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bora bora ~ mountain climbing

Posted by on February 16, 2014

August 13 – 14, 2013

The Maramu winds finally relented, and we were able to come out from behind Toopua. We ventured around the corner to the main island, and anchored near Mai Kai Marina for easy access to internet and grocery shopping.

For 7000 CFP (~$70 USD) for the week, moorings are available directly in front of Mai Kai Marina. We were planning to pick up a mooring, so we could have free wifi, access to their swimming pool, and nightly happy hours. However, there were no moorings available when we got there, so we found a “shallow” spot to anchor just north of the marina in 25 meters (82 feet) of water. Since we knew several other boats on the Mai Kai moorings, we ended up being “guests” at the marina, and we were still able to enjoy the amenities.

When anchored at such depths, and with all of our chain out, we have found that we actually hold quite well in strong winds. With about a 2.5 to 1 scope out, the boat is never able to pull the chain taut, and we think it’s due to all the weight of our 200-foot 1/2-inch chain. We just have to keep our fingers crossed that the electric windlass keeps working!

Mount Pahia, standing at 661 meters (2169 feet), is the most famous mountain on Bora Bora. The roundtrip 6-km (3.7-mi) trail from Vaitape to the peak of Mount Pahia is known to be a tough and strenuous hike, but the views from the top are well worth the effort. When we heard that it was possible to get to the top of Bora Bora, we knew that this was a hike we had to take. However, we had not done enough research ahead of time, and all we knew was that we were going on roughly a 2-hour hike with ropes available for assistance in climbing the rocks. How hard could it be? Boy, were we in for a surprise!

At 9:30 a.m., and along with s/v Flour Girl, we began our excursion at the Mai Kai Marina. We walked the 1.3 kilometers into Vaitape where we found the road that leads to the base of the trail. We were pumped and ready to climb, but it wasn’t too long before the trail became quite steep. We’d only just begun, and we were already huffing and puffing. Then, we arrived to the first round of ropes. They weren’t so tough. You just grab onto the rope for support while you find your footing as you go up the rocks. Where ropes weren’t available, you could use tree roots to pull yourself up. Through all of this, it was hard to notice that we were hiking within a beautiful forest of ferns.

going up the first set of ropes

early on the trail & excited about climbing

taking a breather on the mountainside




Two hours came and went, we were nowhere near the top, and some of us were starting to fall apart. Hunger pains were taking over, our thirst couldn’t be quenched, and blistered feet were unbearable. We had wanted to save our sandwiches for a lunch with a view, but there was still a long way to go. We didn’t pack enough water for such a strenuous hike, so we needed to ration our water. Justine’s shoes were having technical difficulties, and she had acquired 6 broken blisters, some the size of silver dollars. For her, every step was pain, but she had determination. Justine was going to make it to the top. I was secretly hoping she would decide not to go, and I would accompany her back to the bottom. No such luck!

The trail continued on, getting steeper and steeper. It led us around the edge of the mountain with nothing but tall grass to hold onto. If we let go or took a misstep, we would fall hundreds of feet downwards. We made sure the kids understood just how careful they needed to be. We moved slowly and with great caution. We had heard that hikers had died on this mountain, and now we understood. So why were we doing this?

As we neared the top, the last of the trail went almost straight up. The foot path was well-worn and eroded, loose dirt, and if you didn’t brace your feet against the grassy sides, you’d slide backwards. It was near this point that we came face-to-face with Gavin (Pacific Flyer) and Paul (Monkey Fist) who were coming down from the top. They told us that there was chocolate and cold beer at the top. I almost believed them. Anything was possible on Bora Bora!

