Thursday, June 13, 2013

4-6-2013: KST - La'ie to Pupukea

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

It's crunch time.  With the momentum of achieving my personal goal still strong as a brightly lit torch piercing the vastness of the Ko`olaus, I wasted no time in scrambling together the second to the last segment of the entire summit spine.  Joining me would be Andrew Wilhite of Punynari's Island Adventures.  The original plan was to actually gain the summit of La'ie Trail and cross over to the Castle Trail via the Ko`olau Summit Trail and then descend to the point where the Papali Ridge branches off the Castle Trail.  That trail would have lead us back to Hau'ula, where we staged a car there.  There are numerous accounts of people of losing the KST in this segment.  Unfortunately, our excursion would be added to that seemingly growing list.

We pushed off the La'ie trailhead at around 5am.  Since this was my first time on this trail, I made sure to survey my surroundings a little more than what I usually do with connector trails.  The trail is quite pleasant until beyond the norfolk pines.  Beyond, the trail narrows to a graded footpath that meanders it's way to the Ko`olau summit.  About 2 hours in, we came across the junction to the La'ie Falls.  The majority of traffic usually goes to these falls, a place I have yet to do.  The infamous "La'ie 18 Falls" also ends here, another hike I have yet to do.  The clouds were still thick just beyond the waterfall sign.  Rain began to pelt us and would remain this way for much of the day.

Beyond, the trail transforms into the usual native Ko`olau experience as one hikes closer to the summit.  While the La'ie Trail is only 5 miles, it felt much longer than that.  At this point, we were hiking in white out conditions.  I started getting concerned that we would be hiking in this white soup for the entire summit stretch, which would prove true as the day went on.  We also passed Dave Fahrenwald's "Moose" near the top.

At the summit, we plopped down, rested up, took some photos of the immediate surroundings, the backdrop obscured by the clouds.  We then pushed southeast along the KST towards Castle.  After about 15 or 30 minutes, we came across a very strange, swampy, flat area.  It was filled with mystery as the socked in conditions made for an eerie backdrop.  We kept to the windward crest, passed a small grassy area, and continued onward.  Suddenly the trail became very rugged and seemed to go downward a bit.  Up ahead was a small gully with a tiny waterfall.  Then, I didn't like what I saw.  The trail continued forward but also nearly straight down.  This wasn't the correct way.  The KST does not do this at all.  The strange thing was that there were fresh pink ribbons tied, making this a marked trail.  Back we went to the swampy marsh.  Once on the grassy area again, we went leeward, right in the heart of the muddy marsh to look for signs of a trail.  Sure enough there was and was also marked with trail tape.  We followed this and it appeared to be the correct way since the trail was back to it's typical contouring profile.  We were confident that we found the summit trail.

All of that would soon be thrown out the window about a half hour after we left the marsh area.  The clouds lifted very briefly to reveal the Wahiawa plains and the Wai`anae Mountains directly in front of us.  Below, the trail followed a leeward ridge line heading towards that area.  Turns out we were going down the Kawailoa Trail.  Darn.  We backtracked to the marsh once again and an hour was wasted.  Growing frustrated, we decided to go back to the waterfall again.  Andrew would scout farther ahead on that steep trail just beyond the falls, but later would tell me that the trail just keeps heading downward.  It was definitely some unknown windward ridge trail.  Kawailoa Windward perhaps?  Back to the swamp we go.  Demoralization filled our heads and with no answer in sight, we made the call to go back to La'ie.  As we were making the short walk back, I thought about the segment between La'ie and Pupukea.  What if we just make a long shot for Pupukea?  We came up La'ie and didn't want to waste it for nothing.  Andrew agreed and as soon as we reached the La'ie terminus, we went straight ahead along the KST northwest towards Pupukea.  It was around 12:30pm and mean't roughly 6 or 7 hours of daylight left.  Would we make it in time?

The white out conditions remained with us and while initially the KST remained the same with it's uluhe filled hills, I kept thinking about the wrath of the strawberry guava trees that battered intrepid hikers for decades.  This segment would be after all, the worst of the entire KST as far as overgrowth is concerned and I would end up agreeing at the end of the day.  About an hour or so after La'ie summit, the guavas did come out in full force.  From here on out, this would be our environment we had to deal with.  The guava thickets were so dense, we had to probably expend 4 times the amount of energy to plow our way through.  Andrew remained at the ramrod position, exposing him to most of the blunt of the thickets.  Even as I followed him, it wasn't easier at all for me.  We had to bend our heads down like we were running backs of the NFL.  For this section, having an actual football helmet probably wouldn't be a bad idea!  Safety goggles would be wise too as every branch protruding towards our face would appear to gouge our eyes out.  The farther we progressed, the thicker the walls on both sides thickened.  Our shoulders began to hurt.  A real football player would probably fare better in these conditions than us.  It was so bad, but we were committed to finish.  We were in complete silence as the only sound we heard was the rattling of each guava branch as we pushed and shoved foward.

There was a slight break and the guava trees let up somewhat.  We came to a small clearing with a sign pointing downward towards windward with no obvious sign of a path.  The sign is badly weathered and almost overtaken by nature but the letters enscribed on it are still visible.  "MALAEKHANA"  Oops....  ;-)

The next hour or two would be hell.  The already thick guava thickets just kept getting THICKER!  Push and shove!  Push and shove!  Go! Go! Go!  When will this end???  A short while, we came upon a sign.

Next was another junction.  This one can easily fool you if you're complacent with your surroundings.  The trail on the right would appear to head straight, but actually it's the left trail that continues on the KST.  The pushing and shoving resumed.  Sometimes the guava trees were coupled with the dense uluhe, which formed "tunnels" and we had to duck our heads!  Keep going, I muttered to myself...

After a never ending battle, the guavas opened up to a WIDE open grassy area with a benchmark on it!  "Hina" it read.  We did it!  We made it to the terminal point of the Pupukea Trail.  We were in joy as we ran down a freeway of a trail, thanks to HTMC's recent clearing!  This was like a sidewalk compared to what we were enduring hours ago.  We came across some battery packs strewn on the ground.  Wondered what they are used for and what they are doing laying around on the trail.  We came to a signed junction with a big sign that read "PUPUKEA".  The side trail heads for an overlook, but since we had no view and fast diminishing sunlight, we skipped it and continued downward.  

Another hour passed and we were soon on the paved road.  We discovered as we were making our way down this road, we were not alone.  Two groups of people were also going down.  One group were hikers, the other some runners.  I know for one thing, we looked like we just finished up Warrior Dash!  We passed by a picnic table.  An older lady was sitting at the table with her dog. We asked how much longer to the Boy Scouts Camp and she replied that we had 2 miles to go.  Almost there!  The group of people disappeared into the distance.  We left the lady with the dog behind but she would later catch up to us.  We were that tired.  Soon, we were alone once again as the sun began to set.  In the distance, we could make out the Pupukea HECO windfarm.  We walked the final mile in the dark to rendezvous with Andrew's Fiancee at the end of Pupukea Rd.  She drove us to La'ie and then to Hau'ula to fetch our cars.

This is indeed a decision to remember.

No comments:

Post a Comment