Monday, April 28, 2014

11-22/23-2013: Waiʻanae Summit Trail - Kaʻala to Three Corners

CAUTION: The Waiʻanae Mountain Range is located on properties owned by the U.S. government, the U.S. military of all branches, the state of Hawaiʻi via departments, and private owners. The mountain ridges and valleys are also home to a delicate and vast array of native plants, animals, and insects. Please take care not to disturb them or their native habitats and always seek permission to access these lands. Always do your research prior to setting out. And finally, once you are out there, always minimize your impact to the environment and of course, be safe.

This stretch of the Waiʻanaes would include the hike up the Waiʻanae-Kaʻala Trail, the portion of the summit between Oʻahu's tallest peak, Mt. Kaʻala, and an area that is known as the "Three Corners".  To exit, we would have to traverse a hot, dry, and a crumbly ridge to reach Puʻu ʻOhikilolo, all while clinging on to a fence that runs straight down the middle of the thin ridge.  The final leg of the journey would take us from ʻOhikilolo, cross a low lying saddle to gain Keaʻau Ridge, and down a middle ridge to ʻOhikilolo Valley.  Since none of us has done this segment before, we couldn't truly gauge the time required to hike the planned distance.  We knew there was a cabin at Puʻu ʻOhikilolo so I made it our goal to reach this cabin by night fall and camp overnight.  If we still had enough light left, we would skip the cabin and make the attempt to finish it all in one sitting.  The crew for this day was Arnold, Zack, Kalani, Jon, and myself.  Arnold and Zack would accompany us to Kaʻala and return the same way.  The rest of us would continue to the cabin.

We began the hike at around 9am up the Board of Water Supply road.  I've always dreaded heading up this road just to gain the trail head.  The sun was already beaming down and it was to be a hot one today.  We rested at a picnic area just outside the trail head.  Once on the trail, we kept a sharp eye out for the purple plastic bottle caps that mark the W-K Trail.  It's real easy to miss the junction to the left down to the stream and continue straight up the ridge line.  We crossed a short clearing with views of the ridges around us and headed back into the forest.  After a left turn into the forest, the trail begins it's relentless climb up to "Three Poles", a spot marked by three electrical poles.  I was sadden when we came across the fence, which was not present the last time I've done the W-K Trail.  Like a steel vine that never stops expanding, it's slowly making it's presence all over the Waiʻanae Mountains and the Koʻolaus.

Looking up towards the flat topped peak of Kaʻala, The sky was completely clear of clouds.  But that is always a deception.  I would say about 80% of all my ridge hikes I've done, the clouds always came in upon reaching the summit and this hike would be no different.  Just before the final push, the boulder section had to be climbed.  But with choke ropes everywhere, progress was easily made.  It was a steady and sometimes steep climb all the way until we saw the Kaʻala Nature Area Reserve.  The views leeward were spectacular!

As we walked on a boardwalk through the mountain bog, the clouds dropped down, as expected at this time.  We've encountered a few people heading the opposite direction on the boardwalk.  Here we were introduced to three guides who were leading a volunteer group.  Apparently these guys were following me on Instagram and recognized me by face.  After talking short stories and posing for a photo, we continued on towards the Air Force / FAA.  We gained the paved road leading into the facility and noticed two white trucks.  It must have been the volunteer group.  We skirted around the perimeter fence and sat down for lunch at the 4,025ft benchmark.  The air was misty as the clouds have fully shrouded the views around us.  The clouds would open to a view of the blue sky above but the clouds below remained thick.

We packed up after 15 minutes and headed back towards the paved road.  We saw the volunteer group make their way back to the trucks for refreshments.  We said our final goodbyes and began our very long walk down the road.  It dropped in elevation fairly quickly and had to fight gravity.  Walking backwards sometimes alleviates the feet. Initially, we came across a green bridge and a trail leading down the windward side of Kaʻala.  This was the Dupont Trail.  Unfortunately, access was lost back in 2009 and I could imagine the trail being completely overgrown by now.

Further down, we noticed a white para cord dangling down the cliff face from the summit ridge high above the road.  I wonder if this was left by Ahnate, the individual who traversed the Waiʻanaes in it's entirely in 3 days.  Passing by a radio tower, we dropped below the cloud decks and were seeing views of the North Shore.  Around another bend, ʻOhikilolo Ridge began to show it's razor sharp profile.

