Tuesday, August 9, 2011

8-4-2011: Lanihuli to Kalihi Saddle

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

I never thought it would have came down to this so soon.  With Moanalua and Nu'uanu Saddles under my belt and the Kalihi Saddle half completed from the Bowman side, it was only natural for me to attempt the daring descent from Pu'u Lanihuli towards the Wilson Tunnels of the Likelike Hwy.  I've tried doing research as far as any documentation whatsoever on this section of the Kalihi Saddle but to no avail with the exception of Pete Clines' scout hike.  I've only heard that Hawai`i hiking legend, Chuck Godek, has descended from Bowman down into the saddle and up to Lanihuli back in the good old days.  Of course back then, documenting a hike was probably not the "in" thing to do like it is today with all the numerous modern technological ways to document a trek.

I've looked at this section of the saddle time and time again from various points of the island and wondered if it can even be done at all.  There was only one way to find out.  I knew we would have to get through menacing rock formations and pinnacles such as "Can Opener", "The Pimple", "Doorstop", the two "Bunny Ears", and the "Shark's Fin" before we reached the powerline trail.  Continuing past the powerline terminus would be the "Witch's Hat" and finally the maddening ascent up the terminus of Bowman, having to negotiate the "Two Triangles".  The Daredevils today would be Marcus Griego, Jeremy Kreis, Michael Loftin, Rhonda  Hutchinson, and myself.

We shoved off at around 6:15am at Alewa Dr. and began our long 6 mile jaunt on the roller coasting Lanihuli Trail.  The weather was typical of a morning day on the Ko'olaus: low clouds with an occasional rain shower. However the trades were roaring on this day and this would be worrisome while on the saddle itself.  Enroute to the summit we saw the Kalihi Saddle to our west, once again smiling it's evil smile with the glow of the morning sun.  Over to the east, we could barely make out the eastern portion of the Nu'uanu Saddle.  Pali Notches and the Chimney were visble under the glow of the sun.  It was pretty eerie looking.

The Kalihi Saddle, viewed from Lanihuli Trail

We reached the summit roughly 3 hours or so later and began making our final preparations for our descent of doom.  There was uncertainty so we were to go as far as we felt relatively "safe".  Sturdy anchors or a lack of them would decide if we shall pass or not.  Weather at the summit was socked in conditions, wet, fog, and lots of wind.

Turning left at the summit, we prodded on through typical summit terrain.  Like the Bowman side, we had to reach another smaller peak before the actual descent into the Kalihi Saddle.  Weather conditions turned for the worst with a brief downpour coupled with the winds, making for a miserable walk.  But we were not to be deterred!

We reached a large grassy clearing marked with several trail tape upon reaching this peak.  Looking ahead, we could see the ridge start to make it's perilous descent and disappear into the thick clouds.  As we continued ahead, the clouds briefly lifted to provide a spectacular view of the Likelike Hwy, far below us!  The excitement has begun!  Further down, the ridge narrows to Kalihi Saddle proportions.  While the ridge itself was incredibly thin, 6 inches on the massive eroded portions, there were overhanging gullies about some 10-20ft down on each side to act as a safety net should we fall, unlike the Bowman side of the saddle.  But safety net or none, falling is a bad thing, with the potential to break you mentally.  Marcus and Jeremy were ahead of me while Michael and Rhonda were trailing behind me.

Still on the descent, we traversed over a couple of severely eroded spots that made for some tricky negotiating.  The clouds were still thick so I could only see probably some 50ft or so in any direction.  Winds were howling and I thought I could feel the ridge swaying a bit.  At some point after the eroded dikes, the clouds magically lifted on the windward side of our ridge but still remained socked in to leeward.  This is the kind of thing that keeps me coming back for more.  I just couldn't get enough of those "cloud dances".  Looking down windward, I could see the cars motoring about on the Likelike and H-3 highways, oblivious to "dare devils" on the ridges above them!

