Friday, December 31, 2010

12-04-2010: Bear Claw - Left Fork

With Piliwale Ridge, Olomana 3rd peak backside descent, and True Manamana under my belt, it was only a matter of time that I would set my sights on Bear Claw Ridge (otherwise known as Pu'u O Kona windward), a prominent ridge that dominates the windward pali cliffs of Waimanalo Town and her farm fields that wrap around the fluted ridges of the Ko'olau base.  There are two routes that ascend to the summit and they are known as left and right fork.  On this day, I had the opportunity to hike with with Chenay Borja and Joshua Serrano, part of the "808 Goonies" group, for the first time.  Randy Glidden from Oahu Hikers & Adventurers also tagged along to climb the left fork of Bear Claw Ridge.  We began at around 8:00am.

Because one has to do the "T thing", I will have to, once again, keep the location of this trailhead a secret.  To get to the base of left fork, we had to trudge through a large field that is part of a ranch to a watertank that "officially" marks the beginning of the ridge.  From the watertank, it's all uphill.  Ropes are present but not necessary as the grade of the ridge was still rather shallow.  However if it's raining, I would imagine this area would turn into one enormous mud slide so these ropes would prove useful.

After a short while, we passed through two clearings with a set of powerlines each.  From the 2nd powerline onward, it's where we got down to business as the grade of the ridge began to steadily increase.  After about 10 to 20 minutes, we encountered our first rockface, but it was a minor climb.  However, this is also where we began encountering these low lying trees where branches seem to branch out (no pun intended) in every direction possible.  Some of these branches were brittle to the touch, others strong enough to function as a hand/foot hold.  This would be critical for the upcoming rockfaces.

At the 2nd rockface, things got difficult....  very very difficult.  First up was Randy, then Josh, then me, followed last by Chenay.  Fortunately, there are two metal spikes that have been spiked into the rockface, dating back to who knows when, providing a very critical point for foot and hands alike.  Without the spikes, this rockface would be almost impossible to scale without any sort of aid.  The first metal spike is solid and one can rest his or her entire weight on that spike alone, although don't try hopping up and down like a happy school girl to see if it will truly hold!  The 2nd metal spike spooked me a bit as I discovered that it can be rotated.  Fearing I would completely rip it off the rockface, I scurried up and over the rockface as quickly as I could.  It appears that although it rotates, it can't be pulled out so it can be still used as a sturdy handhold.

Beyond the rockface, the trees whose branches explode in all kinds of directions returned.  These trees proved irritating for just about the entire duration of the climb up to the junction where left and right fork merge.  One has to contort his or her body to get under, along side, or over the strong branches.  Somehow Randy and Chenay were able to blaze ahead and by the time we got to the 3rd rock face, they were already out of sight.  Josh and I kinda got nervous about this one as there are very little places for hand and footholds and the fact that we were exposed.  Somehow we both made it over and the trail contoured a bit on the left and then wrapped back around towards the right with another smaller rock face.  Here we were within visual of Randy and Chenay.  Josh and I exclaimed that this rockface was nuts!  Chenay replied that the rockface with the 2 spikes was worse.

Onward we went, the steepness of the ridge, coupled by those annoying trees, never letting up.  There was one particular 'smooth' section that I dubbed the "Spiderman section" because here you can get on all fours and scurry your way up as if you were Spiderman.

Soon, we came upon a windswept area and we saw 2 or 3 ribbons on a tree.  It appeared that we have reached the junction where left and right fork combine into one ridge that continues on towards the crest of the Ko'olaus and Pu'u O Kona.  Looking to the left, I could see the rest of the Ko'olaus going towards Makapu'u and directly behind me was the bluer than blue waters of Waimanalo Bay and her beautiful white beach.  From here to the summit, it would be a wild trek on narrow crumbly ridges, with more rockfaces in between, and with death drops on both sides.  My favorite!  As we marched along the ridge, sometimes getting as narrow as a foot wide in places, we came to a peculiar rock that was shaped like a mushroom from Mario Bros.  I stood on it, attempting to get a better vantage point of my surroundings.  Behind me I could see Chenay and Josh on the narrow ridge and could barely make out Randy as he created a sizeable gap.

Looking up ahead, I could see more and more rockfaces to be climbed.  There was a point that I somehow lost the trail and unknowingly began contouring to the left of the ridge, thinking that it was the better approach to attack these rockfaces.  Bad mistake as I realized that this wasn't the path and soon found myself on unstable ground.  As I traced my steps back to the main crest of the ridge and rejoined Chenay and Josh, I realized that the these rockfaces weren't so bad and easily climbed up them.  So much for the unnecessary scare I had to put into myself to avoid these rather little rockfaces, it's bark apparently worse than it's bite.  There was one rockface that was tricky, but thanks to a small hole in the rock, it provided a critical footing to help me get up and over.

We got to a point where I could see the rest of the trail that goes onward for a while, then makes a sharp bank upward to the summit crest.  I thought about the final 50ft or so where there's nothing but loose soil, where one has to claw his way up.  But before we got there, we had to plow through numerous foliage on an extreme narrow ridge, akin to the route leading up to True Manamana.  Once we were perched at the bottom of the final climb to the summit, I saw Randy already at the summit, looking back down towards us.  Directly in front of me was a rock that jutted outward and I probably spent about a good minute or two, pondering about how I would get up this thing.  I literally threw all my weight forward, landing on my stomach.  With no feet for support, it was all upper body strength and I began a series of flopping action on my stomach to get at least my knees on solid ground.  Once back on my feet, I asked Josh for the shovel that he brought along just for this section.  I've read numerous articles about the difficulty of this part and even Kaleo Lancaster suggested that a shovel wouldn't be a bad idea!  With shovel in my right hand, I jabbed the shovel into the soil and used the handle as a leverage to pull myself up, while using my left hand to claw into the dirt.  The trail hung to the right side of the ridge, putting me so close to the massive dropoff below.  Not to be distracted, I continued upward: bear claw, bear shovel, bear claw, bear shovel....  Soon enough, I was on the summit with Randy!

Next up was Josh and he struggled a bit on what would be known as "the hump", referring to the rock that juts out at the bottom of the final climb.  He got into a precarious position with his legs completely dangling in the air and his upper torso and arms the only sole connection to the ridge.  Chenay, realizing Josh was stuck, placed her hands underneath one of Josh's feet and he began the humping action with his stomach to get up, much in the same way as I got up.  I could see it in Josh's face that he had enough of this hike and just wanted to get it over with.  I don't blame him!  Like a finish line waiting for a marathon runner who has ran 40 miles, the summit beckoned and he eventually made it, relieved that it was finally over!  Chenay soon followed and our glorious adventure up Bear Claw left fork was complete at last!  The time was a little past 11am.  From bottom to the summit, it took us a little over 3 hours.

We plopped down on our okoles for lunch and we gazed at the beautiful vistas before us.  To the left, was the fluted cliffs of the Ko'olaus and the actual true peak of Pu'u O Kona.  I was always curious where Bear Claw would spit us out at the crest.  It so happens that the ridge terminates at a dirt section of the crest that is situated between the Kuli'ou'ou state trail and Pu'u O Kona.  I tied a pink ribbon with my trademark "DGC" initials.

After about 20 minutes or so on the summit, we headed left (east) towards the terminus of the Kuli'ou'ou State Trail and went down it's switchbacks in a rather anticlimatic matter.  We reached the cars at around 1:30pm and proceeded to have lunch at the Hawai'i Kai center.

Next up, Bear Claw Right Fork!


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