Tuesday, May 31, 2011

5-29-2011: Aiea Ridge to Moanalua Saddle

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

Josh and I were free on Sunday so we came up with a plan to hike the Ko'olau summit ridge between Aiea Ridge and Kulana`ahane Trail, at the low point of the Moanalua Saddle.  Because of this route, it would mean having an opportunity to revisit the "Haiku Hidden Stairs", a name I decided to give to the rusty old metal stairs that are on the north ridge of Haiku Valley (Stairway to Heaven is on south ridge).  Josh gave it the name of "Stairway to Hell", maybe due to it's rusty like appearance.  I would have probably coined it as such but "Stairway to Hell" in my eyes is already the Koko Crater stairs because the first time I hiked up those old railroad ties to it's summit years ago, it was in the dead of summer.  Add in the fact that clouds and winds were completely absent, making for a hellish like experience on Koko Crater.

With 6 miles going up Aiea Ridge, 5 or 6 miles going down Kulana`ahane Trail and the Moanalua Valley Road, and perhaps 3 or 4 miles on the Ko'olau summit ridge, this hike was going to be a very long one.  After placing a car on the Moanalua Valley Park, we began our hike at the Keaiwa Heiau State Park a little after 5am.  Because the park didn't open until 6, we were forced to park outside the gate and hike up the paved road to where the upper parking lot and restrooms are located.

We cruised through the Aiea Loop Trail with Josh, being the speed hiker that he is, up front and me trailing behind him.  After about 45 minutes to an hour from starting out, we reached the junction with the Aiea Ridge Trail.  Normally Aiea Ridge is overgrown with Uluhe but with the recent clearing from the HTMC, this trail was virtually a freeway up until Pu'u Kawipo'o.  In fact, I realized that today was the scheduled HTMC hike for Aiea Ridge and they would begin at 8:30am.  From Pu'u Kawipo'o to the summit, we were hiking in misty clouds.

We were on the summit at 8:30am and still no view.  I began to get a little discouraged, thinking we would be in the clouds for the entire day.  That discouragement grew stronger as we were literally being pushed back towards leeward by 30mph gusts as the winds roared their way up the steep windward pali.  I could see the clouds whipping up and over the crest at times.  Sometimes rain pierced us in the eyes like needles, the winds making the rain fall "upwards"!  After about 20 minutes or so on the summit ridge, a puka opened up in the clouds and Valley of the Temples was visible in it!  I sensed that one of my family members was watching over me at that moment.  She passed away last March and her final resting place was indeed at the valley temples.  It was one of the greatest feelings I've felt in a while.  A few moments later, the rest of the clouds lifted up and we were treated to magnificent views of the entire windward coast of O`ahu from Chinaman's hat all the way to Olomana and Waimanalo!

We hiked further on along the summit crest and we were in dismay when we encountered that dreaded fenceline that is all too present on the Wai`anae summit crest.  This is the first time I've personally seen such fences on the Ko'olaus.  I've heard rumors that more fences are to be erected and I felt the urge to take them down.  Josh also told me that the windward ridge directly below us was Ulupaina Mauka, a route that Pete Clines used to descend to windward from the summit ridge.  Soon our dismay turned into surprise when we came upon a tent that was occupied!  After Josh and I took in the windward views at this spot, talking and yelling over the nonstop gusting winds, the tent opened up and two individuals popped out.  Probably they were surprised to hear our voices themselves as one may think they would be isolated.  After chit chatting with Daniel and Marie, we've learned that they packed enough supplies for 4 days and that their intended route was to go up Aiea Ridge, which they did the night before, and to go all the way across the Moanalua Saddle to the topping out point of Stairway to Heaven, maybe even beyond!  I told them about the section between Kulana`ahane and Haiku Stairs, since I've done that route recently.  With this windy weather, it would probably be 10 times as difficult.  They didn't bring any rope either and they decided against it.

After telling them what options they have to descend back to leeward, we assumed that they were going to stay put in their tent a while longer since the winds were too strong and we continued on our way without them.  The clouds quickly dropped back down on us in full force.  Visibility was greatly reduced and it made navigation a little tricky.  Tricky it was as I realized that something was not right about the "windward" side.  I was beginning to see trees and the winds appeared to be coming from leeward!  I took a glance at my iPhone GPS and discovered that we were unknowingly hiking down a leeward Ko'olau ridge towards Halawa Valley and the H-3!  The strange thing was that the trail appeared to have been thoroughly cleared by someone!  With visibily greatly reduced, it's easy for anyone to unknowingly head off the summit crest based on following a trail.  We backtracked and to our surprise we ran into Daniel and Marie, apparently following us after packing up their tent!  We informed them that this was not the correct way and we all backtracked together.

