Friday, November 25, 2011

Kahana Valley

This past friday I woke up with absolutely no idea of what I was going to do.  I did not roll out of the bed until around 10am so I automatically ruled out doing any hike that would be time consuming.  Since my dad was visiting I wanted to take and show him something nice and I knew that he had wanted to head up to the north shore, so we left the house and set out for the H3, with absolutely no idea where we were heading from there.  As we cruised across the H3 it started pouring down rain.  I was not really shocked because it has been cloudy every day as of late and the rain has been pretty standard over the past few weeks.  As the rain continued to pour down, I began to contemplate hiking to Wailele falls in Laie.  Last time I had been there the falls were not going but surely they would be today after all the rain we had been recieving.  So I advised my dad to take the H3 to kamehameha highway where we would begin the beautiful shoreline drive to Laie.  As we got further down the coast line I became irritated by all of the rain and from the looks of things ahead of us, it looked to be pouring in Laie and on the north shore.  The rains suddenly stopped completely as we drove past kahana bay and I glanced over at the stream and saw that it was surprisingly clear.  I remembered that there was a tiny swimming hole that you could walk to from the park across the street from Kahana bay.  I figured that the rain suddenly dicipating was a sure sign that kahana valley was the hike that was meant for us on this day.

Just before we reached the entrance for Kahana bay beach park we took a left into the Kahana Valley state park on the opposite side of the street and drove past the visitor center and to the end of the road where a gate blocks further progress.  We parked on the right side of the road at a pull out and continued past the gate and up the gravel road on foot.  My original intention was to take the short stroll down to the swimming hole on Kahana stream and to swim and hang out there shortly and then to drive to Laie with hopes that the weather would clear up and that we could atempt to hike Wailele Falls.  As we got to the trailhead I saw ribbons and a trail that led in to the valley and to the left of that trail was a gravel road.  I figured that the valley trail with ribbons was surely the trail that would take us to the swimming hole.  It turned out that it did but only after a two and a half hour hike.  Had we just walked down the gravel road instead for just a few minutes we would have reached the swimming hole and could have avoided the somewhat boring two and a half hour valley hike. 

I hate talking bad about any trail here on Hawaii since I love nature and this island so much, but this hike was honestly one of the most boring I have ever been on.  The swimming hole at the beginning of the hike (or what was the end of our hike) consists of about a five minute stroll down a gravel road and is the highlight of the hike.  We saw some other swimming holes and pools along the valley trail, that we had to detour to get to, but the main attraction and the only real reason for visiting here, in my opinion, would be the easily accessible swimming hole at the start of the trail.  It was absolutely beautiful and I had a great time swimming and playing.  There is a rope swing that allows you to swing out into the stream and drop down as well, and is a ton of fun.

If you decide to take the short stroll to the swimming hole just simply drive past the visitor center once entering kahana valley state park and then follow the road until you see a gate impeding further progress.  Park on the right side of the road there and walk the rest of the road on foot.  Upon reaching a huge board with pictures and information on the hike, take a left and walk a few minutes to the stream and the swimming hole via a gravel road.  The valley hike starts in the same spot but instead of going down the gravel road there will be a trail to the right heading into the valley.  There are many sidetrails in the valley and it is very easy to get lost so I would suggest doing your research before hiking or buying stuart balls book, "The Hikers Guide to Oahu" to assist you on this hike.  To me the valley hike is not worth the time and effort but I am sure there are many people out there who might enjoy it as an easy day outing.  Whatever you do though, be sure to make it to the swimming hole.  It may be the best on Oahu.

Mariners Ridge (Night Hike)

Well, the holiday season is upon us and I have become quite a bit more busy than usual.  With my father in town and the school semester nearing its end and all the other stresses of every day life, hiking has taken somewhat of a backseat to everything else going on right now.  Instead of hiking multiple times every week, I now find myself relegated to hiking whenever I can squeeze it in.  However, I have found in life that if you truly love something you will find a way to do it.  Recently my wife and I and a few of our friends have started night hiking and have found it to be surprisingly safe and rewarding.  Hiking at night is great for a few reasons.  First of all, the city lights are beautiful to look down upon and the photo ops are amazing and neverending.  Secondly, the feeling of having the trail all to yourself with the night sky above you and only your friends around to joke and talk story with makes for a great time.  Lastly, since hiking during the day has been somewhat taken away from me due to my schedule, night hikes offer me another way to still hit the trails, granted I don't usually get but a few hours sleep when we hike at night, but the trade off is well worth it.

