes with lots of traction. It gets muddy up there and in some of the least helpful places. I slipped twice, once all the way to the ground.
  3. It closes at 5 and there is a gate that gets locked. The whole thing is at least 3 hours so plan accordingly.
  4. Bring water. We did this hike in November and were drenched. Actually, bring some coconut water, it’s got electrolytes and is reasonably tasty. Buy the pack at the store, not the actual coconut, which is better for the beach.
  5. The most harrowing portions are from about mile one to almost mile two. After that you get a pretty flat, safe feeling area to relax a bit before another stressful stretch the last 1/4 mile.
  6. Perhaps the best news for acrophobes, the way down is MUCH easier. Hard to explain, but on the way down you know better where the tight turns are and they don’t seem so tight. Plus, you know it’s possible to because you just walked the ground in the other direction.
  7. Bring a full change of clothes (unless you don’t mind sitting in funky clothes while eating). This hike really isn’t near south or west Maui and you are likely going to want to eat. You will be much more comfortable in fresh clothes.

That’s it. Have fun and be safe!

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