Tuesday, December 4, 2012

10-21-2012: KST (Waikane [Ka`aumakua] to Waiahole Uka)

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

The last time I did the Waikane trail was in 2009 and it was one of my most miserable hikes I've done.  The weather was so unforgiving with torrential rain and gale force winds that I didn't even make it to Pu'u Ka`aumakua, the official trail terminus.  It would be be nearly 3 years later before I would make my return, but this time I was to go to the summit and beyond to Waiahole Uka, the Ko`olau windward partner of it's leeward counterpart, Kipapa Trail.  My last Ko`olau summit hike was Manana to Waiahole Uka.  This hike would mark my very first trek on the graded Ko`olau Summit Trail, a trail built into the rolling hills of the northern Ko`olau mountains between Pupukea and Kipapa.

Joining me on this day would be Thessa and Gerwin.  We pushed off from the main highway at around 6am and began a long road walk to the start of Waikane Trail.  About a mile in we began to hear the sounds of dogs barking.  Around the bend, our headlamps pierced the darkness and revealed a pair of glowing eyes.  Much to our dismay a group of dogs were blocking the road.  We stood for sometime, wondering if they will be friendly to us or finding ourselves running back to the road as they would attempt to maul us to death.  Soon, a black dog would decide it was going to be the bravest of the pack and approach us, wondering if we too were friendly or not.  The dog approached us cautiously and then soon sniffed us.  With it's tail wagging happily, first contact was established and "hostilities" ceased.  After being playful with the black dog,  it returned back to the rest of the pack and we began advancing slowly towards them.  Finally they backed off and we were on our way.  The first signs of daylight was now visible.  When the road was finally visible, we came across a huge landslide that apparently covered the road.  But we saw tire tracks and assumed that the big trucks just simply drove over the landslide to pick up the road on the other side.  Some further up, we crossed a small stream and arrived to the start of the trail, marked by an old storm drain.

Wasting no time, we made our way up the rather dull graded trail.  We talked stories along the way and the trail kept on winding around the gullies and side ridges.  Eventually the trail made a very sharp left but not before coming upon a wonderful lookout at Kahana Valley to the northeast.  About another 30 minutes to an hour later, the views of the windward Ko`olaus were upon us and we can in fact, see the remainder of the trail, etching into the windward pali just below the crest.  Since this was the actual KST, the summit trail contours below the crest, rather than on it's top.  Another hour or so passed and we came across a junction, marked by an old metal stake with ribbons on it.  Turn left almost 180 degrees to pick up a switchback to head up to Pu'u Ka`aumakua.  Continue straight and you're automatically on the KST heading towards Poamoho, which features the best stretch of summit walking because it almost exclusively contours the windward side!  This junction is crucial if you are coming in from Poamoho.  If it's socked in and you're not paying attention, it is incredibly easy to assume that you're still on the KST, but end up taking the wrong way at the junction and unknowingly continue down on the Waikane Trail!

The trail to Ka`aumakua from the junction is also part of the KST, but it's also the last leg of the Waikane Trail to reach the true summit.  Here, the trail begins to contour on the leeward side of the Ko`olau crest and spells doom for those hikers not wearing pants.  It is very overgrown and your legs will take a battering if you're not properly dressed!  Even with the recent "clearing" compared to decades ago, the overgrowth is relentless.  After crossing a clearing with a splendid view of northern windward O`ahu, we came across a grassy gully with a side trail heading up to the top of a pu'u.  Turns out this side trail is the final climb to reach Ka`aumakua, which is indicated with a geological bench mark.  At last, the Waikane Trail had been completed.  We proceeded to have lunch here.  The time was probably around 10am.  The views were incredible initially, but the clouds quickly rolled in, obscuring it.  The trade winds were in full force and we had to go just slightly leeward to feel reasonably comfortable.

We packed up and made our way back down to resume the grueling jaunt along the KST, heading southward.  For much of the way, leeward contouring is what is all about.  There were a few grassy clearings where a view of the windward side can be had, but it's very spotty.  Leeward, leeward, leeward, overgrown, overgrown, overgrown was the topic of the hour.  But the views of Ohulehule, Kahana, and Waikane when we did have a windward walk were well worth it!  Later on, the clouds were beginning to thicken and our hike became a walk in foggyland.  There were times that when we would round a spur ridge, we would think it was the wrong way because it appeared to head back the way we came from.  With no windward view for a reference point, our minds were being fooled.  Fortunately GPS on our smartphones confirmed the way was correct.  I highly recommend having some kind of navigational device with you.  You can seriously think you're lost and second guess yourself, leading you into a bad situation.

We soon came across a very large grassy gully that is dubbed the "wind tunnel".  It is no joke.  The winds felt like hurricane force winds and literally knocked us off balance.  We had to bend forward and push against the howling wind.  But don't fret.  Once you get to the other side of the grassy gully, the winds quickly cease as the trail heads back to it's leewardness.  On the next bend or two, I noticed a familiar hill off in the distance and pointed it out that it could be Waiahole Uka.  Once we rounded this hill, I immediately noticed the Sugipine trees that we've encountered when we did the hike from Manana.  We were here at last!  We quickly beelined it up the hill to gain the summit.  And by the time we did, the clouds gracefully lifted off and we had views all around us!  I looked back along the summit crest and saw the hill with the huge landslide etched into it, marking the Kipapa terminus.

After taking in the views, we headed downwards.  We headed very downwards.  I purposely used bad grammar on that last sentence because that's all it does: go downwards.  It's very hard on the knees and toes as we had to battle gravity to do a controlled descent.  The two rope sections were passed and it became a sea of uluhe all the way down to the valley trail.  Once on the valley trail, we made our way out back to our car that we staged earlier in the morning.

Finally I can put Waiahole Uka to rest for good.

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