Saturday, August 18, 2012

8-9/10/2012: Manana to Waiahole Uka

With so much time and energy devoted to flying, I haven't done a major hike this year.  That all changed when Thessa would join me on one very long hike, going up the long roller coasting trail of Manana Ridge and crossing over 4 miles of the rugged Ko`olau summit ridge to reach Waiahole Uka.  From there, we would descend it's steep windward ridge to the bottom of Waiahole Valley.  In fact, it was so long and grueling that it took us a day and a half to complete due to getting confused on one particular section of the Ko`olau summit, which I have to admit could have been avoided if I researched into this area a little bit more.  Some other hikers gave me a heads up on that section of the crest days before we would set off, but for some reason, I've failed to interpret it clearly.

We set off around 6:30am on the Manana Ridge Trail.  With virtually no conditioning at all for just about this entire year, my pace was staggeringly slower, which contributed to the longer than usual hike time.  Up and down we went on the never ending roller coaster ridge.  If tracks were laid from the trailhead to the summit with a train starting from the summit, this ridge would be perfect for a 6 mile long roller coaster ride!  After some 4 hours later, we finally acquired the summit and took in the windward views.  With an overall overcast sky over the summit, coupled by brisk trades, it made for rather chilly conditions.  Wasting no time, we headed in a north, northwest direction along the crest towards Waiahole Uka.

A short time later, we've reached a grassy meadow that has been dubbed "The Corner", where the crest makes a sharp turn to the west before gradually heading more north.  It is here where one can view the green expanse of Waiahole Valley.  Clouds began to make their way over the crest, obscuring the view at times, but it was never a complete washout, at least not yet.  Continuing on, the summit ridge began it's downward descent into a saddle what is apparently called the Wahiawa Gap.  Numerous pu'u made for more roller coasting action, but overall elevation was lost.  It was on the ascent to regain the lost elevation that made for serious huffing and puffing.  Just before the lowest point, we came across another grassy bowl where the trail heads slightly leeward from the crest.  Clouds and wind blanketed and buffeted us relentlessly in this section, but the conditions quickly cleared up for more spectacular views with clouds dancing all around us.  Time was beginning to go against us and it was probably already 4 or 5pm when we finally reached other side of the Wahiawa Gap.  Progress was painstakingly slow but we remained confident that we could reach Waiahole Valley before dark.

All of that would be thrown out the window when we reached the Kipapa summit, marked by a sign on a broad hill.  Normally with good visibility, we would have easily made out where the summit continued.  But just before topping out on Kipapa, the clouds came back with a vengeance and this time the clouds got very thick, reducing visibility to maybe a quarter mile or less.  Also, the sun was just about to set.  With no visual reference, we were inclined to continue straight ahead across the hill to descend it's other side.  But the grade of the slope turned very very steep, and there was no hint of a trail at all.  We backtracked to the sign and discovered the trail making it's descent on the windward side of the grassy hill.  By this point, the last remaining light was all but gone and out came our headlamps.  Winds began to pick up exponentially and rain began to pelt us.  Not good.  What appeared to be a side trail heading leeward down into a dry gulch was discovered but there was no sign of any trail on the dry streambed.  We followed the crest trail until it makes a sharp descent.  With sunlight, it would be easy to see what was ahead, but it was virtually pitch black and it seemed like the trail simply disappeared here.  Growing frustrated, we headed back up to the grassy hill again with the sign and began exploring westward but to no avail.  We discussed further plans, including over nighting.  We headed back down again towards windward and to our surprise, the clouds lifted, revealing the city lights of Kaneohe to the south.  Coming up on the sharp descent again, I decided to push forward this time.  I've encountered a ledge and climbed down it, followed by Thessa.  A next hill loomed ahead, but not before encountering another side trail heading leeward down into what appeared to be the same stream bed I've encountered before.  Ignoring it, I kept to the crest and tried to climb the next hill but the trail disappeared.  There was no sign at all that anyone continued up this hill.  Growing tired, we decided to call it a night and headed back to that side trail and with winds absent on this particular spot, this would be our sleeping spot for the night.  Little did we know that this side trail would be the correct path, which we would find out by morning.

At around 6:30am, we packed up and continued on our way.  I noticed the half moon in the sky and realized that the clouds were no longer over the summit!  I looked up and saw the huge grassy hill that marks the terminus of Kipapa.  However, Thessa pointed out something that I did not notice before, a massive landslide on it's windward slope.  Then I remembered what the other hikers said about the landslide and gears began to turn in my head at last.  After enjoying a wonderful sunrise, I've headed down the side trail into the dry stream bed and found much to my surprise, a contour trail!  And it headed north!  Excitement filled my head and my pace began to quicken.  I looked up and saw why the hill on the crest was not climbed.  Apparently, I hate contour trails so much that I like to keep true to the crest.  :-)

We eventually came across a grove of Sugi pines with what appeared to be metal remains of a cabin.  We were back on familiar territory.  Just ahead was the summit of Waiahole Uka!  The clouds filled the summit again and we were eager to head home.  Going east, we picked up a trail leading down a windward spur.  As we dropped quickly in elevation, the clouds lifted again and revealed a magnificent view of Mokoli`i, more commonly known as "Chinaman's Hat".  Ohulehule and the ridge line over Kualoa stood tall and proud.  Looking back to the south, we saw where we came from.  Hard to believe we came all the way from there.

Heading down the ridge was beginning to take it's toll on my toes.  I dropped back as Thessa took the lead and rocketed downward.  One word can basically summarize this ridge, DOWN if you're heading down and UP if you're heading up.  No and's, if's, or but's.  The ridge narrows considerably at times, but there are so many trees to use for security and for brakes in this case.  Eventually I came across a red rope section and the grade was near vertical here, but holds are present everywhere, along with the rope.  Heading further down, I've encountered a yellow strap accompanied by some cables.  From there, the ridge continues it's steep descent until it gradually shifts to the right into a sea of uluhe.  Despite the sometimes thick uluhe, the trail is easily discernible and soon I met up with Thessa resting on the junction with the Kuolani-Waianu Trail that meanders it's way around the ravines of Waiahole Valley.  After a few stream crossings, a man made waterfall, and one final stream crossing, the jeep road was reached and finally the gate leading to the paved road at last concluding our hike, some 30 hours after we started!

Want to thank the pilot of the red RLU-1 Breezy for giving us a ride back to our cars even though your car battery died!  Coasting down the valley road with no use of gasoline at all was pretty cool!  We were able to coast all the way to Kam. Hwy before finding someone to jump his car.  What an epic adventure!  The Ko`olau summit saga continues...

P.S.: I was told that apparently the actual Ko`olau Summit Trail (KST) starts leeward of the Kipapa Trail, thus bypassing the summit ridge and the Sugi pine grove completely, intersecting the Waiahole Summit on it's leeward side.  Maybe coming in from Waikane on the KST, I'll explore this segment in detail.