A short while later, we came across a worker in a shack.  He informed us that we were on a government road and wouldn't let us pass initially, but after stating our intentions, he let us proceed.  He said that people would sometimes try to go to Kaʻala from Peacock Flats and would turn them back.  Since we were heading towards that direction, it only made sense for us to continue on instead of having us turn back up the road.  He said farewell and good luck and we continued our tramp down the road.  It was about 5 minutes or so when we spotted to our left, the rutted trail heading upwards to the summit ridge.  Once on the summit ridge, the fence greeted us and we followed it to Three Corners.  Here, the three valleys of Makaha, Makua, and Mokulēia converged to a point.

The views were grand, but it didn't last long as the cloud began to drop again.  I traced the ʻOhikilolo Ridge to the cabin.  It sure looked very close but knew that this would be a roller coaster ridge from hell, fully equipped with a fence.  On we went, first down, then up, and down again.  Grip the fence, step on this side, step on the other, up, down, up, down, up, down.  This would be the motto for the next few hours.  Along the way were some tricky rocky obstacles, including one where one has to traverse right over it on some slippery looking rock.  Daylight was beginning to run out and we knew that ʻOhikilolo Cabin was going to be our home away from home for the night.

As the light grew dim, we focused on the silhouette of the next pu'u.  Then the next.  Then the next.  At around blackout, we finally noticed that the fence began to contour this one really large pu'u.  This has got to be it!  Rain began to fall hard.  The fence began to level out and I noticed that we were contouring a large red washout.  I was familiar with this washout and I instructed everyone to hop the fence to the Makua facing side.  A few more steps ahead and we were standing at the front door of the cabin.  Knock. Knock.  I grabbed the doorknob, twisted it, fearing it would be locked.  The door swung inward.  Welcome to the hotel ʻOhikilolo.  We got our sleeping bags out and warmed up the burner for some hot drinks and soup as the rain continued to pelt the roof.  Glad the rain held out just in time to get to the cabin.  Once we finished our dinner, we tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags and drifted off to sleep.  I woke up to a bright light shining through my window.  Since it was blurred, I couldn't see what was out there, but the light had a moving effect.  I thought we were going to be sharing the cabin with other people.  I got up and walked into the kitchen area and was in awe when I saw the moon.  Wasn't quite a full moon, but it was still bright.  Turns out, that was what I was seeing and the clouds passing over it gave it that moving effect.  I could easily see Puʻu ʻOhikilolo standing tall and proud.  In fact, the silhouette of that peak and the two next to it gave it a familiar look to the Gaza Pyramids in Egypt.  I went back to bed and drifted off to sleep.

The following morning, we had a light breakfast and packed our gear.  The clouds were still hanging over the Waiʻanaes but the rain had stopped.  The morning sun was peaking over the clouds.

Unfortunately, the ground was soaking wet, making the saddle part of the hike a little sketchy.  We followed the red washout downward.  There was a goat trail contouring a set of teeth like rock formations, which we followed.  At some point though, the trail disappears and we had to scale upward to gain the top of the ridge.  Following the ridge, we reached an area that looks like the surface of Mars.  The color of the surrounding soil and rock were completely different to the rest of the mountain.  Another fence greeted us and we followed it, scaling some minor rock face to gain the top of ʻOhikilolo Middle Ridge.  We made it!  It's all down hill from here.

We went down some ropes, losing elevation quickly.  The trail than contoured to the right to bypass a large rocky cliff to the right before regaining the ridge line again.  We crossed some narrow sections with some great views.  Looking back, the pyramidal peak of ʻOhikilolo dominated the ridges high above.  Looking forward, we could see the valley road leading back to Farrington Hwy.

A couple hours more and we made it.  Mahalo to Brian for picking us up!  He said he tried to fly the RLU-1 Breezy over our spot since I've checked in with him yesterday.  The clouds however prevented him from going that far mauka.  Now that I think about it, I do recall hearing a sound of a small aircraft, but the sound was faint.

What a trip!

Video coming soon!

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