Saturday, April 9, 2011

4-3-2011: Kaupo Cliffs to Hahaione Windward

A month and a half haitus from hiking can really take it's toll, especially when one hikes among some of the best climbers on the island.  That's exactly what I did on this day and boy let me tell you, these guys can haul ass.

In ancient times in Hawaii, messengers of kings would relay messages between two villages situated in Waimanalo and the area that makes up Hawaii Kai.  Tom-Tom Trail, a trail discovered in 1922 was probably an old Hawaiian Trail that was popular among these messengers.  However, during times of conflict, Kaupo Cliffs was regarded as a secret route and hence was used as an alternative.  When one looks up at Kaupo Cliffs behind Waimanalo from a distance, they look menacing and nearly impossible to climb.

I got the chance to relive the ancient times with Pete Clines, Ras August, Laredo Murray, Nate Yuen, Duc Ong, Gene Witte, and others of the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club.  Also joining me was Baron Yamamoto from the Lost Trail Blazers and of course my 808 Goonies and Randy Glidden!  The route to be completed on this day was up Kaupo Cliffs, then head ewa (west) towards the terminus of Tom-Tom, and head to either towards Mariner's Ridge or descend Tom-Tom, depending on which group a hiker chooses to descend with.

I also got a chance to try out a GoPro setup that I've personally never tried before.  Francis Jimenez, another hiker who hiked with the Goonies a few hikes back, produced an amazing video atop Pu'u O Kona from a perspective never seen before, at least not with HI hiking.  The camera setup involves a monopod that is secured to a Camelbak with the GoPro mounted on the monopod using the tripod mount.  Intrigued upon seeing this video, I asked him if I could try his rig out on this hike.  What I didn't know was how much of a hinderance it would be during the climb up Kaupo Cliffs. 

We shoved off at around 8am through a mile long forest of tall grasses, haole koa, and tangles of milo trees.  Almost immediately did my camera start snagging the vines and branches (Baron had to free me a few times!)  Upon reaching the base of the cliffs, we started contouring around a number of ridges.  In Nate's September 2010 writeup of Kaupo Cliffs, he provides a nice photo of Kaupo Cliffs with labels of each of the seven ridges.  Ridge #2 is the easiest of them all while Ridge #7 is the notorious KauFaux Cliffs, pioneered by Pete and August.

We began our ascent up ridge #2 and we took a short break at a level section when I turned around and realized that Pete, Chenay, Marcus, Gene, followed soon by Laredo (I don't recall if Duc and Randy went up as well) started their ascent up ridge #3, the ridge adjacent to ours on the right!  Wanting to try a "Pete route", I backtracked down and made my way over to start my ascent up ridge #3.  It was here when I extended the monopod a bit and began shooting this very new angle for the first time although I would quickly realize that this contraption would slow me down considerably.

Up, up, up we went and looking ahead were some imposing rock faces.  Without warning I heard a thunderous sound as apparently someone far ahead (Marcus claims it was him) dislodged a massive boulder, sending it crashing down to my right.  This would be the theme for the remainder of the day, especially upon our descent down Hahaione Windward.  The climb was considerably steep, but the rockfaces were not too bad, except for one which I had a difficult time due to my camera rig which ultimately ended up smacking my GoPro (in it's housing) against the face everytime I bent forward.  During the climb, I heard a female hiker call out to me from far below, asking where the trail continues.  I called out to her in return and told her the directions.

After huffing my way through an Ironwood grove and more Koa Trees (more camera snags!), I could see that the top was already near.  It was here did I realize the female hiker (Thea) who called out earlier was climbing up ridge #4!  I took a quick glance back over to ridge #2 and could see the other group near the summit.  It was a pretty cool feeling to see hikers to my left and right, and that we were using 3 ridges simultaneously!  Gene and I were joking around, saying that we should place doors at the bottom of all 3 ridges and play what's behind door #2, #3, and #4?!

I made it to the Ko'olau summit ridge and rejoined with the others for a well deserved break.  Pressing on westward, we hiked over towards the great white pole of Tom-Tom, passing by the terminal point of Kamiloiki Ridge in just 5 minutes.  I was surprised by the sheer number of hikers on this day.  By my count, there had to be at least over 20 hikers all lined up nicely in single file.  I chatted with the hiker in front and behind me as we made our way over.  I took advantage of the open ridgeline and extended the monopod to it's farthest position.  Josh joked that he was trying to look for a remote control because the monopod made me look like I was some kind of "r/c hiker"!

Upon reaching Tom-Tom, we took another break and the group broke off to descend the Tom-Tom Trail to conclude their hike while the rest of us pressed on towards Mariner's Ridge.  At this point, I also decided to put away the monopod as I did not want another repeat of camera snagging during our descent.  We reached Mariner's and we began scanning the windward ridges west of here.  Pete has descended two windward ridges, Mariner's Windward, and possibly Mariner's West Windward in the past.  However, he did not descend Hahaione Windward yet so this was the ridge to descend today.

The initial descent was already steep and overgrown.  By the time the foliage opened up a bit, the ridge narrowed considerably and got steeper.  On a narrow dike, we had to be careful because we could not see where our feet landed, making for a tricky descent.  Beyond the dike, everything crumbled under the slightest touch and we had to be wary of rock falls, especially with hikers in front.  We were about 3/4ths of the way down when the ridge suddenly ended a few hundred feet above the treelines of "flatland".  Pete and August busted out their ropes and one by one we went down a 60ft cliff face.  The face wasn't as bad as it looked from the top as foot and handholds were plentiful.

Once everyone made it down safely, we could not proceed downward anymore as more cliffs were present so Pete decided to contour to the right and down and at last we were off the ridge, still alive once more!  We began the anticlamatic jaunt along the base of the Ko'olaus back to the junction of Tom-Tom and back to our cars to conclude an exciting 8 hour journey!

It was a memorable hike with great company!


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