Friday, December 31, 2010

12-04-2010: Bear Claw - Left Fork

With Piliwale Ridge, Olomana 3rd peak backside descent, and True Manamana under my belt, it was only a matter of time that I would set my sights on Bear Claw Ridge (otherwise known as Pu'u O Kona windward), a prominent ridge that dominates the windward pali cliffs of Waimanalo Town and her farm fields that wrap around the fluted ridges of the Ko'olau base.  There are two routes that ascend to the summit and they are known as left and right fork.  On this day, I had the opportunity to hike with with Chenay Borja and Joshua Serrano, part of the "808 Goonies" group, for the first time.  Randy Glidden from Oahu Hikers & Adventurers also tagged along to climb the left fork of Bear Claw Ridge.  We began at around 8:00am.

Because one has to do the "T thing", I will have to, once again, keep the location of this trailhead a secret.  To get to the base of left fork, we had to trudge through a large field that is part of a ranch to a watertank that "officially" marks the beginning of the ridge.  From the watertank, it's all uphill.  Ropes are present but not necessary as the grade of the ridge was still rather shallow.  However if it's raining, I would imagine this area would turn into one enormous mud slide so these ropes would prove useful.

After a short while, we passed through two clearings with a set of powerlines each.  From the 2nd powerline onward, it's where we got down to business as the grade of the ridge began to steadily increase.  After about 10 to 20 minutes, we encountered our first rockface, but it was a minor climb.  However, this is also where we began encountering these low lying trees where branches seem to branch out (no pun intended) in every direction possible.  Some of these branches were brittle to the touch, others strong enough to function as a hand/foot hold.  This would be critical for the upcoming rockfaces.

At the 2nd rockface, things got difficult....  very very difficult.  First up was Randy, then Josh, then me, followed last by Chenay.  Fortunately, there are two metal spikes that have been spiked into the rockface, dating back to who knows when, providing a very critical point for foot and hands alike.  Without the spikes, this rockface would be almost impossible to scale without any sort of aid.  The first metal spike is solid and one can rest his or her entire weight on that spike alone, although don't try hopping up and down like a happy school girl to see if it will truly hold!  The 2nd metal spike spooked me a bit as I discovered that it can be rotated.  Fearing I would completely rip it off the rockface, I scurried up and over the rockface as quickly as I could.  It appears that although it rotates, it can't be pulled out so it can be still used as a sturdy handhold.

Beyond the rockface, the trees whose branches explode in all kinds of directions returned.  These trees proved irritating for just about the entire duration of the climb up to the junction where left and right fork merge.  One has to contort his or her body to get under, along side, or over the strong branches.  Somehow Randy and Chenay were able to blaze ahead and by the time we got to the 3rd rock face, they were already out of sight.  Josh and I kinda got nervous about this one as there are very little places for hand and footholds and the fact that we were exposed.  Somehow we both made it over and the trail contoured a bit on the left and then wrapped back around towards the right with another smaller rock face.  Here we were within visual of Randy and Chenay.  Josh and I exclaimed that this rockface was nuts!  Chenay replied that the rockface with the 2 spikes was worse.

Onward we went, the steepness of the ridge, coupled by those annoying trees, never letting up.  There was one particular 'smooth' section that I dubbed the "Spiderman section" because here you can get on all fours and scurry your way up as if you were Spiderman.

Soon, we came upon a windswept area and we saw 2 or 3 ribbons on a tree.  It appeared that we have reached the junction where left and right fork combine into one ridge that continues on towards the crest of the Ko'olaus and Pu'u O Kona.  Looking to the left, I could see the rest of the Ko'olaus going towards Makapu'u and directly behind me was the bluer than blue waters of Waimanalo Bay and her beautiful white beach.  From here to the summit, it would be a wild trek on narrow crumbly ridges, with more rockfaces in between, and with death drops on both sides.  My favorite!  As we marched along the ridge, sometimes getting as narrow as a foot wide in places, we came to a peculiar rock that was shaped like a mushroom from Mario Bros.  I stood on it, attempting to get a better vantage point of my surroundings.  Behind me I could see Chenay and Josh on the narrow ridge and could barely make out Randy as he created a sizeable gap.

Looking up ahead, I could see more and more rockfaces to be climbed.  There was a point that I somehow lost the trail and unknowingly began contouring to the left of the ridge, thinking that it was the better approach to attack these rockfaces.  Bad mistake as I realized that this wasn't the path and soon found myself on unstable ground.  As I traced my steps back to the main crest of the ridge and rejoined Chenay and Josh, I realized that the these rockfaces weren't so bad and easily climbed up them.  So much for the unnecessary scare I had to put into myself to avoid these rather little rockfaces, it's bark apparently worse than it's bite.  There was one rockface that was tricky, but thanks to a small hole in the rock, it provided a critical footing to help me get up and over.