Suddenly, the ridge moved!  In a blink of an eye, I realized I was tumbling down towards windward!  Apparently the eroded ridge, plants and all, crumbled apart and I lost my balance as I was straddling it.  Like a bolt of lightning, I threw my arms higher than Mt. Ka'ala and grabbed hold of anything.  Fortunately, I felt my left hand touching a sturdy root and tightened my grip with quick reflexes.  My other arm wrapped around the still crumbling ridge and literally did a bear hug with it.  Together, I heaved myself back up onto the crest with Mike, who was behind me, looking in disbelief of what just transpired.  All of that happened in probably 2 seconds.  This would be the first close call of many to follow.

As the clouds completely dissipated and the sun began to shine, we reached a level section of the ridge.  Then it all disappeared!  We all knew we were at the top of the dreadful "Can Opener".  Marcus went over to take a peek of what was down below and signaled a thumbs down.  There was absolutely nothing to anchor ropes to.  If we couldn't go down it directly, we would have to contour it on the windward side.  We backtracked a bit and came across the only sole tree that was not in good shape at all.  Looking on the windward side, the grade of the slope was actually not that bad and we spotted more sturdy trees further below that we can use for anchors.  After affixing 100ft of webbing, Jeremy was first to go down, followed by myself.  I glanced back to where Rhonda and Marcus was... only to find out that Marcus was gone!  I took a closer look and discovered Marcus already halfway down an overhanging gully that is adjacent to the Can Opener!  And he was free climbing down too!  That guy was nuts!

Once Jeremy was off the ropes, I went down the steep grassy slope until I was relatively at the same elevation as Marcus and now Jeremy, who were waiting for the rest of us.  They were to the windward of the Can Opener's "hook".  The rest of us made it down without incident and regrouped.  Up ahead was a sketchy contour that would bring us back to the main summit ridge past the Can Opener.  Since Marcus, Rhonda, and myself had donned our microspikes, it was not too bad.  Jeremy and Michael however, had to make due with nothing for security but a few clusters of loose grass here and there, while contouring on a non existent ledge.  Slipping was not an option.  If one slipped here, game over.  Period.  Jeremy called that section the "scariest of his life".

Thankfully we all made it over without incident and we all looked back up at the Can Opener, which was now above us.  Ironically, it looked very similar to the Pali Notches "Chimney" section, although more severely eroded.  The grade of the descent was now at level with the remainder of the Kalihi Saddle.  This angle provided a unique view of the saddle and it was magical!  Up ahead however, were menacing looking pinnacles that looked impossible to climb.  These were the "Pimple", "Doorstop", and the two "Bunny Ears".  Quoting Pete "The Pimple looked indescribably thin".  He was right!

We descended down into a notch just prior to the Pimple and began discussing options of how to get by the next pinnacles.  Marcus, almost on autopilot, continued up to the Pimple to scout the other side while the rest of us stayed back in the notch to watch.  As Marcus was going up, I swear I never saw so much rock dislodge.  In fact it was so frequent, that we were all nearly scared to death for him!  If you have watched a boat pass by you, you would see the water behind it trail in it's wake.  That was what all those loose rocks were like as he went up the Pimple.  It formed a "boulder wake" behind him!  It was one of the creepiest things I've ever seen in my entire life.  To top it all off, the winds were still roaring at 20mph or more!

"No Thanks!" was all what we agreed upon after seeing that so we began affixing rope to a Strawberry Guava tree that was strangely just below the summit crest of the notch.  Our plan: drop to leeward and contour around the Pimple and regain the Doorstop by climbing on it's town side.  After the rope was ready, we called out to Marcus who was still on the top of the Pimple and told him of our next move.  He said he was going to try for it and that he would meet us on the other side of the Doorstop.  Down we went back into the forest and began our contour.  The contour was easier said than done.  The slope was still steep and we merely used branches and roots for support.  Eventually we saw the other side of the Doorstop about 20ft up.  However, this would be the steepest climb on this hike and it looked in terrible shape as far as hand and footholds go.  Jeremy was up, followed by Rhonda.  Jeremy laid down rope to help make the climb easier for the rest of us.  I was next and was just about to complete the climb when disaster struck.  The non existent foothold crumbled below me and I was sliding down the very steep slope.  I caught myself and tried reaching what appeared to be a sturdy tree.  Then suddenly, that tree was uprooted and 170lbs of hiker, 20lbs of camelbak, and a large tree were all free falling down leeward!  At this point, everything in my vision turned into a blur.  I let out a loud scream and that's all I could do!  Somehow, the rope wrapped around my right knee and I felt it tensing up!  Still free falling, the rope caused me to reorient upside down.  Now, I was tumbling head over heels.  Small rocks and dust filled the air around me.  Like a noose on my knee, it tightened up.  Excruciating pain shot down my right leg.  I looked up and saw the rope rubbing over the back of my knee at great speeds as if it was on a pulley system!  I reached up and tried to grab the still moving rope!  It tightened around my knee even more and the pain intensified!  With my sense of direction lost amidst the chaos and no signs of slowing down, I thought this was it.  I'm a goner.  I waited and I waited...

