Saturday, April 23, 2011

4-21-2011: Moanalua Saddle to Haiku Stairs

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

It's been said that the summit ridge between Kulana`ahane summit and the terminus of Haiku Stairs has been a frequent location for numerous helicopter rescues.  Andrew Bayang and the 173 Hiking crew attempted a descent from Haiku Stairs to Kulana`ahane when they were forced to bail out, heading down steep waterfall chutes in the heart of Moanalua Valley.  Supposively legendary Dick Davis completed an ascent on this very route back in the day.  Recently Jeremy Kreis completed this segment (4-16-2011) as part of a super hike from Bowman all the way to Red Hill Ridge.  Nearly a week later, we would make an attempt to go up from Kulana`ahane to the Haiku Stairs.

The weather forecast showed light trades with a 20% chance of rain islandwide.  With weather conditions in our favor, we decided to make a run for it.  Joining me would be Marcus Griego, Francis "Kinky" Jimenez, Aaron Bullock, and Leslie Merrell (Leslie would stay near the Kulana`ahane summit to watch and film/photograph us making the climb and then return the same way).

With a 7:30am start, we hiked at a rather fast pace than I normally would go along the long Moanalua Valley Rd.  Turning off the road some 3 miles in, we made our way on the Kulana`ahane Trail and eventually caught up to Leslie and Aaron who had a 10 minute head start on us.  The five of us made the final climb and we were soon at a spot on the lowest part of the Moanalua Saddle.  From here, one can either turn left and climb the northwest side of the saddle to reach Red Hill Ridge (Read Kaleo Lancaster's account of this route) or head right along the eastern side of the saddle to reach the Haiku Stairs terminus and the CCL building.  Our goal was to reach the Haiku Stairs (only route I haven't done yet to the stairs) and then descend the stairs back to Haiku Rd where fellow 808 Goonie Sophia would pick us up.

After a short break, we began our trek, not knowing what to really expect.  With only Jeremy's photos the only source of documentation (if someone has documentation that I don't know about, please tell me!), we really couldn't make sense of what could cause so many hikers to get stuck and call for air rescue.  Since Marcus had used micro spikes on his shoes, he would the designated ramrod on this day.  Leslie would follow us to a point where he could get a good vantage point to observe and get footage of us.  Intially, the crest is typical of any other summit ridge walk, big drop to windward and a more conservative drop on townside on an overgrown trail.  A short while later, the trail drops to a small saddle and the vegetation opens up to more of an exposed ridgeline with an imposing climb to a tall pu'u.  At the halfway point into the climb, begins the mother of all crumbly and eroded ridges.  There was a section so eroded that we were forced to climb on it's windward side where vegetation support us although the incline was much steeper.  Marcus affixed several ropes to aid in our climb.  Kinky, the last person to make the climb detached the ropes for use further up ridge.

Past the pu'u, the trail dips into another gentle saddle just before the next intimidating climb.  This section would be the worst as far as eroded and crumbly goes.  I like to call this the "Dust Triangle" because just about anything you touch inside of this triangle shaped eroded area disappears into dust!  While there was a black cable already installed Lord knows when, we couldn't rely on it so we contoured the triangle over to the right side where vegetation was plentiful and climbed up, using ropes Marcus affixed to help us make the climb.  I have to say this particular climb is almost identical to Piliwale Ridge.

Immediately above the triangle was a rocky and steep dike (old white cable attached to a withering tree) where Aaron got a little spooked.  Marcus and Kinky looked for something to secure rope further upridge while I kept Aaron company to take his mind off it.  With rope available, Aaron made the climb without incident, followed by myself.  However, the trouble wasn't over yet because there was another severely eroded section where one must contour and climb steeply at the same time on the town facing side.  The trickiest part was where one has to heave himself up a crumbly rock face, at a slant, with a huge drop to the right!  Marcus and Kinky made it over without incident.  Aaron however, was unable to make any headway with the ropes angled in such a way that if he were to lose his footing and or hand hold, he would swing directly over the huge drop off!  I decided to go ahead of him to see if I could wrap the rope around something on the windward side.  Luckly I found a sturdy tree and Aaron successfully made it over.  The final task was a near vertical climb up a rock face.  This face almost requires placing a good amount of weight on the ropes.  Marcus secured two more ropes to suppliment the already existing 2 older ropes already in place.  2 old ropes + 2 good ropes = 4 ropes that bears 25%, one on each rope, of your total weight!  How's that for Math?  =)

At last, we could finally breathe.  With the CCL building and her 2 dishes getting big in our view, the remaining ridgeline was at last back to typical Ko'olau summit ridge walking, albeit some minor rock scrambling here and there.  A short while later, we came across the first A Frame concrete foundation and immediately beyond it was the first set of metal stairs, akin to the Stairway to Heaven.  Since we were coming in from a more westernly direction, I decided to call these stairs "Haiku Stairs West" since this and Haiku Stairs reach for the same summit.  We proceeded to take in the superb vistas as we gracefully walked the stairs.  Unfortunately the stairs terminate and a long metal cable replaces them after passing a 2nd A Frame foundation, similiar to the cable on the Haiku Hidden Stairs.  We had to watch out as the cable at times was completely rusted and it's jagged edges protruded in our direction.  For safety's sake, I would strongly recommend having your tetanus shot before traversing this section!

The cable terminates at a third A Frame foundation and after 20 vertical feet later, we topped out at the terminus of Haiku Stairs!  All I could think about was that we were PAU!  The eastern portion of Moanalua Saddle has been completed at last and this marks my first visit to the Haiku Stairs this year, the last visit being on May 18th, 2010 (Bowman to Haiku Stairs).  The views all around were incredible and it reminded me why I always loved to hike the Haiku Stairs back in the day!

With our scheduled pick up time nearing, we double timed it down the Haiku Stairs and back to Haiku Rd where Sophia picked us up and proceeded to reward ourselves with a post hike dinner at Big City Diner.  Even Leslie happened to be in the area and joined us as we talked stories of our adventure today.

Maholo nui loa to Leslie for supplying us with much needed rope and Sophia for giving us a ride!  You guys are da best!  BIG props to Aaron for completing his very first "mento" hike!  What an introduction!

Note: We took our own ropes with us.  We did not leave any ropes behind.  Please take this into consideration if you decide to make an attempt (NOT recommended) and make sure to bring rope!