Wednesday, December 29, 2010

10-18-2010: Mt. Olympus to Pu'u O Kona

Head north--- Thru hiking the Ko'olaus? ---Head south

With everyone at work on Monday and the most hated work day of the week, Tommy, David, and I had one hell of an undertaking, an attempt to cross the entire Ko'olau summit ridge from Olympus to Pu'u O Kona.  Originally we were to only go as far as Wai'alae Nui and descend it's ridge back to Aha Aina Pl, but with ideal weather conditions at the summit, we ultimately decided to try for o Kona.

I'm normally not a morning person so one of the most difficult "sections" of this super hike was me getting up at 4am and driving over to Wai'alae, picking up David along the way at a 7-eleven just off St. Louis Drive, to meet Tommy at the Wai'alae Nui subdivision as our plan was to stage his car at the end of Aha Aina Pl.  I scouted this "trailhead" the night prior to this morning mainly to see if this was a gated community like Wiliwilinui and more recently Hawaii Loa Ridge.  When I reached the end of aforementioned street, I did not see any discernable trailhead, only a metal fence to my left that says "No Trespassing" (sigh).  I spotted what appeared to be a road also on my left just before the metal fence with a luxury looking gate.  My first instinct was that the road ended up at a house, but after checking my GPS/Google Maps on my iPhone, I realized that this road leads to a watertank.  Wai'alae Nui trailhead perhaps?  One day, I'll find out.

Anyways, after shuttling the three of us back to St. Louis Heights, we arrived at the Wa'ahila State Recreation Area at 6:30am, it's gate still locked.  I was to leave my car just outside this gate anyway to avoid being locked in should we fail to arrive back here before the park closed at 6:45pm tonight.

Shoving off, we began our march up Wa'ahila Ridge just as the first rays of sunlight touched the green vastness of the Ko'olaus.  Amazing how such vastness could still exist in this over development of this island, I thought to myself.  After a few roller coaster ups and downs, we reached a junction with Kolowalu Trail heading back down to Manoa Valley and the less frequent traveled Wa'ahila Ridge trail to our right.  After a 2 and a half hour ramble, we reached the summit of Olympus.  To the left was the summit ridge heading up to Konahuanui, still shrouded in clouds.  Leslie and I have completed that route last week.  To the right was the route of our undertaking.

Wasting no time on Olympus, we set off along the Ko'olau summit ridge just before 10am with David taking the ramrod position.  Almost immediately, the crest dive bombs to a saddle which features a 7ft rockface, followed by a narrow ridge.  The rockface has lots of of hand and footholds so it was no problem.  Once we cleared this somewhat tricky section, we could see that we were fast approaching the two white powerlines.  After a small climb, the trail widen up considerably, we were now on the summit portion of the loop trail that circumnavigates Ka'au Crater.  This was deja vu for Tommy as he hiked this loop trail 2 days prior to today.  Because of the trail's great condition, it was smooth sailing to Palikea, the apex of the kokohead (east) side of Ka'au Crater.

Beyond Palikea, we dropped down to another low saddle before climbing a low-grass, lung busting hillside to Kainawa'aunui (Tommy got stung a few times by some bees foraging in the bushes just off to the side of the trail), the topping out point of Lanipo.  Further ahead was true Lanipo, marked by metal stamps.  After a few more ups an downs we reached the terminus of Wai'alae Nui Ridge at 11:30am.  We plopped our okoles down, contemplating if we were to descend this ridge back to Tommy's car or continue ahead to Pu'u o Kona.  As we gazed out at the windward vistas, present along the entire way, we looked over to our right along the crest and saw Wiliwilinui and it's communications tower.  Since we made it before noon, we all voted in favor to continue our journey.  Unbeknownst to us, what lay ahead from here on out was to be the most difficult portion of our hike.

After saddling up, we continued on, the crest yet again dive bombing to a low saddle.  This was probably the steepest descent of the day, but sturdy overgrowth were ever so present to help with our controlled descent.  At the bottom, one could look back and see how far we dropped.  From a distance, this looks gnarly but it's far from it.  We passed through a set of powerlines, hearing it sizzle above us.  From here, the crest begins it's upward climb to a small pu'u, descending slightly and then climbing up to the topping out point of Wiliwilinui.  Upon reaching Wiliwilinui, we were greeted by an older couple who've hiked up Wiliwilinui and were enjoying the views.  They were quite surprised when they have learned where we have came from and where we were headed.

