Tuesday, February 16, 2016

2-6/7-2016: ʻŌpaeʻula (Opaeula Cabin)

::sound of winds howling about::
::sounds of crickets chirping::


::a sound of rattling metal jostling about::
::a faint humming sound struggling to come to life::

::lights flicker on and off and then come on to a steady glow::

This is DGC's Hawai'i Hiking Tales.  A hiking blog about tales of the vast unknown.  The blog is now 6 years old and has reached over 100,000 visits.  Mahalo nui for continuing to visit this blog.  To commemorate, I will be posting a new entry into the archives, a first since the Kalahaku Teeth in 2014.  I have gone almost a year and a half without posting, but now that will come to an end.  I even have contemplated of restarting my YouTube channel.

The year is 2016 and O'ahu hiking has came a super long way.  Both good and bad have came out of this.  But the fact is, more and more people want to get away from the cities and explore the Hawaiian mountains.  I've personally had stepped back from the hiking scene after an unfortunate event took place during the spring of 2015, which would change me forever.  But ever since then, I've slowly made my way back into the mountains, a place I will always call home no matter what.

I want to thank Wayde Fishman of Wayde's World Hawai'i for giving me the incentive to restart this blog and eventually my YouTube Channel.  I'd like to consider this a restructuring plan for DGC's Hawaii Hiking Tales after a very long absence.  He wanted to get back into filming and wanted a good hike for that.  He acquired the permits from the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to hike the Poamoho Trail and the plan was to overnight at the Poamoho Cabin.  The Poamoho Trail itself is a gem of a hike that only takes 3 miles to hike to the summit of the Ko'olau crest and the junction of the Ko'olau Summit Trail (KST).  However, 4x4 vehicle and an access by permit is required to drive down it's 6 mile dirt road to reach the Poamoho trail head.  Two of our friends were visiting from California.  John and Karly Nunes would join us for this excursion.  As the days grew closer, I suggested to Wayde about a change in our itinerary.  Instead of camping out at the Poamoho Cabin, I proposed something even better.  My proposal: a 3 mile jaunt on the rugged Ko'olau Summit Trail to a more remote and rather unknown cabin located in the middle of what I would begin to term "The Sea of Green", a reference from the Beatle's "Yellow Submarine".  After showing my GPS tracks to Wayde, John, and Karly, they all agreed to the change in our itinerary!

On the eve of setting out, I dusted off my trusty Terra Pack 65.  The last time this pack saw action was on the Kalahaku Teeth about a year and a half ago!  It was my Achilles Heel on that windward climb and it hasn't seen any daylight ever since, until now.  My sleeping bag was still packed inside, never unpacked since using that to sleep on the 6th or 7th tooth of the Kalahaku Teeth!  I wanted something hot to eat for dinner so I packed a Coleman Propane Tank and single burner and a small tea kettle for boiling hot water.  Dinner was 2 "Souper" sized beef and chicken ramen noodles straight from Japan and 2 Instant Ramen Noodle cups.  The rest of my provisions would be some Sweet and Salty Granola Bars, about 4.5 liters of water, a rain coat, an extra pair of board shorts and a tank top for sleeping, a 100ft webbing that has seen much action during the Search for Moke, and a 50ft rope that I retrieved from the Kaua side of Pohakea Pass during my Wai'anae Summit Trail section hike.

On the morning of Feb. 6th, 2016, Wayde came down to Ewa Beach to pick me up and we motored our way to the main gate of Poamoho.  The clouds were socking in the Ko'olaus a little bit, but we could see some of the summit crest.  Most of the clouds remained high but overcast.  The weather forecast showed a strong winter cold front sweeping over the Hawaiian islands from the northwest towards the southeast.  It predicted scattered showers proceeding the front with the main unsettled weather coming over O'ahu during the evening hours.  Winds were to remain light and variable ahead of the front and then shift to very strong and gusty north winds behind it.  We were hoping to be at the ʻŌpaeʻula Cabin before sundown and before the storm came.  While driving past the Dole Plantation, a spectacular rainbow appeared in front of Ka'ala and the Wai'anae Mountain Range to our west.

We were at the gate at around 9am.  Unfortunately, we would run into our first road block of the trip, literally.  The permits that DLNR issued us came with codes for 2 gates, one for the first gate, and one for the 3rd gate.  The second gate does not have a lock.  When we input the code to the 1st gate, the lock did not budge.  Now, it was said that the lock can be stubborn at times and one has to push up and then down to unlock.  We tried the code over and over but the lock did not budge.  Maybe about 15 minutes later, 2 guys and a wahine show up in a rental Jeep.  We compared our permits and both displayed the same codes.  They tried their luck and the lock still wouldn't budge.  We tried calling the DLNR office, only to discover they are closed on weekends (noticing a trend here?).  We were about to give up when 2 hunters in a truck arrived behind the two Jeeps.  We informed them that our codes were not working and one of the hunters walked over to the gate to try his luck.  It wouldn't budge for him either.  But he had one trick up his sleeve as he apparently hunts in this area frequently.  He recalled the code from last week and input it into the stubborn lock.  "CLICK."  He then swung the gate open.  So, DLNR didn't update the locks with the new codes (They change the codes weekly, or rather they should).  We decided to let the hunters proceed first, followed by the group with the rental Jeep.  Since we were filming, we opted to go last.