The last of climbing rope was the most difficult. There were two lines leading us up and over about 20 feet of rock face. I was nervous enough for everyone, but Wil was great at talking us through the climb.

nothing but a thin, fraying strap to help us up in some areas

As I reached the top of the rock face, I crawled my way to a spot to sit down. The space at the top was practically enclosed by bushes, and there was barely enough room for all 7 of us. I sat long enough to catch my breath and then stood for the view. Absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous!

facing Vaitoto Point on the northeastern side of Bora Bora


our anchorage, Toopua, & the pass beyond

beautiful Polynesian hibiscus

Mount Otemanu standing at 727 meters high

It was already well into the afternoon, and we still needed to descend the mountain. After re-wrapping Justine’s feet with the remaining bandages in my first aid kit, one by one, we got into position for our first rappel down the rock face.

I knew I would be slow, so I let everyone else go first. However, I didn’t realize that I would be molded to the side of the mountain in complete fear. I’m not afraid of heights, but I am afraid of falling. What if my hand or foot slips? What if the rope breaks? For me, going down was a lot harder than going up. Rappelling down rock faces was an entirely new experience, and this wasn’t easy for me. I was in tears and didn’t want to move.

Wil was incredibly patient with me. He carefully positioned himself where he could reach my feet, and then he guided each foot to a secure crevice in the rock. My heart was racing, and I had to focus on slowing my breathing. Slowly, step by step, I was finally able to descend the rock wall.

When I was almost to the bottom of the rock face, we suddenly had a bit of much needed comedy. Wil’s backpack, which had been sitting on the ground just fine by itself, began tumbling down the narrow path. It cart wheeled around the corner and out of sight. We couldn’t see it, but we could hear it still thud-thumping its way down the mountain. We were hoping his camera was ok, but we couldn’t help but laugh. At least, he wouldn’t have to carry it for awhile!

Once we were off the top-most rock face, one would think we were home free at that point. However, with the steepness of the trail (think of the backpack!), we spent much of the time on our bottoms. If we weren’t sliding down loose dirt or leaves, then we were accidentally ending up on our butts when our feet slipped out from under us. At one point, I hung onto a large branch from a fern tree to support myself as I climbed down a tricky section. Right when I needed it most, the branch detached itself from the tree, and left me sliding down the trail. Just in the knick of time, I managed to grab another branch, stopping myself right at the edge of another further drop down. (Almost sounds like an action movie, right?) The others were more graceful than me, but we all ended up with dirty bottom sides.

The forest was growing darker as we neared the bottom of the trail. Fortunately, we managed to reach the road before the sun actually set. We joked that someone would be sending a search party for us. Our first steps onto the paved road were awkward. After so many hours of walking on such a steep slant, our extremely fatigued legs wouldn’t cooperate. We were wobbly and unsure of our steps. It took several minutes to come even close to walking normally again. [Wil says that this description doesn’t even come close to describing how our legs and feet felt!]

I do have to say that Colin and Zack (s/v Flour Girl) were two exceptions within the group. They were abundantly and endlessly full of energy. For most of the hike, the boys stayed ahead, only slowing to wait for an adult. They’d climb up and down the ropes numerous times just for fun. Multiple times I saw Colin hanging upside down from a tree. Oh, how we wished we had their levels of energy!

we noticed the sign AFTER we did the climb!

After a quick stop in the grocery store for bottled water (consumed before exiting the store), steak, and potatoes, we finally arrived back to Mai Kai Marina about 6:30 p.m. It had been 9 hours since we began our hike! We were exhausted, sore, and filthy dirty, and we’d just walked in on happy hour at the marina. Many people were dressed up, and I couldn’t help but notice the aroma of cleanliness. I’m sure we must have smelled awful to everyone around us. We spotted Pete and Rae (s/v Saliander), and we learned from them that they had been worried about our lengthy hike on the mountain. They were about to send out a search party if we hadn’t returned. While we had joked about having a search party, it was a comfort to know that if something had happened, someone was watching out for us.

We returned to the boat, and while we were starved, we could barely stay awake long enough to eat. That night, sleep came easily to all of us. Days later our aching bodies were still recovering from such an intense hike, but it was absolutely worth it.

looking up at Mount Pahia

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