If you’ve ever had a conversation about rock climbing in Hawaii, the words “There’s no climbing in Hawaii,” more than likely came out of someone’s mouth. It’s a misconception that seems to be permanent in the collective mind of rock climbers, despite Hawaii having some recent features in Rock & Ice and Climbing Magazine, as well as the constant stream of pictures and video the climbers here post to social media.
The “No Climbing in Hawaii Myth,” was somewhat true until recently. There are a variety of quality boulders and cliffs here, but the discoveries and development didn’t start until the early 90s, with bouldering really starting to take off on the island of Oahu around 2010.
Hawaii’s rock is almost entirely basalt. There are some areas of limestone, but it more resembles a freshly exposed coral reef (jagged and brittle). It is a common misconception to think that the basalt here is only sharp volcanic rock, but the reality is that it comes in many forms. There are spots where, if you didn’t know better, you’d think you’re climbing on sandstone. Other spots have a coarseness to the rock that feels like granite. There is even a type of basalt here that is pockety and jagged, looking a lot like limestone. The conditions that the rock is subjected to have a dramatic effect on the variety of features that you get.
In Oahu, there are dozens of spots to boulder and a couple of amazing crags for sport climbing. Our favorite spot is The Arch, located on the northwestern tip of the island. Sitting seaside, at the base of the rugged and desolate slope of Kaena Point, this incredible piece of stone has the best and hardest roof climbs on the island. There are at least 15 problems here (V1-V11), with a couple of projects and a number of potential link-ups still to be had.
Over on Maui, you will find the best rock in the state. Thanks to a very motivated ohana (extended family) of climbers over there, the development has been absolutely blowing up lately – especially the sport climbing. Most of the crags are steep, and the rock varies from bullet columnar basalt to a type of volcanic tuft that reminds me of the Happy Boulders or Smith Rock. There’s even a 100-foot tall cave on Maui being bolted right now that looks like it’s out of the Red River Gorge!
Just about every visiting climber I have met are here for reasons other than climbing (weddings, surfing, just vacationing), and view any potential climbing as a bonus. That’s fine. The climbing here will always be outshined by the other great things this State has to offer, and that usually just means that these climbers are pleasantly surprised by the amount of climbing and quality of the rock. As time goes on, my hope is that we’ll start seeing more people here for climbing first, and everything else that Hawaii has to offer will be the bonus.
If you’re on Oahu, your best bet to get connected with climbers is at the two climbing gyms: Arch Project Climbing Center and Volcanic Rock Gym. If you need gear, stop by Climb Aloha’s new store in the middle of Honolulu. If you’re on the Big Island, there’s a new climbing there in Hilo called Ascension. You can also connect with climbers on the different islands via the following Facebook groups: “Climb Aloha”, “Climbers Association of Maui”, and “HI Climber” for Big Island.