On this night, my father, who was still in town visiting, myself and two of my good hiking partners met in the mariners ridge subdivision in Hawaii Kai around 6:45 pm.  As the last person in our group finally arrived, we wasted not time and set off immediately for the trailhead at the back of the subdivision.  To the right of the trailhead there is a house that has a beat up old fence and a weird look to it compared to the other posh houses in the nieghborhood and this house has always given me a weird feeling during the day.  As we walked past it this night I got an even creepier feeling than usual and I swear that this house is haunted but I seemed to be the only one who was all that creeped out by it.  Once past the house we reached the trailhead and started the walk up the dirt hill and reached a wooded area shortly after.  This is possibly the easiest trail to the koolau summit on the island.  It is very short although the walk up can be kind of steep and taxing, but overall anyone can do this hike and it is a great place to bring your dog or kids as well.

As we continued our way to the summit we all talked and joked amongst each other and within no time we had reached the summit.  I was shocked by how quick we had made it to the top, but again, this is an insanely short and easy trail.  From the summit the sights that were bestowed upon us were magnificent and there were no clouds or anything else to obscure our views on this beautiful, brisk night.  We set up our tripods and took turns taking pictures of the city lights below us as we all talked and told stories.  We spent more time at the summit taking pictures and hanging out on this night than we did actually hiking.  After our prolonged break at the summit we all headed back down the trail and were back to the Mariners Ridge subdivision before we could even blink it seemed. 

As we talked on the short walk back to the car, we decided to make the "night hikes" a weekly thing and it definetly has held true up until this point.  The two night hikes we did this week will be posted very soon as well.  What I have realized from hiking at night is how fun hiking and spending time with your friends can be.  I have always loved hiking but at night it tends to be a lot more laid back and the conversation and laughter seems to flow even more excessively throughout the group than usual.  I am gonna make a real effort to hike as much as I can during the day before the new year but I am surely going to keep up with at least one weekly night hike as well, for this is when I seem to have the most fun.  The one and only down side to hiking at night is that by the time we finish we are often to tired to go to 7-eleven for our ritualistic post-hike slurpee outing.

For anyone that is looking to hike at night, I would strongly suggest starting with Mariners Ridge.  It is very short and easy and there is practically no exposure so you will be safe even if you do take a little tumble at some point.  To get to the Mariners Ridge trailhead take kalanianaole hwy eastbound (coming from the airport) as if you were going towards hanauma bay.  As you are driving on Kalanianaole hwy you will see a street on the left hand side named keahole drive where you will need to take a left (if you go past the outback steakhouse you have gone to far).  After making a left onto keahole drive it will turn into Hawaii Kai Drive.  Next you will turn left on to Kaluanui road and follow it to the very top until the road dead ends.  The trailhead is at the dead end and is very obvious and easy to find.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Puu Kalena

This past friday was Veterans Day and our original intentions were to hike to the Laie 18 waterfalls but a hiking buddy of mine suggested that we hike to Puu Kalena instead.  Is there a better way to spend Veterans Day than doing a hike on a military base, he said to me.  What a great idea this was, especially since my father (who is also a veteran) had just arrived in town for vacation the night before from Afghanistan where he works as a contractor.  However, I did wonder if this was really the best idea in the back of my mind.  Puu Kalena is no normal hike.  Kalena is the second highest peak on Oahu next to Mt. Ka'ala and the climb to her summit, while only five miles round trip, can be grueling and very dangerous.  Knowing my dad was fresh off a plane flight and not what I would exactly consider an experienced hiker, I thought twice about excepting this challenge for all of us but ultimately decided to give it a go.

All though we had heard stories that the Kalena trail had been shut down we knew that we could still gain access to it.  We headed for Schofield barracks and as we reached the gate my dad reached for his contractors id to show the guard.  We were swiftly allowed entrance and off we headed for kolekole pass road.  Since we had hiked to Puu Hapapa a few years before I knew where the kalena trailhead was as well, even though I had never actually hiked it.  We parked in the parking lot on the left hand side that people use when they hike to the Puu Hapapa rock.  We gathered are stuff and walked across the road where a baracade had been setup to deter hikers such as ourselves.  We walked through the barcade and to the right of some constantine wire that had also been set up to keep us out and we were officially on our way for Puu Kalena.

The route up was pretty simple.  There is one little junction right away where you will go left instead of right (going right will take you to a bench and a dead end).  Shortly afterwards you will break out into the open and start some seriously climbing up loose red dirt.  After this there is again more climbing including some rock climbing but it is more tireing than it is dangerous or difficult at this point.  You will encounter another junction at some point while heading up, and once again you will need to head to the left.  After what seems like a never ending climb you should finally reach an opening with some views and the trail will begin to narrow in front of you.  This is where the trail really gets down to business.  We began our push towards the narrow rock dike that we had heard so much about.  We were completely socked in at this point and it was raining and the winds were probably in excess of 40 mph.  We reached the rock dike and most of us opted to crawl across the insanely narrow path due to the extreme winds.  To say the least, I was not very comfortable on this part.  Directly after there is some rock climbing straight up a rock face for which you will need to concentrate but it is pretty easily manageable.  Just do not fall. 

