Native Intelligence: O`ahu

Rock Fever

Story by Sonny Ganaden. Photos by David Chatsuthiphan.

As the popularity of bouldering—the low-altitude form of rock climbing that uses no ropes or harnesses—has grown, the number of bouldering spots around the Islands has multiplied. Like the surfers of the 1950s and 1960s who pioneered breaks such as Waimea Bay and the Banzai Pipeline, rock climbers in Hawai‘i today have been bringing to light new bouldering locales. Future Caves, Triads, Bunker Boulders and Oz are among the hot spots. But the most awe-inspiring of them all is a natural lava-rock arch near Ka‘ena Point on O‘ahu. It is simply, and reverently, called The Arch.

“The Arch is huge and scary,” says Justin Ridgely, an elite boulderer and owner of Volcanic Rock Gym, an indoor climbing facility in Kailua. Ridgely “discovered” The Arch for rock climbers (hikers and fishermen have always known about it) on a slow night at the gym in 2010 while killing time on Google Earth. He and a group of his bouldering buddies were soon trekking to the spot with all the necessary gear: rock climbing shoes, chalk for sweaty fingers and the mattress-like crash pads they use to soften their falls. The Arch turned out to be even more awesome in real life than online. “We couldn’t believe it when we got there,” Ridgely says. “Its lowest point, where you start climbing, is eight feet off the ground.” The Arch is one hundred feet across and twenty-five feet tall with a very rocky “landing,” as climbers call the ground. On a west swell or a high tide, it is often sea-swept and inaccessible. So like a great surf spot, it is both dangerous and capricious.

To date climbers have mapped out seventeen of The Arch’s “problems,” as known routes of ascent are called, many of them inverted. The problems—which have evocative names like Big Baby Buddha, Pidgin Lessons and ArchArchArch!—over-lap, creating a theoretically possible route across The Arch’s entirety. But that’s an over-the-rainbow frontier that remains to be crossed. Ridgely realizes The Arch might be a once-in-a-lifetime discovery, but his online hunt for new bouldering problems in the Islands continues. Lately he’s been using social media to find leads. “I follow all the hikers and outdoors people I can find,” he says, “mainly looking in the background of their photos for spots to climb.”

Justin Ridgely (seen here and in the montage on the opening page) scales The Arch, a newly discovered rock climbing spot on the North Shore that has grabbed the attention of elite rock climbers all over the world.

Story by Sonny Ganaden. Photos by David Chatsuthiphan