We got to a point where I could see the rest of the trail that goes onward for a while, then makes a sharp bank upward to the summit crest.  I thought about the final 50ft or so where there's nothing but loose soil, where one has to claw his way up.  But before we got there, we had to plow through numerous foliage on an extreme narrow ridge, akin to the route leading up to True Manamana.  Once we were perched at the bottom of the final climb to the summit, I saw Randy already at the summit, looking back down towards us.  Directly in front of me was a rock that jutted outward and I probably spent about a good minute or two, pondering about how I would get up this thing.  I literally threw all my weight forward, landing on my stomach.  With no feet for support, it was all upper body strength and I began a series of flopping action on my stomach to get at least my knees on solid ground.  Once back on my feet, I asked Josh for the shovel that he brought along just for this section.  I've read numerous articles about the difficulty of this part and even Kaleo Lancaster suggested that a shovel wouldn't be a bad idea!  With shovel in my right hand, I jabbed the shovel into the soil and used the handle as a leverage to pull myself up, while using my left hand to claw into the dirt.  The trail hung to the right side of the ridge, putting me so close to the massive dropoff below.  Not to be distracted, I continued upward: bear claw, bear shovel, bear claw, bear shovel....  Soon enough, I was on the summit with Randy!

Next up was Josh and he struggled a bit on what would be known as "the hump", referring to the rock that juts out at the bottom of the final climb.  He got into a precarious position with his legs completely dangling in the air and his upper torso and arms the only sole connection to the ridge.  Chenay, realizing Josh was stuck, placed her hands underneath one of Josh's feet and he began the humping action with his stomach to get up, much in the same way as I got up.  I could see it in Josh's face that he had enough of this hike and just wanted to get it over with.  I don't blame him!  Like a finish line waiting for a marathon runner who has ran 40 miles, the summit beckoned and he eventually made it, relieved that it was finally over!  Chenay soon followed and our glorious adventure up Bear Claw left fork was complete at last!  The time was a little past 11am.  From bottom to the summit, it took us a little over 3 hours.

We plopped down on our okoles for lunch and we gazed at the beautiful vistas before us.  To the left, was the fluted cliffs of the Ko'olaus and the actual true peak of Pu'u O Kona.  I was always curious where Bear Claw would spit us out at the crest.  It so happens that the ridge terminates at a dirt section of the crest that is situated between the Kuli'ou'ou state trail and Pu'u O Kona.  I tied a pink ribbon with my trademark "DGC" initials.

After about 20 minutes or so on the summit, we headed left (east) towards the terminus of the Kuli'ou'ou State Trail and went down it's switchbacks in a rather anticlimatic matter.  We reached the cars at around 1:30pm and proceeded to have lunch at the Hawai'i Kai center.

Next up, Bear Claw Right Fork!


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

10-18-2010: Mt. Olympus to Pu'u O Kona

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

With everyone at work on Monday and the most hated work day of the week, Tommy, David, and I had one hell of an undertaking, an attempt to cross the entire Ko'olau summit ridge from Olympus to Pu'u O Kona.  Originally we were to only go as far as Wai'alae Nui and descend it's ridge back to Aha Aina Pl, but with ideal weather conditions at the summit, we ultimately decided to try for o Kona.

I'm normally not a morning person so one of the most difficult "sections" of this super hike was me getting up at 4am and driving over to Wai'alae, picking up David along the way at a 7-eleven just off St. Louis Drive, to meet Tommy at the Wai'alae Nui subdivision as our plan was to stage his car at the end of Aha Aina Pl.  I scouted this "trailhead" the night prior to this morning mainly to see if this was a gated community like Wiliwilinui and more recently Hawaii Loa Ridge.  When I reached the end of aforementioned street, I did not see any discernable trailhead, only a metal fence to my left that says "No Trespassing" (sigh).  I spotted what appeared to be a road also on my left just before the metal fence with a luxury looking gate.  My first instinct was that the road ended up at a house, but after checking my GPS/Google Maps on my iPhone, I realized that this road leads to a watertank.  Wai'alae Nui trailhead perhaps?  One day, I'll find out.

Anyways, after shuttling the three of us back to St. Louis Heights, we arrived at the Wa'ahila State Recreation Area at 6:30am, it's gate still locked.  I was to leave my car just outside this gate anyway to avoid being locked in should we fail to arrive back here before the park closed at 6:45pm tonight.

Shoving off, we began our march up Wa'ahila Ridge just as the first rays of sunlight touched the green vastness of the Ko'olaus.  Amazing how such vastness could still exist in this over development of this island, I thought to myself.  After a few roller coaster ups and downs, we reached a junction with Kolowalu Trail heading back down to Manoa Valley and the less frequent traveled Wa'ahila Ridge trail to our right.  After a 2 and a half hour ramble, we reached the summit of Olympus.  To the left was the summit ridge heading up to Konahuanui, still shrouded in clouds.  Leslie and I have completed that route last week.  To the right was the route of our undertaking.

Wasting no time on Olympus, we set off along the Ko'olau summit ridge just before 10am with David taking the ramrod position.  Almost immediately, the crest dive bombs to a saddle which features a 7ft rockface, followed by a narrow ridge.  The rockface has lots of of hand and footholds so it was no problem.  Once we cleared this somewhat tricky section, we could see that we were fast approaching the two white powerlines.  After a small climb, the trail widen up considerably, we were now on the summit portion of the loop trail that circumnavigates Ka'au Crater.  This was deja vu for Tommy as he hiked this loop trail 2 days prior to today.  Because of the trail's great condition, it was smooth sailing to Palikea, the apex of the kokohead (east) side of Ka'au Crater.