Then everything went quiet.  I looked around and found myself laying on my back against my camelbak, which was now being held up by some brushes and other small trees.  I looked at the slope and noticed it was still at the steep sloping grade.  I wasn't on level ground, but merely held up by vegetation.  Then I looked up and quickly released the rope from my knee.  The wound looked like it was burnt with a blowtorch.  My adrenaline was in full swing and I barely noticed the pain.  I then heard Michael call out to me.  I called back out and noticed my words were slurred!  This was when I began my body feeling numb.  Michael then came down to where I was and secured a second rope to help get me back to safety.  Calling rescue came across my head but Michael shot that thought down, saying that my crew wasn't going anywhere until they got me to safety.  He gave me some water and coaxed me to safety of a nearby sturdy tree.  Apparently I've gotten dehydrated and the water helped me regain my bearings, along with Michael comforting me to ease my traumatic stress.  The numbing slowly went away.  Eager to try again, Michael took my pack to lighten the load.  While I was on the rope again making the climb, Jeremy and Marcus heaved on the other side of the rope to expedite my climb.  This was a wonderful thing to see, my crew working hard together to bring me to safety.  Now on top, I could feel the whipping tradewinds once again and I sat down and gulped down a 5 hour drink and one of Jeremy's "legendary" Rice Krispie Treats!  Like Wall-E drained of battery power, my "power gauge" regained to full power and although slightly dazed with the wind knocked out of me after that fall, I was ready to continue.  Michael came back up and were all now regrouped with Marcus.  A near disaster averted.  I thank everyone who helped me and especially Michael, who managed to calm me down and come back to myself during that awful experience.

After a 15 to 30 minute break, we packed our gear and marched forward on the sometimes narrow dikes.  We were now heading down the much gentler slope of the Doorstop and towards the first out of two Bunny Ears.  These were not as menacing as the Doorstop and Pimple but still challenging with it's crumbly dikes and steep ascents and descents.

One last pinnacle to go, the "Shark's Fin".  Actually for some odd reason, whether if it was because we were all mentally drained at this point and didn't care what was next, or because it wasn't as impressive as the other pinnacles, we did not actually see it at all, nor noticed any great ascents or descents on said pinnacle.  I guess we just wanted to all go home already.  One last descent and we all reached the safety of the Powerline Trail.  We did it.  We truly did it!  We were here!  And it only required 8 hours of a hellish nightmare.  We had finally woken up.  Except this was all real and not a dream!  By this time, the pain from my knee was starting to come back so we powered down the Powerline Trail and reached Likelike Hwy, 12 hours after we had started from Alewa Dr.  The Kalihi Saddle was at last completed.  With the Moanalua and Nu'uanu Saddles completed as well, this epic chapter of the Ko'olau Saddles can at last come to a close and I am very happy about that.

It was a hike to remember and I have the battle scars to prove it!  I would like to quote Coty Gonzales who completed the Bowman to Haiku Stairs summit walk a few days prior to our hike: "It was insane, dangerous, scary, and extremely stupid.  It was also a (once in a) lifetime experience."

Another hiking legend, Dick Davis mentioned that the Bowman side of the Kalihi Saddle to the Likelike Tunnels is "No Man's Land".  I personally would like to call the Lanihuli side of the saddle to the Likelike Tunnels "Pandora's Ridge".  When one sets foot upon the ridge, 8 demons are unleashed: the seven deadly ways of falling and the 8th being hope.  Yeah, we captured hope today and we are grateful to be alive.


Epilogue: On August 7, 2011 (8-7-2011), Martyna and Allegra completed a successful climb to Lanihuli via this route detailed in this entry.