Ruthie Markwardt

Guest writer

Drive south through Kona on Alii Drive until the road dead ends. Hike the lava rock trail when the road runs out until you see the sea, and you will reach the End of the World.

Born and raised in the Midwest, I was both baffled and blissed out to be hiking in flip-flops (“slippers” if you’re local) this January. Fortunate to bypass the polar vortex of the mainland, I spent winter break visiting my housemate Dominique Saks in her paradisiacal homeland of Hawaii, along with a formidable crew of four other CC students.

The rock in Hawaii is some of the youngest in world, as the Hawaiian island chain is still forming and volcanically active. The bubbly lava rock makes for endless pockets and interesting holds you can’t help but put your hands on. Boulders sit quiet, pristine, and chalk-less on many popular beaches. On my last day visiting the Big Island, we drove down to the End of the World, a well-known cliff jumping spot, to put rumors of deep-water soloing to the test.

Deep-water soloing involves scaling rock faces without ropes or any forms of protection other than water below to break a fall. After some confidence-boosting leaps off the cliffs, Sam Williams was the first to traverse into the sea cave. He crossed over on delicate feet and pulled closer to the wall as the tide rolled in. We held our breath while he held on.

Continuing, Sam tiptoed his way along a friendly path of jugs and pockets until he reached a ledge big enough to stand on. After traversing more than halfway into the cave, he began to explore vertically up the arching overhung cave. While pulling up over the roof, his hand slipped, slicing open on the sharp rock, and he plummeted into the Pacific.

With no bolt lines or chalk to follow, the routes at End of the World were up to our imaginations. The freedom from assessing route ratings and protection levels was freeing. Climbing without harnesses and in our swimsuits was the cherry on top of our liberation.

Though the climbing was not very difficult technically, as I traversed off our comfortable ledge into the mouth of the cave, I realized how quickly paranoia will leave you feeling exhausted. I felt the hollow, brittleness of the rock suspending me and thought about the cheese-grater effect it had on bare hands. My forearms were burning, but the big swell coming at me from the open sea told me to hang tight and enjoy the ride.

After the sounds of waves smashing around in the cave subsided, I continued to a stable rest spot with hands comfortably resting on a ledge. I saw a lull in wave activity, consulted my thoroughly pumped forearms, and took advantage of the opportunity to safely bail on my first attempt at deep water soloing.

Born in Colorado but raised on the Big Island, it was clear Dom lacked my ocean anxieties. While traversing in the cave she stayed low, hovering just above the waves. When swells rolled in and sloshed around at her ankles, she didn’t seem to notice. I vowed to raise my children near the sea so they too could be brave mer-people like her.

After a full afternoon of climbing and general sea-frolicking, the sun was sinking, and my return flight to Colorado was fast approaching. “One more climb and I’m good to go,” Dom called out, scrambling to our unofficial second route. Soon after, a monstrous swell rolled in from the sea and pummeled the back walls of the cave. The Pacific was flexing her own muscles, showing that deep-water soloing comes with its own set of unique risks. When the ocean says ‘go home,’ it is wise to abide.

We watched the sun melt into the sloshing sea from the car roof, drove to the Kava Bar for shots of a fermented fruit juice, then headed to the airport. I contemplated getting back in the car and eating my plane ticket instead of returning to snowy Colorado. Reluctantly, I shuffled through Kona airport security in my slippers, feet stained blue from my Sportivas’ first encounter with the salty sea at the End of the World.

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