Beyond Palikea, we dropped down to another low saddle before climbing a low-grass, lung busting hillside to Kainawa'aunui (Tommy got stung a few times by some bees foraging in the bushes just off to the side of the trail), the topping out point of Lanipo.  Further ahead was true Lanipo, marked by metal stamps.  After a few more ups an downs we reached the terminus of Wai'alae Nui Ridge at 11:30am.  We plopped our okoles down, contemplating if we were to descend this ridge back to Tommy's car or continue ahead to Pu'u o Kona.  As we gazed out at the windward vistas, present along the entire way, we looked over to our right along the crest and saw Wiliwilinui and it's communications tower.  Since we made it before noon, we all voted in favor to continue our journey.  Unbeknownst to us, what lay ahead from here on out was to be the most difficult portion of our hike.

After saddling up, we continued on, the crest yet again dive bombing to a low saddle.  This was probably the steepest descent of the day, but sturdy overgrowth were ever so present to help with our controlled descent.  At the bottom, one could look back and see how far we dropped.  From a distance, this looks gnarly but it's far from it.  We passed through a set of powerlines, hearing it sizzle above us.  From here, the crest begins it's upward climb to a small pu'u, descending slightly and then climbing up to the topping out point of Wiliwilinui.  Upon reaching Wiliwilinui, we were greeted by an older couple who've hiked up Wiliwilinui and were enjoying the views.  They were quite surprised when they have learned where we have came from and where we were headed.

After a quick chit-chat, we prodded on, reaching the top of a large hill where from here we could see the remainder of our journey.  In the far distance was Pu'u o Kona, marked by it's trademarked "Bear Claw Ridge" that dips down to the left towards Waimanalo.  After about 30 minutes after we set off from Wiliwilinui, we reached a broad grassy summit.  I was not familiar with this summit, yet there was a trail heading leeward.  I headed down the trail for about 30ft and discovered a green wooden sign, akin to Castle Trail, with the words "Wailupe Loop" enscribed on it.  Ahhh, Udom has led an OH&A group hike on this trail this past spring/summer.

Marching on, things started to get progressively difficult in terms of vegetation overgrowth.  Although the entire summit ridge is overgrown, the overgrowth was tolerable the whole way up until this point.  I've read on an old OHE article and HTMC veteran Wing Ng mentions this section as an "untrail".  That article was made on December 24, 1997.  We did this on October 18, 2010, and he is still right.  While there is a discernable path, the growth rose significantly, becoming a jungle like overgrowth.  Not to be stopped, we forced ourselves through the thicket.  After about an hour, we finally emerged onto the dirt covered summit of Hawaii Loa.  I thought to myself "This is the worst of it, should be smooth kine up to o Kona".  Oh was I ever so wrong.....

Tommy pointed out a Na Ala Hele stairway leading back down Hawaii Loa.  We had a choice: descend a heavenly like stairway (the stairs were so inviting after a hard's day jaunt along the crest, they were so well maintained, like it was inviting us salvation.  I was waiting for God to make the stairs glow white and add a holy ambience in the background.) or continue on the fiery hellish path along the Ko'olau summit ridge towards o Kona.  We chose the latter and after pushing off from Hawaii Loa summit, the trail was relatively clear initially and we approached the apex of Kulepeamoa with rather much ease, but from here to o Kona, things got way difficult.  WAY difficult.  The jungle like thicket returned and this time it was thicker x10.  For every step we took, we probably had to expend quadruple the amount of energy.  From Kulepeamoa and Kuli'ou'ou 2 (west ridge), a frustrated Tommy took the ramrod position and I don't know how he did it, but he was able to plow through this section like a rocket, as if he had some kind of invisible bulldozer in front of him.  I've never seen so much energy explode out of a person, much more less on a summit section so overgrown!  As David and I trailed behind him, he created a sizeable gap between us and was pulling ahead!  When we were in the last saddle, David and I were thinking to overselves, did Tommy just become immortal?  Because us mortals were having quite the struggle with the wildlife of Ko'olau.  Vegetation really slowed us down considerably and we had barely started the saddle when we heard a Spartan like battle cry.  Sure enough, far ahead, was Tommy standing on the summit of Pu'u o Kona, rejoicing his accomplishment!

Pretty soon, I was discovering a new hinderance, my legs locked up, the cramping pain getting to me.  I dropped back and David made it to the summit when I was only at the small pu'u with a small rocky dike.  Another problem was that I ripped the okole side of my shorts when I attempted to make a giant step for all mankind going up that small pu'u.  Big mistake I thought upon hearing the awful ripping sound that is so familiar in movies...  To help cover my embarrassment and my okole, I took my shirt off and placed it inside my shorts in such a way that it acts as a makeshift patch.  "Should of went down God's stairway", I thought.

Going at it Spartan/Hawaiian style, I gave it all with whatever remaining energy I had left in me to make the final stride to gain the summit of Pu'u o Kona!  Completely devoid of all useful energy, I let gravity take my body and thick grass caught me and I just laid there like a zombie.  All I could do was stare at the sky.

We did it...

After about a 30 minute rest, I was able to regain enough energy to make the trek down the ridge of Pu'u O Kona and back to the road where it meets the trailhead of Kuli'ou'ou Ahi (switchbacks, state freeway trail) where Tommy's friend was waiting to pick us up.  It was around 4:30pm.