So with the problem resolved and after filming our intro, we signed in the check in sheet and began our 6 mile drive up the 4x4 road to reach the trail head of Poamoho Trail.  After about 45 minutes of motoring, we parked off to the side at a wide clearing that functions as the parking lot.  The trail head sign for Poamoho was about 20ft away.  We did some more filming and took in the view of the Ko'olaus from a lookout adjacent to where we parked.  The clouds remained high and overcast but the crest of the Ko'olaus remained free of clouds.

It wasn't until 10:30am that we began our actual hike up the 3 mile trail.  The trail was said to be cleared up until the end of maintained trail sign, about 2 miles in.  The last mile would be on a footpath only wide for one person.  But the entire trail would be graded, meaning it would keep it's elevation change gradual as it winds in and out of every gully and spur ridge.  But because we were filming the hike, along with shooting photographs, we didn't get to the terminus until around 2pm.  We spent probably another hour shooting and having our lunch before realizing that the day was fast seeping away towards the night time hours.  We still had a long way to go.

Enter the Ko'olau Summit Trail.....  and all of it's mud holes!  It's time for MUD!

Once all packed and ready to go, we backtracked a bit from the summit view to the Clines Memorial and picked up the KST heading north.  Since I've only done this segment heading south from Castle to Pomaoho and then beyond to Pauao Ridge, this would be a first for me to head north on the summit trail.  Immediately, the trail became overgrown as it began it's leeward contour of the Ko'olau crest.  After some 10 or 15 minutes, the trail opened up to a wide grassy area with a green plastic wall with electric wire running around it's entire perimeter.  They were really protecting an area of native species of plants.  The trail went briefly to the crest and that majestic view came back.  At the crest, a fence line with a small backyard looking gate intersected the KST.  One by one, we went through the gate, taking care to close the gate behind us.  At this point, the summit trail began it's windward contour.  We had to take extra caution during this stretch as water chutes are slowly beginning to erode the trail, creating some nasty "holes" where one can easily slide his or her foot into.  But mind your step and the holes are not much of a deal.  The trail continued on this windward contour for some time until it started heading away from the windward pali (cliff) the farther we headed north.  Off in the distance, we could see that the storm was fast approaching as the rain bands began to shroud the entire southern Ko'olau Range and was making a bee line for us to the north.

The topography began to take a more broad and flatter profile and we were now entering the "Sea of Green".  The only point of reference along this landscape was the eye sore metal fence that follows the KST northward.  This entire fence system was part of the ʻŌpaeʻula Watershed Project that was conceived in 2000 and constructed during the early part of that decade.  It was around here where the first raindrops began to fall and the shroud completely overtook us, blocking out our views all around us.  We continue following the KST and the fence line until we reached a huge grassy bowl.  There was a sign that read "<---Ko'olau Summit Trail--->".  Next to it was a black boot, placed upside down.  It was still the same boot that I came across back in early 2013!  The fence continued leeward, along with a trail.  According to that old OHE March 8, 2000 write up regarding the watershed project, this was the Pe'ahinai'a "beckoning to the fish" Trail.  Whether if the trail continues all the way down leeward remains unknown.

We hopped the fence line and walked down in the middle of the grassy bowl, spotting some large black mats or plastic things that resembled a mat next to the grassy trail.  The trail then reached the other side of the bowl and we had to hop the fence line again to remain on it's windward side.  We saw the crest again, but the views were completely socked in by the clouds now.  We hiked along the crest again, with a pretty good sized drop down into the shrouded abyss below.  We kept a good grip on the fence, but this area sees a lot of wind and rain.  The fence was rusted and we had to take care not to cut our hands on the sharp rusty edges.

The fence made a sharp right and dipped down into a small ravine with a stream bed.  The shroud began to take on an eerie orange color and this was the sign that the sun was setting.  We probably still had a mile or two to go before reaching the cabin.  Another setback struck, this time my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 went missing and noticed it as I began the descent into the ravine.  I searched around for about 5 minutes but with no success and was forced to abandon it as light was quickly running out.

About 30 minutes later, darkness enveloped the misty landscape and we were now hiking with our head lamps on.  The scattered showers began to pick up in intensity and the winds were howling from the northwest.  That cold front was already making it's pass over the island.  Frustration began to settle over the crew.  We had to get to the cabin before the worst of the storm hit us.  The time was nearing 7pm.  Since this was my first time actually visiting this cabin, I actually didn't really know where the trail heading to it branched off the KST.  I navigated us in the dark using my phone GPS and could see the white speck on the satellite image of the green expanse.  We were getting close!  The mud holes were so deep that we stopped avoiding them and just plowed right through.  It was around 8pm when Wayde was up at point and noticed through the black misty night, a dark silhouette in a shape of a small house up about 40ft ahead of us!  We have arrived at ʻŌpaeʻula Cabin!  Upon reaching it's front door, I reached out and grabbed the door knob, fearing it would be locked.  I twisted it and the door swung inward.  Salvation was upon us!