We made it back to the summit crest and realized that it drops into a low lying saddle, which disappeared into the clouds as it loses elevation.  We mistaken it for a windward ridge and the "trail" leading down into it was overgrown.  Josh scouted the saddle and confirmed it was the correct route.  Daniel and Marie decided they would continue their journey and descend with us.  After a few more humps, we dropped very steeply once more and the crest flattened out and became more broad.  I immediately recognized this area and soon enough, rusty metal railings appeared in the thick clouds ahead and we arrived at Haiku Hidden Stairs just before noon.

As if the clouds were on cue with our arrival, they lifted up so swiftly, revealing the expansive views of Kaneohe to the east and Haiku Valley to the south!  I decided to descend a portion of the rusty stairs to some kind of landing, where it was choked with Uluhe, but not high enough to impede movement.  The views here are incredible, one of the best I've seen in a while!  I began snapping photos and shooting video like crazy!  I gazed over towards Stairway to Heaven on the otherside of Haiku Valley and spotted the silver thread heading up the massive green wall of Pu'u Keahi a Kahoe.  Leslie Merrell and the Oahu Hikers & Adventurers were also hiking the Moanalua Middle Ridge to Stairway this day with quite a large group, but I did not spot anyone.  Once back at the top of the stairs, the strongest wind gust I've felt all day nearly knocked me over.  It was a sign that it was time to head towards the most convenient shelter on this part of the Ko'olaus, the concrete tool shed perched at the summit of Haiku Hidden Stairs.  I found everyone inside, having lunch already and I busted out the MRE.  With the gusty winds making for cold conditions, it was appropriate that I heat up the FRH (flameless ration heater) and cook my lunch, which was sloppy joe.  Yummy!

Thirty minutes passed and we packed everything up and prodded on towards our next stop: the terminus of Halawa Ridge.  The clouds continued to lift and drop back down on the crest as if it couldn't make up it's mind.  Fortunately, the rain was not present this time.  I wish I could say the same for the winds though!  I noticed the trail on this stretch was in much better condition since the first time went to the hidden stairs.  Perhaps this section has been receiving more traffic now that the existence of these stairs are now everywhere on the internet.  If you post them, they will come!

We passed by a geological survey and some kind of weather vane? on top of a large peak (a Nissan Sentra was placed on this pu'u by the military back in the 90s!) just before the Halawa terminus.  On the backside of this peak we spotted the swath of a trail snaking it's way from leeward.  This was the Halawa Trail, one of the longest contour trails I've ever done.  We reached Halawa and took another short break.  The Red Hill Ridge terminus was surprisingly close to the Halawa terminal point, but a very large peak separated the two points.  Also this large peak marked the point where we were directly above the Tetsuo Harano Tunnels (H-3).

We were now at Red Hill and the next section was the Moanalua Saddle itself, leading down to Kulana`ahane summit.  I've done this section in reverse with Marcus last month and it was quite easy.  Going down the same route was more difficult as we were sliding on our okoles for much of the way.  Going down the two rope sections proved tricky as this was the most eroded section of the descent.  Daniel needed to pass his backpack, which housed all his camping gear, down to me so he could slide on his butt more efficiently.  The clouds were gone for good as we were rapidly losing elevation and we could make out the massive expanse of Moanalua Valley and the residential area way at the end of it, marking our end point of today's hike.

After one more tricky descent, the ridge became more level and more narrow.  There was a rocky dike section that can be contoured, as I did last time with Marcus.  Not this time.  After seeing Josh go directly over the crumbly dike, I followed suit and it was quite fun.  There was a small boulder that was very loose so I toppled it over, sending it into the depths below.  Daniel and Marie followed behind me and we all made it over without incident.

We made it to Kulana`ahane Trail at last and shot a group photo here before we started our long descent down to Moanalua Valley and finally back to the car.  I pointed out the ridgeline going up to Haiku Stairs to Daniel and Marie and they expressed interest in going up this route at another time.

All in all, this hike took 14 hours, 14 hours of epicness!