Wednesday, April 30, 2014

12-14-2013: Waiʻanae Summit Trail - Kaʻala to Kolekole Pass (Kalena)

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.

I've always had a fascination to see what was in between the two tallest mountain peaks on the island of Oʻahu.  I remember doing the Kalena Trail back in 2009 and saw the summit ridge continuing on to the 4,025ft flat topped peak of Kaʻala.  I also remember doing Kaʻala that same year and was curious how on Earth do you get to Kalena from here.  That summit section seemed so mysterious at the time.  When I've found out that Kaleo and his crew did some scouting of the area and then making the attempt, apparently there was a way.

Zack, Jon, Carl, and Rhonda joined me for the proposed route while Kalani and two of his friends joined us for the hike up to Kaʻala.  From there, they would split and head to the cabin on ʻOhikilolo Ridge.  The weather that day would virtually be a repeat from my last summit segment hike to ʻOhikilolo Ridge: clear morning skies with the afternoon clouds rushing in faster than you can say "thermal trades".

We pushed off at 8am, once again on that concrete Board of Water Supply road.  Just with the weather, the hike up was a virtually deja vu from the last hike.  As we neared the top of Kaʻala, the clouds began to thicken and hover themselves over the mountain bog.  When we got to the paved road, we discovered that Kalani and his friends had already left the area.  I got out my cell phone to call them, but already saw a text saying that they were heading towards ʻOhikilolo.  They had a need for speed going up Kaʻala and haven't seen them since the trail head.  With the group down to the five of us, we reached the benchmark just outside the perimeter fence of the Air Force station, the clouds beat us once again.  But not for long.  While we were eating our lunches, the clouds lifted and we were treated to a view of the North Shore and the Wahiawa plains!

The next task was going to be the tricky part, navigating through the mountain bog.  I really didn't want to take the most direct route through the bog since this area was full of native flora and fauna.  We scouted the area around the Air Force station to see if there was a way to circumnavigate the bog, but to no avail.  Heading back on the boardwalk, I pulled out the GPS track that Francis sent to me and overlayed it on our current position.  I want to give a BIG MAHALO to Francis for saving us the time of trying to find the route.  We reached a spot on the boardwalk where we spotted a faint but distinct trail heading to the southeast.  Navigating the trail was very difficult, especially for Zack!  He is known to do EVERY single hike with me with only the use of slippers, or as we locals call um "slippahs".  However, like a Ferrari Enzo trying to go off road on the Rubicon Trail, his slippers were completely and utterly useless on this mud soup of a marsh.  He had to do it barefoot.  To make things worse, thorns were present everywhere, to the sides, above, and below, hidden in the mud!  Anyone who didn't have a long sleeved shirt were exposed to them.  And there were choke brah!  Seriously!  "Zack, may God have mercy on your soul" was all I could think of during this portion of the hike.  I tip my hat to you for enduring such unforgiving terrain with nothing but bare feet, board shorts, and a t-shirt!  In this forest were a vast array of native plants as far as the eye could see.  There was one that caught my eye, Kanawao (Broussaisia arguta).  This one was of particular interest because of how deep the purple was.

The muddy slosh was painstakingly slow.  If you want to experience first hand what is like to go through a native mountain forest, this was it (not recommended).  We had to make sure we stuck close to one another as the trail was barely visible and it winded crazy through the forest.  Get lost here and you're in serious trouble.  At times, there were areas where the trail seemed to split, but keeping true to the GPS, we didn't get sidetracked that much, except for one spot where the trail seemed to disappear, but we had to pull a "Legend of Zelda" move and push through.  The terrain transitioned from a flat mountain forest to more ridge like.  I could see the leeward drop into Waiʻanae Valley far below.  We were on track.  When the ridge became more exposed, there was a cool cloud formation up ahead.  The clouds shrouded the leeward side of the ridge while the windward side was completely exposed.  Seems like the winds have shifted and they were now coming from the leeward side.  The borderline between clear air and the clouds was very distinct, like a giant wall.  The clouds blocked the view to Kalena but we could see the summit ridge leading to it.  Looking back behind us, we easily saw the giant flat topped peak of Kaʻala, along with her white golf ball.  Filled with excitement, we pressed onwards.

As we dropped in elevation, we came across a rocky descent with a rope.  It wasn't too particularly difficult except having to trust the tree branch the rope was anchored to to lower yourself the first 5 feet or so.  All of us made it without too much trouble.  Immediately after that was another rocky area where one has to skirt across a gap.

Further up, we came across a large boulder.  On the other side, a fence began.  It was also here where the thorns came back with a vengeance.The ridge maintained a roller coaster profile, typical of Hawaiian ridges.  At some point, we came across a small grassy area, heavily marked with pink trail tape.  This must be the terminus of Hobb's Ridge, a steep leeward ridge coming up from Waiʻanae Valley.  We were in autopilot mode as we kept following the metal fence line all the way to Kalena.  We were now shrouded in clouds, reducing visibility.

A massive pu'u loomed in the distance, we were almost there!  There was a small eroded notch that had to be traversed carefully.  There was a rope on the other side for assistance.  From there, we made the final push to the summit of Kalena.  Along the way, we got sporadic views of Bolohead, Hobb's Ridge, and "Star Trek".

The trail opened up and there was a benchmark, marking the summit.  Unfortunately, the clouds socked us in.  We plopped down to rest and hydrate.  We still had a long hike down the now little used Kalena Trail.  Apparently, we left our guard down and proceeded downward in the wrong direction, thinking it was the summit trail.  It took me a while to realize something was amiss, both from years of not doing this trail, and thinking that the trail got super overgrown over those years.  I got the GPS out and confirmed my suspicion.  We were heading down windward.  With about 20 minutes wasted, we made the climb back to the summit and followed the fence in the right direction.  Keep true to the fence.

The Kalena Trail consists of three distinct peaks, which from our point of travel, got smaller with each one.  The last peak marked the turn off towards Kolekole Pass.  By the time we got to the 2nd peak, the sun had already set and darkness was setting in fast.

By the time we got to the famous dikes between the 2nd and the 1st peak, it was pitch black.  I also recalled the fence not being here last time I did this trail.  It was sad to see fences popping up all over the place, places that you've been before.  Off in the distance, we could see the city lights of Wahiawa and Schofield Barracks.  The moon was shining brightly and there were times that we didn't need our headlamps for illumination.  Once on the first peak, the trail turned sharply right and headed downward for Kolekole Pass.  Another 30 minutes to an hour and we were on Kolekole Rd.  Carl's friend was waiting for us further down the road and drove us back to Schofield Barracks.

Although finally explored, every time I drive down Waiʻanae side and look up, I will always see this section of the Waiʻanaes as eerie and mysterious.

Lucky we live Hawaiʻi.

Video coming soon!

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