Later that night, in the safety of my home, all refreshed from a well deserved hot shower, I've found out that just before 8pm, that the entire Ko'olaus were under a flash flood advisory with heavy rain pouring at a rate of 2 to 3 inches an hour.  That advisory expired at midnight, Oct 19.

With about 5 hours of summit ridge walking and a sheer 2,000ft+ windward pali present for the whole duration, this is a day to remember on our beloved Ko'olaus.  If only I could get paid to hike and document them, I would so look forward to every Monday!  =)

Here are all the summits that we encountered along our epic journey along the Ko'olau summit ridge starting up Wa'ahila Ridge and descending Pu'u O Kona (Kuli'ou'ou middle ridge): Mt. Olympus, Ka'au Crater, Lanipo, Wai'alae Nui Ridge, Wiliwilinui, Wailupe Loop, Hawaii Loa Ridge, Kulepeamoa, Kuli'ou'ou 2 (west ridge), and finally but not least, our destination, Pu'u O Kona!


Friday, December 10, 2010

7-29-2010: Piliwale Ridge

So many things went wrong on this day, I don't even know where to start.  Piliwale Ridge is the massive ridge spur that descends off the windward face of Konahuanui K1 towards Maunawili Valley.  This ridge was pioneered by legendary Silver Piliwale back in the 80s.  The ridge is infamous for it's incredibly steep incline, numerous rock faces that must be scaled, crumbly rocks that can dislodge at any given moment, and that the mentalness of this hike is just off the scale.  Take all of these, put them all together, and then add the fact that this ridge climbs to the tallest peak of the Ko'olaus, standing at 3,150ft and you have one mean ridge.

Ian and I set off at around 7am on the 29th of July, a day that I will never forget.  Our intent was to go up Piliwale to K1 and then cross over to K2, where we would descend the Konahuanui Trail to Pauoa Flats and ultimately to Kalawahine Trail back to Tantalus.  However, many things would go wrong.  The first was the fact that we picked a day that had the crappiest weather, rain, clouds, wind, and just wet.  Next was that for whatever reason that I never got around to up to this day was that we never actually located the Piliwale trailhead that veers off the Maunawili Demonstration Trail.  I will have to go back and see where this starts because it's hard to believe that we couldn't find a trail that is so wide open.  But we searched for it and we couldn't find it so we ended up blazing a path through uluhe that would eventually intersect the Piliwale trail just below the "notch".

Once at the notch, vegetation opened up and the ridge ahead of us showed it's fearsome profile.  From a distance, it looks impossible to climb.  The angle of ascent was one of the most mental I've seen and if that's not enough, let's just throw in a phenominal dropoff to the right that would definitely be fatal if one fell.  The drop to the left was more vegetated, but even a fall here would still cause severe injury...  that is if you survive the first plunge.  We watched as the clouds continued to roll over the entire ridge, obscuring it at times.  What were we thinking, hiking in weather conditions like we were in.

At the other side of the notch, the clouds lifted higher and the trail began contouring to the left of the ridge.  Ropes may or may not be present here.  After some short distance in, we climbed the side to gain the crest of the ridge, exposing us to that phenominal drop to the right again.  From here on out, the word of the day was "climb".  Climb, climb, climb....  up lots and lots of rockfaces....  on an overgrown trail.... all while crumbling before you.....  on a 70 degree angle.... with two massive dropoffs ready to swallow you whole.  One particular rockface has a white cable and there's a boulder that serves as a boost to help you climb the sheer verticalness.  When I was on the boulder, it wobbled a bit and my heart just sunk so far down, it probably shot out of my feet.  I also realized at around this point, that I have left my cell phone in my car, which was at the Pali hairpin turn.  "Only now I realize it when we were this high?!" I whispered to myself.

If rockfaces were not present, the trail was muddy and slippery.  Very very slippery....  It was so slippery on this day that for every step we took forward, we took 5 slides back.  This made for an extremely slow progress.  We had to find some way to aid us in our brutal climb, whether it be grass, uluhe, or just simply clawing into the dirt with your fingers.

After what seemed like an eternity of scaling rockfaces with footholds crumbling constantly and ripping vegatation from their roots, the grade of the ridge eased and the vegatation became windswept.  However, the ridge narrowed to mind boggling proportions and I began crawling on all fours, lowering my center of gravity as the wind howled on.  Continuing on, we at last saw the twin summits free of clouds for the first time that day.  But the climbing wasn't over just yet.  Eventually after a brief level off, the ridge resumes it's relentless steep grade.  It was here that Ian called it quits and suggested that we call rescue because he didn't feel like climbing back down.  We got into a debate for quite some time and we finally agreed that he would call the helicopter and I would attempt to make it to Tantalus, even though I did not have a cell phone with me should something happen.

Off I went, climbing up through an overgrown trail full of uluhe, the scratching never letting up.  The trail was still very muddy and I had to expend much energy to fight gravity that wanted to pull me back down, the slippery condition not helping one bit.  As I neared the summit, the clouds came back in quickly, socking the views.  At this point, I began hearing fire rescue sirens coming from the ground far below.

