Friday, December 10, 2010

7-29-2010: Piliwale Ridge

So many things went wrong on this day, I don't even know where to start.  Piliwale Ridge is the massive ridge spur that descends off the windward face of Konahuanui K1 towards Maunawili Valley.  This ridge was pioneered by legendary Silver Piliwale back in the 80s.  The ridge is infamous for it's incredibly steep incline, numerous rock faces that must be scaled, crumbly rocks that can dislodge at any given moment, and that the mentalness of this hike is just off the scale.  Take all of these, put them all together, and then add the fact that this ridge climbs to the tallest peak of the Ko'olaus, standing at 3,150ft and you have one mean ridge.

Ian and I set off at around 7am on the 29th of July, a day that I will never forget.  Our intent was to go up Piliwale to K1 and then cross over to K2, where we would descend the Konahuanui Trail to Pauoa Flats and ultimately to Kalawahine Trail back to Tantalus.  However, many things would go wrong.  The first was the fact that we picked a day that had the crappiest weather, rain, clouds, wind, and just wet.  Next was that for whatever reason that I never got around to up to this day was that we never actually located the Piliwale trailhead that veers off the Maunawili Demonstration Trail.  I will have to go back and see where this starts because it's hard to believe that we couldn't find a trail that is so wide open.  But we searched for it and we couldn't find it so we ended up blazing a path through uluhe that would eventually intersect the Piliwale trail just below the "notch".

Once at the notch, vegetation opened up and the ridge ahead of us showed it's fearsome profile.  From a distance, it looks impossible to climb.  The angle of ascent was one of the most mental I've seen and if that's not enough, let's just throw in a phenominal dropoff to the right that would definitely be fatal if one fell.  The drop to the left was more vegetated, but even a fall here would still cause severe injury...  that is if you survive the first plunge.  We watched as the clouds continued to roll over the entire ridge, obscuring it at times.  What were we thinking, hiking in weather conditions like we were in.

At the other side of the notch, the clouds lifted higher and the trail began contouring to the left of the ridge.  Ropes may or may not be present here.  After some short distance in, we climbed the side to gain the crest of the ridge, exposing us to that phenominal drop to the right again.  From here on out, the word of the day was "climb".  Climb, climb, climb....  up lots and lots of rockfaces....  on an overgrown trail.... all while crumbling before you.....  on a 70 degree angle.... with two massive dropoffs ready to swallow you whole.  One particular rockface has a white cable and there's a boulder that serves as a boost to help you climb the sheer verticalness.  When I was on the boulder, it wobbled a bit and my heart just sunk so far down, it probably shot out of my feet.  I also realized at around this point, that I have left my cell phone in my car, which was at the Pali hairpin turn.  "Only now I realize it when we were this high?!" I whispered to myself.

If rockfaces were not present, the trail was muddy and slippery.  Very very slippery....  It was so slippery on this day that for every step we took forward, we took 5 slides back.  This made for an extremely slow progress.  We had to find some way to aid us in our brutal climb, whether it be grass, uluhe, or just simply clawing into the dirt with your fingers.

After what seemed like an eternity of scaling rockfaces with footholds crumbling constantly and ripping vegatation from their roots, the grade of the ridge eased and the vegatation became windswept.  However, the ridge narrowed to mind boggling proportions and I began crawling on all fours, lowering my center of gravity as the wind howled on.  Continuing on, we at last saw the twin summits free of clouds for the first time that day.  But the climbing wasn't over just yet.  Eventually after a brief level off, the ridge resumes it's relentless steep grade.  It was here that Ian called it quits and suggested that we call rescue because he didn't feel like climbing back down.  We got into a debate for quite some time and we finally agreed that he would call the helicopter and I would attempt to make it to Tantalus, even though I did not have a cell phone with me should something happen.

Off I went, climbing up through an overgrown trail full of uluhe, the scratching never letting up.  The trail was still very muddy and I had to expend much energy to fight gravity that wanted to pull me back down, the slippery condition not helping one bit.  As I neared the summit, the clouds came back in quickly, socking the views.  At this point, I began hearing fire rescue sirens coming from the ground far below.