After a quick chit-chat, we prodded on, reaching the top of a large hill where from here we could see the remainder of our journey.  In the far distance was Pu'u o Kona, marked by it's trademarked "Bear Claw Ridge" that dips down to the left towards Waimanalo.  After about 30 minutes after we set off from Wiliwilinui, we reached a broad grassy summit.  I was not familiar with this summit, yet there was a trail heading leeward.  I headed down the trail for about 30ft and discovered a green wooden sign, akin to Castle Trail, with the words "Wailupe Loop" enscribed on it.  Ahhh, Udom has led an OH&A group hike on this trail this past spring/summer.

Marching on, things started to get progressively difficult in terms of vegetation overgrowth.  Although the entire summit ridge is overgrown, the overgrowth was tolerable the whole way up until this point.  I've read on an old OHE article and HTMC veteran Wing Ng mentions this section as an "untrail".  That article was made on December 24, 1997.  We did this on October 18, 2010, and he is still right.  While there is a discernable path, the growth rose significantly, becoming a jungle like overgrowth.  Not to be stopped, we forced ourselves through the thicket.  After about an hour, we finally emerged onto the dirt covered summit of Hawaii Loa.  I thought to myself "This is the worst of it, should be smooth kine up to o Kona".  Oh was I ever so wrong.....

Tommy pointed out a Na Ala Hele stairway leading back down Hawaii Loa.  We had a choice: descend a heavenly like stairway (the stairs were so inviting after a hard's day jaunt along the crest, they were so well maintained, like it was inviting us salvation.  I was waiting for God to make the stairs glow white and add a holy ambience in the background.) or continue on the fiery hellish path along the Ko'olau summit ridge towards o Kona.  We chose the latter and after pushing off from Hawaii Loa summit, the trail was relatively clear initially and we approached the apex of Kulepeamoa with rather much ease, but from here to o Kona, things got way difficult.  WAY difficult.  The jungle like thicket returned and this time it was thicker x10.  For every step we took, we probably had to expend quadruple the amount of energy.  From Kulepeamoa and Kuli'ou'ou 2 (west ridge), a frustrated Tommy took the ramrod position and I don't know how he did it, but he was able to plow through this section like a rocket, as if he had some kind of invisible bulldozer in front of him.  I've never seen so much energy explode out of a person, much more less on a summit section so overgrown!  As David and I trailed behind him, he created a sizeable gap between us and was pulling ahead!  When we were in the last saddle, David and I were thinking to overselves, did Tommy just become immortal?  Because us mortals were having quite the struggle with the wildlife of Ko'olau.  Vegetation really slowed us down considerably and we had barely started the saddle when we heard a Spartan like battle cry.  Sure enough, far ahead, was Tommy standing on the summit of Pu'u o Kona, rejoicing his accomplishment!

Pretty soon, I was discovering a new hinderance, my legs locked up, the cramping pain getting to me.  I dropped back and David made it to the summit when I was only at the small pu'u with a small rocky dike.  Another problem was that I ripped the okole side of my shorts when I attempted to make a giant step for all mankind going up that small pu'u.  Big mistake I thought upon hearing the awful ripping sound that is so familiar in movies...  To help cover my embarrassment and my okole, I took my shirt off and placed it inside my shorts in such a way that it acts as a makeshift patch.  "Should of went down God's stairway", I thought.

Going at it Spartan/Hawaiian style, I gave it all with whatever remaining energy I had left in me to make the final stride to gain the summit of Pu'u o Kona!  Completely devoid of all useful energy, I let gravity take my body and thick grass caught me and I just laid there like a zombie.  All I could do was stare at the sky.

We did it...

After about a 30 minute rest, I was able to regain enough energy to make the trek down the ridge of Pu'u O Kona and back to the road where it meets the trailhead of Kuli'ou'ou Ahi (switchbacks, state freeway trail) where Tommy's friend was waiting to pick us up.  It was around 4:30pm.

Later that night, in the safety of my home, all refreshed from a well deserved hot shower, I've found out that just before 8pm, that the entire Ko'olaus were under a flash flood advisory with heavy rain pouring at a rate of 2 to 3 inches an hour.  That advisory expired at midnight, Oct 19.

With about 5 hours of summit ridge walking and a sheer 2,000ft+ windward pali present for the whole duration, this is a day to remember on our beloved Ko'olaus.  If only I could get paid to hike and document them, I would so look forward to every Monday!  =)

Here are all the summits that we encountered along our epic journey along the Ko'olau summit ridge starting up Wa'ahila Ridge and descending Pu'u O Kona (Kuli'ou'ou middle ridge): Mt. Olympus, Ka'au Crater, Lanipo, Wai'alae Nui Ridge, Wiliwilinui, Wailupe Loop, Hawaii Loa Ridge, Kulepeamoa, Kuli'ou'ou 2 (west ridge), and finally but not least, our destination, Pu'u O Kona!


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