At around 5pm, I finally made it to the K1 summit and it was around here where I heard the helicopter trying to locate Ian.  The clouds briefly opened up and I saw Ian down below waving his shirt to try to signal the helicopter, and I even saw the helicopter almost closing in to his position but the clouds came back and that would be the last time I would see Ian or the helicopter for the duration of the hike.  Did Ian get rescued?  Am I going to be the one sleeping on the mountain alone?  All these questions whirled about in my mind as I crossed over to K2 summit.  Daylight was running out so I decided to try to shoot for the halfway point of the descent between K2 and Pauoa Flats as long as I can see the trail ahead of me.  I got about halfway down the descent from the summit to the junction where the trail splits, the upper route heading along "riff raft hill" and the latter contouring towards the lookout, when I was not able to see where I was heading.  Another mistake: no flashlight.  Mistake after mistake, this hike has became the voyage of the damned, I thought.

I found a small grassy area with some brushes to help me shield the winds and all I could do now was wait it out through the night.  In the distance, I could see the entire southshore ablazed with city lights from Makakilo to Diamond Head and every town in between.  Behind me were the dark black ridges of the Ko'olaus.  Fortunately I was able to get below the cloud decks to get away from the wind and rain.  Only brief drizzles occured as the nighttime hours ticked and tocked, the longest night of my life.  As I looked towards the city lights, I thought about my family and friends who are more than likely panicking because I have not checked in with them since my departure.  Scolding I will be receiving by morning.  I let out a sigh and closed my eyes to try to get some sleep, but with no luck as I began shivering due to me being wet, muddy, and just flat out awful.  Every now and then, the cloud deck lowered and socked the area in, but for most of the night, the city lights were with me, acting like a night light.

At around 5am the next morning, daylight was slowly but surely beginning to brighten up the ridges around me and I resumed hiking down at 5:30.  I was exhausted, starving, and just wanted to get back to civilization so badly.  As I was continuing downward, I heard and later saw the yellow fire rescue helicopter flying over Nu'uanu Valley and the Pali Highway, going back towards Piliwale Ridge to continue the search.  Then I thought about Ian, did he get rescued yesterday or did he have to spend the night as well?  I thought about signaling the helicopter but decided against it.  Things didn't get any better as the morning clouds let down a torrential downpour.  "Better now than while I was up there for the night." I thought to myself, making my way around gullies on the contour trail.

I was soon at the lookout of Pauoa Flats trail and continued into the bamboo forest and took the Kalawahine Trail.  At about 200ft from the trailhead, I ran into a group of 3 people hiking in, two Japanese tourists and a local guy.  Dripping wet, I asked the guy if I could borrow his cell phone.  I first called Ian and he answered and to my surprise he was already off the Ko'olaus.  He was already at Castle Medical Center for analysis.  He told me that he was airlifted to safety, that they were still looking for me, and that I should call them to call off the search.  Appears that helicopter I saw earlier went back to try to look for me.  I called 911 and reported myself as the other missing hiker from yesterday's search and rescue and to call off the search as I was hiking down under my own power to the Kalawahine Trailhead.  They told me they were going to dispatch an HPD officer to meet me there to take my information and whatnot.  The officer offered me some food he gotten at Subway and I gladly accepted.  Hey, it's a free meal and I was starving at this point.  He also offered a ride back to my car at Pali hairpin turn.  My original plan was to call a family member to pick me up here but since the officer was already here, I took on his offer.  He then told me that we were on the news.  Great, this is where the walk of shame truly begins.  I forgot his name, and if you are reading this, mahalo nui loa for everything!  You a cool bruddah!

After getting dropped off at Pali hairpin turn, my car was still there and I nearly collapsed on the ground as I was about to take my shoes off when a vehicle pulled up from the highway.  It was Ian and Ashley!  He was discharged from the hospital and they came back here to check up on me.  I would then get an answer to my question.  Ian ended up spending the night on the same spot on Piliwale Ridge where we split and would get rescued by helicopter the next morning at around 6ish.  The helicopter that was there yesterday was unable to locate him and would have to try again in the morning.  He described the weather conditions on his side as windy and rainy, as he would get the brunt of the blustery tradewinds as he was on the windward side of K1.

Ian offered to drive my car and me to St. Francis (Now Hawaii Medical) in Ewa Beach.  I was treated for slight hypothermia and was released the same day.

I will use this experience as a learning lesson for me.  Always take a cell phone, leave a hike plan with someone on the ground, don't leave anyone behind, especially if one doesn't have any way of communication whatsoever.  Don't make the hiking community look bad, they will frown upon this.  My apologies to the HI hiking community for being unprepared as we were these two days.

Will I ever do Piliwale Ridge again?  Probably not.  This is burned in my memory for life.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

11-10-2010: True Manamana

As this is my second hiking write up, this hike deserves a write up for a good reason.  A truly elusive peak has truly eluded some of the best climbers (Chuck Godek, Al Miller, and Charlotte Yamane) on the island for decades.  Like a heavily fortified castle, this peak has time and time again denied would be climbers access to it's flat topped summit...

That would all change on July 3, 2010, when Pete Clines and Laredo Muredo became the first 2 men to reach the summit of True Manamana!  You can read their account ( here.  With this in my mind, I've became more and more intrigued by this peak and I began making preperations for my own summit attempt by doing other hikes that would serve as a "training ground" for this enduring task.  On October 30th, I successfully climbed all 3 peaks of Olomana and went down the backside of Ahiki or peak #3 to the Old Kalanianaole Rd.  I was at the top of the 1st peak when I have learned that Jeremy Kreis has acquired the summit of True Manamana at this very moment as I stood on Olomana!  He has became the 3rd person to reach the elusive summit!

