Friday, June 14, 2013

5-5-2013: Endgame - KST (Castle to Laʻie)

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

The final leg of this 3 and a half year journey to complete the Ko`olau summit in it's entirely happened on this day, but it wouldn't come without a battle.  And what a battle it would be.  In fact, this was going to be so epic that I've enlisted quite a few experienced individuals who have joined me over the years.  Along with that, I would get to meet several new faces as well.  I've put together such a big hiking army, that this day would virtually be my Ko`olau version of D-Day at the Normandy Beach.  We would definitely prove that 2 or more heads are better than one as this final segment of the Ko`olau summit would probably be the most confusing of them all due to a sheer number of side trails that branch off in every direction.

We got together at around 5 at the 7-Eleven in Hau'ula after staging cars at the La'ie Trail.  But after some unexpected delays, we didn't push off until 5:30 or 6.  Up we went on the long roller coasting trail of Papali Ridge.  The morning sun was lighting up the skies around us but as we went further up, the thick cloud decks were obscuring the entire Ko`olau summit.  I had a bad feeling that this would be a repeat of the weather conditions when I did La'ie to Pupukea the month before.  The Papali Ridge Trail intersected the Castle Trail and we followed that up to the junction with the Ko'olau Summit Trail.  It was around 11 or 12 when we topped out at the Castle Trail terminus, marked by a rusted metal stake and a plastic PVC pole.  The weather was already deteriorating so we wasted no time and pushed off towards La'ie.

 Things were uneventful.  It was typical socked in white out conditions on the KST.  However it wouldn't be long before we would lose the summit trail and it wouldn't be the last time either.  There are so many junctions that it is very easy to get disoriented and possibly lost.  It didn't help that we didn't have a view so everything looked the same around us.  I recalled us getting disoriented at a rat trap area.  The trail kept going but then simply vanished.  Since we had a huge group, many of us ventured off in every direction to scout the surroundings.  It probably took around 15 minutes before we realized that we missed an obvious junction to the left just as rat traps came into view.  We soon rediscovered the KST and continued on our way.

A few hours passed and navigated through a couple more junctions before coming upon the fence.  We followed it for some time when we encountered the Koloa Cabin.  This was the best cabin I've seen yet.  It was even fully provisioned with canned goods.  But we were on a timely schedule so we skipped the meal and proceeded on.  A few more hours and the Ko'olaus will be mine, this thorn finally out of me!  We continued along the fence line and we were treated to a brief view of the La'ie coastline as the clouds lifted up.  It didn't last long and we were back in white out conditions.

We would be set back once again when we came across a critical junction.  The KST and fence line diverted away from each other.  Go left and keep on the trail?  Or go right and keep following the fence?  We saw a pink ribbon on the fence.  We opted for the latter...  ::GAME SHOW BUZZER SOUND:: WRONG!  We ended up losing a half hour for that when the fence started to drop steeply windward.  We backtracked to the junction, took the pink trail tape off the fence, which is misleading, and moved it to a brush on the trail.  Keep left on the trail, not the fence on the right!  From that junction, you should no longer be following the fence.

The clouds were beginning to thin and visibility was improving rapidly.  The next thing we encountered a short while later was a place that I've seen before...  A place where it threw Andrew and I when we attempted this route but instead went to Pupukea!  It's was that swampy marsh!  On the next hill ahead of us was the foundation of the Kawailoa cabin and helipad.  The KST kept to the left side of the marsh, contouring the hill which is just above it, and gradually descended to place us in a small gully that is leeward to the marsh.  We crossed the marsh and reached the grassy spot where Andrew and I turned around.  I would technically complete the Ko`olaus at this very spot but didn't celebrate until we got to the La'ie summit.  Since we were back on familiar territory, I told everyone where to go and we would be at the terminal point in about 15 minutes.  As we made our way, the clouds finally lifted up, revealing everything around us, including the windward coastline.  The first thing that stood out to me was the fact that the entire Ko'olaus was very broad, a flat profile.  This isn't like the south Ko'olaus where a distinct windward drop is present.  The KST practically goes around all the rolling hills in this area, hence one could get lost easily in this section.

We reached the foxhole at around 6pm.  As I made my final steps, somebody yelled out "You've completed the Ko`olau Summit!"  I was too tired to even respond so I threw my two fists into the air and plopped my okole down.  High fives were exchanged amongst the crew.

The journey was finally over.

We didn't stay too long.  We were rapidly losing sunlight and the rain began to fall so the faster guys booked it down the La'ie Trail.  The rest of us would stick together as darkness enveloped us.  It was raining for much of the way until we reached the dirt road.  The road was wet so it made for some slippery footing.  We could see some of the water trickling down the lowest portion of the dirt road.  Up in the distance, we could see Kamehameha Hwy and all the brightly lit light poles.  After some 14 hours on the trails, we reached our cars.  The thorn was gone at last and I let out a sigh of relief.

"I stand relieved".


  1. That's quite a journey. Yes, it is not easy to do the entire spine of the Ko'olau, it's a major accomplishment.