After firing up the propane burner and lighting Wayde's scented candle for lighting, we all took off our wet clothes and changed into our dry clothes.  I began boiling a liter of bottled water for all four Ramen cups, one for each of us.  Outside, the winds roared from the north and at times probably reached 30 to 40mph.  Rain was pouring so we stuck one of the buckets that was inside the cabin outside for water catchment.  The interior of the cabin soon warmed up to more or less cozy temperatures.  After dinner, talking stories amongst us was little as we were all tired from the long day's worth of hiking.  We made our beds and one by one, we drifted off to sleep as the winds and rain continued to batter against the walls, but the cabin took on that long cold, windy, and wet night without even a single creak or leak in the structure.  For a cabin being built in the middle of no where, it was a champ that continues to stand tall and proud, no matter what weather comes it's way.

At around 5:30am, I woke up, and went outside for a bathroom outing and saw the entire central area of O'ahu from Pearl Harbor to Hale'iwa ablazed with city lights.  To the north, I could see the HECO wind farm with it's blinking red lights, pulsating like a "red alert" mode on most Federation starships of Star Trek.  I was in awe at the fact that the the entire island was clear, lest a few low hanging clouds to windward of the Ko'olaus and the rain was completely absent.  The winds were still blowing but were of a gentle 5mph type.  I sensed that this morning's sunrise would more than make up for the misery that was last night.

And the moment that we had all waited for, imagined, and anticipated for the highlight of this trip.  The sun began to poke it's rays over the KST to the east and the Wai'anae Mountain Range, end to end, reflected a pink tone along with the high clouds.  We had found paradise within paradise and this is a moment that will stay with me for a very, very long time.  Words cannot describe this moment so I will just let the photos do the narrating for now.

After having our breakfast, I boiled the rain water we had collected in the bucket.  Apparently, 7 inches fell over the Ko'olaus that night and we had fresh rain water that yielded us an additional 3 liters of fresh Ko'olau rainwater.  We packed up, dried as much gear as we could, cleaned up the cabin and made it better looking than when we arrived, and were hiking off at 9am.  Everything we did yesterday, we had to do in reverse.  I thought about the idea of continuing on to Castle and then dropping back down to Hau'ula via another ridge that roller coasters it's way down windward.  But my KST duties were rusty and didn't want to risk getting us lost somewhere deep in the northern Ko'olaus.  So back the way we came from it was.

It was an awesome day for summit hiking with blue skies and partly cloudy conditions with a cool brisk north wind.  But the temperatures were COLD.  I mean COLD!  It was so cold that we dressed up like we were about to embark on an adventure through the Rocky Mountains during the winter!  But the mud was way worse today than it was yesterday.  New mud holes were present when there weren't any last night and the existing mud holes were 3 times as muddy!  Some of them went up to knee deep on this day.  A group hiked through this same stretch of KST about a few months prior to this trek and had encountered mud holes that were waist deep!

About 10 minutes after departing the cabin, we spotted another old "Ko'olau Summit Trail" wooden sign that we didn't see last night.  I knew right away that this was the junction to the KST with it continuing north towards Castle.  We slowly made our way back southward towards the terminus of Poamoho, some 3 miles away.

We got back to the dip with the stream bed and told everyone to keep an eye out for my missing Galaxy Note 4, but it was no where to be found.  It was at the top of this dip where the fence/KST turned back to the left and popped us back to the crest of the Ko'olaus and we couldn't have asked for any better weather with the views to the south all the way to Makapu'u.

We followed the fence to the large grassy bowl.  Fatigue began to settle in and we sat on the black mats which heated our okoles nicely because of the sunlight the black material had absorbed over the course of the day.  Then we jumped the fence with the boot and sign and hung left to stay on the KST as turning right heads down the Pe'ahinai'a Trail.  It was here when I looked back and saw ʻŌpaeʻula cabin, oh so close, but yet so far away.

The fence gradually left the KST for the final time and the trail began it's windward contour before topping out at Poamoho.  Through the two backyard gates, the green wall with electric wiring, and we popped out next to the Clines Memorial.

We took the view from Poamoho a final time, the sunlight highlighting the details of the vast undeveloped valleys surrounding Ohulehule and the ridge line of Kanehoalani towering over the Kualoa Ranch property.  Not wanting to waste daylight to make our grand exit from the Ko'olau Mountain Range, we left the Clines Memorial at around 3pm and hiked down the final 3 miles back to the "Black Beast".  My old hiking shoes were so busted up (same shoes that hiked the entire Wai'anae Mountain Range), that it began causing discomfort in my right pinky toe that slowed my hiking pace to a snail crawl.  It was so bad that I actually thought I broken it.  But it was fine the next couple of days.  But these Merrells are long pau.

Once at the Jeep, we drove down, talk stories and inputted last week's codes to both gates to conclude an epic weekend in the Ko'olaus.

Until we meet again.

Check out the footage below, courtesy of Wayde's World Hawaii