I had to do it!  After being satisfied that the backside of Ahiki was sufficient enough to attempt my summit attempt, I called up Tommy Klein, Nate Rubio, and Kale Monz who are fool hardy enough to attempt this with me.  They all agreed and we set off on the morning of November 6th, 2010 at 6:30am, with high spirits.  Those spirits would later on come crashing down on us when torrential rains coupled with gusting tradewinds blowing at 30mph at times made for whiteout conditions as we were perched just above the very steep descent just beyond 1900' lookout.  Retreat was our wise option and off we went back towards Turnover and ultimately to our disappointment, soaked and muddy to the bone.

Four days later, Tommy and I made our re-attempt on the morning of November 10th, 2010.  We left our cars at 6:30am and our climb up the Graveyard ridge was uneventful and we were at Turnover by 8:45-9am.  Normally Turnover is the terminal point of the Pu'u Manamana Trail which wraps around back towards the coastline and the Crouching Lion.  To get to True Manamana, one would have to continue mauka (inward) past Turnover.

Looking up at the sky, the sun began pouring through the broken clouds and we both agreed that weather conditions were ripe to begin our summit attempt.  Off we went on the freshly made trail thanks to Chris Cheng, August Smith, and Tricia Higa who cleared the trail up to 1900' lookout on June 27th, 2010.  What normally would have taken 2 hours or so of plowing through head high uluhe ferns only took us about 30 minutes or so to reach the lookout.

Upon reaching the lookout, we've had our first view of Ka'a'awa Valley from this angle and wow was she beautiful!  Dead ahead in front of us was our target, menacing looking, staring down or should I say UP at us like it was telling us that we had no chance of conquering it.  While the lookout we were standing at was around 1900ft, True Manamana was only 1,650ft in elevation.  In between us and the summit was the ridge that was by far the gnarliest I've ever seen!

With GoPro cameras in hand, I mean on our heads, we took a deep breath and took our first step on what would be an adventure to remember...

The initial descent from 1900' lookout wasn't at all too difficult, but the ridge already has gotten ridiculously narrow and it was so early into the trek.  "This is going to be bad." I thought to myself as I gingerly made my way through a short narrow dike and swung over the edge a few times to get around several trees.  Five or ten minutes after we have left 1900' lookout, the vegetation opened up and the massive dropoffs....  grew even more massive!  With no trees for support, we were now entirely exposed to Ka'a'awa Valley to our left and Kahana Valley to the right.  The dropoffs began playing mumbo jumbo with Tommy and he began scooting his okole across the crumbly ridge, dislodging a few boulders in the process.

The ridge was now beginning it's nose dive to the bottom of the saddle and it was here that Tommy had enough and told me he was going to go back to 1900' lookout and wait for me.  I told him to keep a visual on me at all times whenever possible.  However I knew that the bottom half of the vertical descent was where visual contact was not possible.  I was on my own at this point. (Once one has gotten to the bottom and continued further on the ridge, whoever is at 1900' lookout will be able to maintain visual for the duration of the hike to the summit.)  As I made my way further down, the ridge became vertical and a rope was visible.  This must be the rope that Pete must have installed on their attempt.  Further down, using the rope, things got real wacky real fast.  This was essentially a repeat of the Ahiki Backside descent, but with death drops on both sides!  Farther down I went, still grabbing the rope with my left hand, I grabbed a good sized boulder with my right hand and lowered myself down, then suddenly, my right hand started moving!  I immediately came face to face with a microwave sized boulder that was about to knock my head off!  The boulder fell past my head and landed on my left thigh, just above the knee.  In excruciating pain, I let out a painful moan and reached down with my right hand and pushed the boulder off my left leg and it fell off to the right down towards Ka'a'awa Valley, splitting in two as it tumbled downward.  I assessed the damage done to my left thigh. Fortunately, nothing more than a big bruise.  Further down there's a critical part, just before it bottoms out where the rope falls short and the last 10-15ft is nothing but holding on to vegetation.  Because the best "path" of descent makes a gradual shift towards the right as it bottoms out, it exposed me to a phenominal dropoff down towards Ka'a'awa Valley.  Almost immediately after letting go of the rope, a foothold gave out sending me plunging down about 10ft when a ledge just next to a big tree branch caught me.  Should I have fallen past the ledge, this tree would be the only barrier between me and Ka'a'awa Valley below me.

With my heart racing, I made the last easy steps downward and was at the bottom of the saddle.  I walked ahead a bit and turned around, looking back up at where I came from.  "How the hell am I going to get back up that?!" I muttered out loud.  The only way back home now was to climb up this sheer vertical cliff!

I told myself to worry about that later as I had to focus on my goal to reach the summit first so onward I went, climbing up a short but steep and narrow hill.  This would be the case for just about the entire way to the final climb of True Manamana, short rollercoasting ups and downs, all on a crumbly knife edge ridge.  Another problem was the choke full of low trees and brushes that spells doom on your legs if you're wearing shorts, which was my case.  After a hill or two, the vegetation opened up to what could be the most legendary section part of this entire journey, a hair raising traverse on the narrowest dike I've ever seen.  I was ready to poop my pants after seeing this, but I held my breath, turned on my GoPro camera, pointed it down at my feet, and slowly made my way across what looked like 6 inches of width at times with a VERTICAL drop down below, not a slanting grade at all!  This went for quite a long ways actually, dropping down a small 3-4ft rockface, continuing it's knife edge of doom.