There are a few more narrow parts but you will soon come to a junction with a tiny trail on the left side leading to a side ridge.  The side ridge is extremely narrow and there are some crazy rock faces that need to be negotiated to get further down the ridge.  It only goes a short ways and then terminates but is a fun spot to test yourself if you are an experienced ridge hiker here on Oahu.  About ten minutes after the side ridge I made a very poor choice.  I decided I did not want to go any further.  The most difficult part of the trail was done but it was so extremely cloudy and rainy that I had no desire to go all the way to the summit.  I figured that there would be no point to continue when we would have no views at the end and when the footing was so slippery from the ground being wet.  The rest of the group decided to push on and I headed back to the side ridge.  Just as I got back to the side ridge the clouds started to dissapate and the skies cleared and the rain stopped.  I couldn't believe it.  I thought about trying to catch up with the rest of the group but at this point I was to far behind and I knew it.

I decided to head down the side ridge and explore it on my own, another bad choice, but I made it to the first rock face and couldn't get by it.  Knowing that I was all by myself, I was not willing to push the limit, for if something went wrong no one would know where I was.  I headed back to the main trail and headed down the ridge back to the start of the trail where I would then walk to the puu Hapapa rock and Lualualei valley overlook to kill some time.  I eventually ran in to another hiker who was interested in doing the Kalena trail as well so I started back on the trail with him an hour or so after I had got done.  We eventually ran into my wife and dad but there was no sign of the other two hikers who were part of our group.  We found out later that they had gone the wrong way and had gotten sidetracked for over a half an hour but eventually found their way back to our car.  This was a day where many things went wrong and where we did not exercise basic hiking safety.  On top of all of the other bad traits that we portrayed on this day, three of us also forgot water.  I'm just glad that everything turned out okay and I am confident that we will learn from these mistakes.

I was also informed by the rest of the group that near the summit the military is building a fence that made the trail tough to navigate on this day and which will probably make hiking this trail in the future a real pain and maybe even impassable.  I will be going back in the next few weeks to say goodbye to this trail before the fence is entirely in place.  For anyone who wants to attempt this trail just realize that there will be some obstacles near the summit (the fence) and that this is a dangerous trail.  The rock dike is extremely narrow as well as many other parts and there is a lot of climbing and steepness and exposure involved.  I thought this trail made Puu Manamana look pretty easy.  Basic rule of thumb is to make sure you exercise caution if you decide to hike here.

Moanalua Middle Ridge to Haiku Stairs (night hike)

One of the big trends in the hiking community as of late seems to be night hiking.  I had recently hiked the koko crater rim at night and I enjoyed it immensely.  This time around my wife and I were invited by some fellow hikers to climb up to the top of the well known stairway to heaven via the middle ridge of Moanalua valley.  On this full moon night there would be eight of us participating in this adventure.  A few people drove to Kaneohe ahead of time to station a car near the haiku stairs so we would all have a ride back to Moanalua valley and our cars after the hike.  In the meantime I was at school and starting to worry that I would be late for the hike since I did not get out of school until after 6:15 and the hike was scheduled for a 6:30 start.  I ended up leaving class a little bit early and actually arrived at moanalua valley park first, giving me some time to prepare my supplies and to get ready for the hike that was ahead of me.  Shortly after I arrived everyone else showed up as well and we all put our headlamps on and set off down the valley road for what we expected to be a somewhat boring first leg of the trail.

The trail starts by following an old gravel road that goes on for a few miles with numerous stream crossings.  After a few miles we reached a sign stating that this was the end of the maintained state trail.  At this point we began to look for our junction with the middle ridge.  There is a trail directly to the left of the sign but this was the trailhead for the highly dangerous Moanalua saddle, which no one in their right mind would attempt at night.  The middle ridge trailhead was about ten yards past the sign on the same side.  At this spot we crossed the stream and found a trail heading up through a wooded area that was well marked with ribbons.

From here on out the trail was well worn and simple to follow.  We climbed further and further ahead and finally reached the portion of the middle ridge that became narrow.  The ridge being narrow was not what presented us problems on this night.  The problem was that the wind was howling at 30 plus mph.  I have heard a lot of people say they will not do hikes such as this one in the dark, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it easier mentally at night than during the day.  While hiking during the day the crazy drops beneath me are very apparent but at night I do not tend to notice them and can solely focus on the trail that my headlamp is shining down on in front of me.  As everyone in the group negotiated the narrow sections with ease, the ridge began to steepen and the damp ground became tougher to gain traction on.  One positive thing we had going for us was that there were plenty of ropes in place to help us proceed upward on the steepest parts.  While the trail was getting steeper and steeper the narrowness was still ever so present.  I looked up and noticed that the middle ridge summit was just ahead of me now.  Since it was getting windier and starting to rain I decided to go ahead of the rest of the group and get to the middle ridge summit and then wait for them there. 

