It was ill-timed that I began Tuesday’s blog with the story about hiking Half Dome because that hike applies much more to the river hike that I did this morning. This morning’s hike was perhaps the most intense hike I’ve ever been on. I’m not quite an avid hiker, but I’ve done my share—Mission Peak in the Bay Area, various trails in Death Valley and the Santa Monica Mountains, the Half Dome climb—but none of those involved a guide that was needed for actual guiding. And the funny thing is, my footwear for all of those hikes was almost surely much better than the flip-flops that I wore today. Oh well.
Footwear was my biggest concern when I packed, believe it or not, but when I called Phil to see what he and Robby would be wearing, they were wearing flip-flops. I know better than to hike in flip-flops, but I figured camaraderie would get us through. I was also not expecting the level of intensity the hike required (Also, thinking about it now, had I brought better shoes, they would have been my running shoes, and since much of the hike was in ankle-deep-plus water, those would have been just as lousy.).
Plans for the trip were brought up Wednesday night. Since Phil’s friend Robby is visiting, Phil was taking him to stay at the river fales in Falease’ela on the south side of Upolu, which includes three meals and a 3.5 hour guided hike along the river. The people who own the fales ask for a minimum of 4 people for any stay… so Phil invited Max and me to come along.
We met at the fish market yesterday morning, ate “brunch,” and hopped on a bus down to Lefaga (Lefaga is the district, Falease’ela is the town. Lefaga is next to Sefata, which is the district of Group 81’s training village, Fausaga.). It was pouring rain in Apia. Phil thought we might drive to better weather. As we neared our destination, I turned to Phil and said, “We didn’t drive out of the rain yet.”
Phil smiled. “We still might.”
We didn’t. We were greeted by the couple that owns the fales, Olson and Jane. Both New Zealand natives, they run a literal mom-and-pop operation on his family’s land. They greeted us with coffee and banana muffins. The river fales, we found out, is a Peace Corps favorite, and Olson and Jane are on a first name basis with many many volunteers. So we chatted. It was still pouring rain, so Olson decided it best to hike this morning rather than yesterday afternoon. Phil, Max, Robby, and I retired to our fale to play Spades for the rest of the day. It was kind of awesome.
When we set out this morning, Olson warned us about the flip-flops, but he wasn’t too nervous, and we had nothing else. Since much of the hike is through water, its best to wear some sort of sandal that straps around the back of your foot. This is annoying in water, but walking through inches of mud is awful. All of us experience problems with the plastic toe-strap popping out from the rubber soul. The other problem with mud is it lubricates the bottom of your foot so there’s no traction. And traction is kind of a big deal for hikers. Oh well. We managed.
The hike began through brush, and then we crossed the river. Then we waded through the river for a while. Then up the banks of the river, back down into the river, back up. Eventually there were long stretches of walking through knee-deep water. These parts became the most loathsome because we were going against current and the water was moving fast enough that visibility was affected. So we were walking a bit blindly over uneven rocks, constantly shifting balance with each step, against a current trying its damnedest to steal our shoes. Going was slow.
Olson told us the night before about the 30-metre vertical climb, which sounded daunting, but by the time we arrived at the wall, it seemed like a welcome break to blind wading. I’ve never been rock-climbing in a gym, but I can’t imagine it’s much different from the wall on the river hike. It’s a vertical climb with natural crevices that serve as grips and toeholds.
Getting down required a 15-foot jump into a small, murky pool. “Bend your knees,” Oslon suggested.
The final part of the hike was another waterfall in which you scale a rock wall until you are behind the waterfall, and then do a combination jump/shoulder roll through the waterfall. It’s a high-volume waterfall with considerable height, so it feels not unlike being hit by a car. The saving grace is the pool of water below. It was intense.
All in all, it was a great time, Olson and Jane are great people and the hike is way cool. For added intensity, I’d recommend trying it in flip-flops.
Have a great weekend. Pictures below.
Max, me, Phil, and Robby waiting for the bus.
Max flirting on the bus.
In this picture, that's Olson at the top starting the rock-climb. Phil is doing the first jump into the pool (I believe I caught him just as his feet are entering the water... You can see small splashes beneath his feet.). Robby is waiting to jump next.
This shot was taken just after the one above. Olson is doing the vertical climb. Phil's arm is visible at the bottom of the rock face. The first vertical climb starts where Phil is and goes a little above the top of the first waterfall. The second vertical climb is up the second waterfall.
This is me standing in knee-deep water in the same position I was in when I took the photo at the top of this post. I handed the camera to max and he took it. I like it because it blue-ish hue that the camera automatically selected and the pose itself feel very Annie Leibovitz. Also, the light refraction in the water makes my legs look really short.
5 months ago