As I approached the next hill to be climbed, the ridge widen up slightly and up I went without incident.  At the top, the vegetation returned and so did the poking and slashing of my legs and arms.  After a few more hills and narrow dikes, I came to a prominent feature of the entire ridge, a puka in the ridge and just beyond it, a rock outcrop that forces you to crawl to it's left side, putting yourself ever so close with the jaws of death below.  To get past the puka, you can either traverse right over it although it increases the chances of the puka giving out and sending you down below, or contour on the right side of the puka.  I decided the latter and this allowed me to get a very cool view of Ka'a'awa Valley through the puka!  (Photo op missed, but got a very cool video clip of it!)

The next hill after the puka/rock outcrop was the most difficult out of all the small hills for me.  Just as it begins it's climb up the hill, the entire ridge is completely blocked by a wall of trees so my natural reaction was for me to contour it and I thought I saw what looked like a path leading to it's left side and so off I went.  However, as I progressed further in, the "path" turned into a massive drop off.  Not wanting to get stuck so far in after realizing it is in fact not the correct route, I turned back and thought for a moment how to get up this hill.  Still on the left side of the ridgeline, I looked up and saw branches that could be used as foot/handholds so I climbed up it like a monkey and was able to gain the crest.  However it was still very overgrown so I just crashed through the small branches as I made my way uphill.

With that hill behind me, I continued my way, inching myself ever so closer to that elusive summit!  I noticed a pattern forming: small hill, narrow dike, small hill with trees and choke brushes, narrow dike, small hill that's nearly impossible to get up it, narrow dike...  and on and on it went.  I've encountered a few bees at times but they were not being aggressive and they left me alone.

After fighting vegetation like I was Manny Pacquiao and dodging it's pokey branches what seemed like an eternity, I looked up and to my amazement, I was perched on the bottom of True Manamana!  Energy flowed through me and my spirit was higher now than what it was the rest of the day thus far as I discovered I was within striking distance of the summit!  Not wanting to get distracted, I kept my focus on and began scrambling on all fours upward.  I thought about the incident where Al Miller and Charlotte Yamane were several hundred horizontal feet from the summit when a boulder dislodged and almost hit Yamane in the head.  Sure enough, I inadvertently dislodged a boulder...  then another....  I was in a mine field of loose boulders!  Kicking every possible loose boulder I could find, I essentially have became a minesweeper.

50ft more feet til I can touch that summit!

I gave it all I had and sped climbed the last remaining vertical feet and fought the last tree brush overgrowth at the apex of the climb and I was soon standing on a broad grassy summit....  the summit of True Manamana!  It was 11:43am.

I've done it!  I'm here...  I'm truly here!  I turned around facing back towards 1900',  pumped my two fists up into the air, and let out a loud whoop.  I got several whoops of rejoicement back in return from Tommy as he was apparently watching me the whole time!  He called me and congratulated me, saying he took photos of me making my final climb up to the summit!  I told him to take a picture of me standing here at the summit.  As I looked around, I could see Pu'u Ohulehule dead ahead and I saw up close a prominent feature called "2 apes talking".  Looking back, I can see the entire ridgeline leading back up to 1900'.  I've became the 4th person to summit True Manamana!

After ingesting a granola bar and gulping down some water, I proceeded back down after about 20 minutes on the summit.  I've conquered this peak, but I still had to get back in one piece and before dark.  The return journey was only slightly easier, I didn't like the fact that I had to do everything in reverse.  Going back down the hill where I contoured on the left side was much easier and when I reached the puka, I didn't feel like contouring on it's side again so I walked right over it, hoping the puka would hold and made it over without incident.  A passing rainshower performed a flyby and it briefly got socked in and a light drizzle ensued but quickly the views returned.

Now, the problem I have left behind this morning was back upon me, getting back up that sheer vertical cliff!  This could really use that extended rope.  Without it, it's pure upper body strength.  I heaved myself up, grabbing a sturdy tree just within my grasp and then the end of the rope.  Once on the rope, it's quite easy to get back up, but I have to note, the rope could use a suppliment rope and one that actually reaches all the way to the bottom of the saddle!  I've had rope with me but I was so preoccupied of getting back down asap that I forgot to install it.  After a stiff 20 or 30 minute climb I was back at 1900' lookout and I could hear Tommy further up into the woods.  The time was 2:30pm.  After gazing back at True Manamana, I smiled, pumped my fists into the air one more time and then left the lookout, running into Tommy about 100 yards into the woods.  I told him about my adventure as we made our way to Turnover and we made our way back down Graveyard Ridge without incident.  It was around 5pm when we got to the cars.  I took off my shoes and washed off the soil of True Manamana using a water spigot at the Kahana Bay Beach Park.

Got home around 7pm, showered, and went with Jerry Mendiola to Buzz's Steakhouse in Pearl City for a well deserved dinner while talking tales of my great adventure!


True Manamana from 1900' lookout

Made it to True Manamana!  =)

2 apes talking

This photograph shows me (white speck) standing at the summit of True Manamana.