At around 5pm, I finally made it to the K1 summit and it was around here where I heard the helicopter trying to locate Ian.  The clouds briefly opened up and I saw Ian down below waving his shirt to try to signal the helicopter, and I even saw the helicopter almost closing in to his position but the clouds came back and that would be the last time I would see Ian or the helicopter for the duration of the hike.  Did Ian get rescued?  Am I going to be the one sleeping on the mountain alone?  All these questions whirled about in my mind as I crossed over to K2 summit.  Daylight was running out so I decided to try to shoot for the halfway point of the descent between K2 and Pauoa Flats as long as I can see the trail ahead of me.  I got about halfway down the descent from the summit to the junction where the trail splits, the upper route heading along "riff raft hill" and the latter contouring towards the lookout, when I was not able to see where I was heading.  Another mistake: no flashlight.  Mistake after mistake, this hike has became the voyage of the damned, I thought.

I found a small grassy area with some brushes to help me shield the winds and all I could do now was wait it out through the night.  In the distance, I could see the entire southshore ablazed with city lights from Makakilo to Diamond Head and every town in between.  Behind me were the dark black ridges of the Ko'olaus.  Fortunately I was able to get below the cloud decks to get away from the wind and rain.  Only brief drizzles occured as the nighttime hours ticked and tocked, the longest night of my life.  As I looked towards the city lights, I thought about my family and friends who are more than likely panicking because I have not checked in with them since my departure.  Scolding I will be receiving by morning.  I let out a sigh and closed my eyes to try to get some sleep, but with no luck as I began shivering due to me being wet, muddy, and just flat out awful.  Every now and then, the cloud deck lowered and socked the area in, but for most of the night, the city lights were with me, acting like a night light.

At around 5am the next morning, daylight was slowly but surely beginning to brighten up the ridges around me and I resumed hiking down at 5:30.  I was exhausted, starving, and just wanted to get back to civilization so badly.  As I was continuing downward, I heard and later saw the yellow fire rescue helicopter flying over Nu'uanu Valley and the Pali Highway, going back towards Piliwale Ridge to continue the search.  Then I thought about Ian, did he get rescued yesterday or did he have to spend the night as well?  I thought about signaling the helicopter but decided against it.  Things didn't get any better as the morning clouds let down a torrential downpour.  "Better now than while I was up there for the night." I thought to myself, making my way around gullies on the contour trail.

I was soon at the lookout of Pauoa Flats trail and continued into the bamboo forest and took the Kalawahine Trail.  At about 200ft from the trailhead, I ran into a group of 3 people hiking in, two Japanese tourists and a local guy.  Dripping wet, I asked the guy if I could borrow his cell phone.  I first called Ian and he answered and to my surprise he was already off the Ko'olaus.  He was already at Castle Medical Center for analysis.  He told me that he was airlifted to safety, that they were still looking for me, and that I should call them to call off the search.  Appears that helicopter I saw earlier went back to try to look for me.  I called 911 and reported myself as the other missing hiker from yesterday's search and rescue and to call off the search as I was hiking down under my own power to the Kalawahine Trailhead.  They told me they were going to dispatch an HPD officer to meet me there to take my information and whatnot.  The officer offered me some food he gotten at Subway and I gladly accepted.  Hey, it's a free meal and I was starving at this point.  He also offered a ride back to my car at Pali hairpin turn.  My original plan was to call a family member to pick me up here but since the officer was already here, I took on his offer.  He then told me that we were on the news.  Great, this is where the walk of shame truly begins.  I forgot his name, and if you are reading this, mahalo nui loa for everything!  You a cool bruddah!

After getting dropped off at Pali hairpin turn, my car was still there and I nearly collapsed on the ground as I was about to take my shoes off when a vehicle pulled up from the highway.  It was Ian and Ashley!  He was discharged from the hospital and they came back here to check up on me.  I would then get an answer to my question.  Ian ended up spending the night on the same spot on Piliwale Ridge where we split and would get rescued by helicopter the next morning at around 6ish.  The helicopter that was there yesterday was unable to locate him and would have to try again in the morning.  He described the weather conditions on his side as windy and rainy, as he would get the brunt of the blustery tradewinds as he was on the windward side of K1.

Ian offered to drive my car and me to St. Francis (Now Hawaii Medical) in Ewa Beach.  I was treated for slight hypothermia and was released the same day.

I will use this experience as a learning lesson for me.  Always take a cell phone, leave a hike plan with someone on the ground, don't leave anyone behind, especially if one doesn't have any way of communication whatsoever.  Don't make the hiking community look bad, they will frown upon this.  My apologies to the HI hiking community for being unprepared as we were these two days.

Will I ever do Piliwale Ridge again?  Probably not.  This is burned in my memory for life.


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