Photo taken by Tommy Klein. I had to rotate the picture to it's true "upright" position in relation to the peak and it's ridge as he had his camera tilted at the time of capture.

Friday, October 8, 2010

10-8-2010: Mt. Olympus to Konahuanui

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

Writing this blog nearly 7 years after this hike took place is a strange feeling to me.  On March 18, 2012, Leslie Charles Merrell passed away when he fell 150ft to his death while attempting "Bear Claw Ridge", a windward ridge that climbs up to a spot somewhere between the Kuli'ou'ou Ridge Trail terminus to the south and Pu'u O Kona to the north.  The Hawaiian Islands are notorious for loose mountains that can fall apart at any time, whether it be a massive tsunami generating landslide, or a climber grabbing hold of a boulder, only for it to rip right out like it was made out of paper.  Sadly, Leslie would lose his life on the latter.

If memory serves me right, this hike would be my very last one with Leslie.  And there is one photo of him against the backdrop of the Ko'olaus that always sticks out in my mind forever.

It was just Leslie and I for this hike, at least for the summit crest cross over, and our plan was to summit Pu'u Awa'awaloa, more commonly known as Mt. Olympus.  While there is nothing olympian about the hike itself, the views around it can be considered an epic back drop of an olympian battle.

One of our other friends joined us for the ascent up the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail, the Na Ala Hele state trail that gains the ridge line up about halfway towards Olympus.  The remaining half is a foot path that is very well used.  Once we got to the terminus atop the Ko'olau crest, the views were as always, amazing.  After rest for some time, our friend started back down and we followed, about halfway down the final ascent to Olympus.  There was an old junction that was once a graded trail that was known as the Castle-Olympus Trail (not to be confused with the Castle Trail in Punalu'u).  This graded trail at one time connected Olympus and Kōnāhuanui by way of a leeward graded trail.  On this day, this graded trail went maybe 20ft towards Kōnāhuanui before it was lost in a sea of Uluhe.  I would return to hike this area again on 9-1-2013 during a cross over from Olympus to Mānoa Middle Ridge to discover that they were in the middle of restoring the old Castle graded trail between Olympus and Kōnāhuanui.  It is now 2017 and whether or not that trail is still there, is unknown to me now.  I have not been up this area ever since 2013.

Not to go off on a tangant, Leslie and I hiked the crest of the Ko'olau summit ridge, making our way towards the big twin peaks of Kōnāhuanui 2 & 1, in that order.  They are the tallest peaks on the Ko'olau Mountain Range so our average grade elevation change through the roller coasting hills is more upward than anything.  Almost right away, there were a couple of obstacles to get through.  One part of the crest narrows considerably to some hefty drops to windward and a less minor drop to leeward.  Actually, this can be avoided completely by hugging the trail that contours around the narrow portion of the crest on it's leeward side.  It was around here where I snapped my favorite photo of Leslie with the mountains behind him.  Beyond that is a nice little scramble up what is called "Sedan Boulder".  I went up to affix rope for Leslie to use.  The next one was the "Ironwood Ridge", where one has to crawl through the somewhat thick Ironwood trees.

Beyond that, the trail is a roller coaster of ups and downs from one hill to the next.  We got to the terminus of Mānoa Middle Ridge, marked with three pink ribbons.  It was here that Leslie has enough and decided to go down said ridge.  There was still a lot of day light left and I decided to make a push for Kōnāhuanui.  After our split, my journey continued and the hike became a little more steeper.  But the vegetation became a lot more windswept.  The closer I got towards Kōnāhuanui, more grassy meadows were encountered.

It wasn't long before I was standing on the top of the Ko'olau Mountain Range at some 3,050 something feet.  Technically, this would be the 2nd tallest spot on the mountain range as K1 was taller by 50 or 100ft.  However, K2 had the better view all around while K1 had it's views blocked by a native mountain forest that runs rampant on the pu'u.

With the sun starting to dip towards the horizon, I made way down the Konahuanui Trail, saving K1 for another day.  I thought about that graded trail that was made by Mr. Castle (forget his first name).  He created that and the famous (or infamous) Castle Trail in Punalu'u.  I gazed over the south side of the Konahuanui Trail to see if there was any discernible graded trail but none was found.  I got down to the area where I recall a certain event that made everyone afraid and worried for me.  ;)  Past the junction to the "Riff Raff Hill", I made my way speedily down the contour trail towards Pauoa Flats and out the Kalawahine Trail where Leslie picked me up after he got down the Mānoa Middle Ridge before me.

This part breaks my heart because this point would mark our final time I would ever hike with my good old friend, Leslie.  It was Leslie's "Meetup" group, the "O'ahu Hikers & Adventurers" that I would ever hike a Hawaiian trail with a group of people back in 2009.  And it was Leslie himself that would instill the heart and my desire to get close and be one with nature.  And down the road, I would explore and adventure out there in the unknown, all the way up to this very day.  Unfortunately, the following couple of years we would hang out once in a while, but our schedules got too busy and we wouldn't see each other much.  I regret that we didn't hike more since this hike.  I hope you are reading this and smiling up there in paradise.  I'm sure you have clocked in many miles and time exploring the heavens up there.  Miss ya buddy!

In Loving Memory of Leslie Charles Merrell.  1/1/1964 - 3/18/2012