As I hastily made my way up to the middle ridge summit I looked behind me and realized that I had ended up putting a lot more distance between me and the rest of the group than I had anticipated.  As I arrived at the middle ridge summit I decided to just go ahead and make the left hand turn and head for the Haiku stairs by myself.  Having been on this section of the KST before, I knew that the haiku stairs were no more than ten minutes away now.  The wind picked up exceedingly as I got closer and closer to the omega station at the top of the haiku stairs.  The views were non existent as I looked down and saw nothing but clouds beneath me.  A few more turns along the summit ridge and a couple more steps through the mud and I had finally reached the top of the Haiku stairs where I was greeted by another hiker who had hiked up the stairs earlier in the night to meet our group.  I jumped over the railing and had officially arrived at the omega station at around 10:20 pm.  The entire group would arrive to the omega station no later than 11:00 pm.  As we all reached the omega station one by one, the skies began to slowly clear.  Before we knew it the entire sky had cleared up and presented us with incredible views of all of Kaneohe bay in front of us and of haiku valley to our left.  A few of us tried to pull out our tripods to get better pictures but the wind just would not allow the tripods to sit still, so we just settled for the pictures that we could get and then we began our decent down the stairs. 

Everyone else in the group began down the stairs first as me and another hiker took our sweet time, stopping frequently for pictures and just talking story.  As we casually made our way down the stairs, the full moon was in plain sight in the now incredibly clear night sky.  As we got further down the stairs I began to feel a little bad that the rest of the group was waiting on us at the bottom.  As we neared the bottom of the stairs the sky opened up and heavy rains started to drop down on us, seemingly trying tell us to hurry up because the others were at the bottom and were ready to go.  We picked up our pace a little and shortly afterwards we were understandably greeted with glares from the rest of our group as we reached the bottom of the stairs.  Once at the bottom everyone forgave us for our slow pace as we took a quick group photo and then began our short trip back to civilization.  Once on the street we successfully attempted to cram eight people into the car which would shuttle us back to moanalua valley where the rest of our cars were still parked.  Me and my wife would finally arrive home at around 2:30 am, ready for bed and not very eager for the next morning to arrive.  For now the night hiking craze is still going strong and I am excited to see what the following weeks will bring for me and the fellow night marchers.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Puu ManaMana

I had been putting this hike off for some time now.  A friend of mine, who had recently gotten lost on this trail, asked me if I wanted to go with him and I finally jumped at the opportunity.  Stuart Balls book "The Hikers Guide to Oahu" ranks this as an expert hike and puts the danger level at high.  To be honest, I did not see this hike as being for experts only or as being as dangerous of a hike as many have said.  In saying that though, there are some rock climbing parts that can be a little tricky and there are more than a few narrow sections on the ridge where footing and comfortability with exposure is vital.  The narrow portions have been made out to be legendarily narrow but in reality you have a good amount of room and it really isn't that scary or very hard if you take your time.  You do need to respect this trail and keep focused, for a fall could result in serious injury or death on this trail but if you are a good hiker and focus you should have no problem with this hike.  If you are affraid of heights this is definetly not the trail for you.  I would suggest starting by doing some other hikes on the island and getting use to the exposure and height factor and then coming to manamana only after you have a good comfortability level with these things.  If you are not familiar with the Hawaii trails and ridges, I probably would not attempt this hike.

We started this day by meeting up with our hiking partners for the day at a close by beach.  Everyone followed us as we made our way to the Puu manamana trailhead.  We parked at around 9am off of trout farm road, which is situated on the left side of the road just after the Crouching Lion inn and adjacent from kahana bay beach park.  We gathered all of our stuff and headed back to the main highway and took a right.  After walking back down the highway for a few minutes we came upon a faint trail heading up.  We took this trail and in no time some serious climbing ensued.  It seemed as quick as we had started we had reached the ridgeline.  There was a little side trail veering off to our left (the manamana trail went straight up the ridge) and heading to the crouching lion formation, so a few of us decided to take this trail and check this area out before heading up the puu o mahie ridge to manamana.  At this point we realized that one of the members in our group was already a little flustered and not feeling comfortable with the exposure.  We discussed the situation as a group and since the hard part of the trail had not even begun yet, we all came to conclusion that it was best that one of us turn around with our friend who was timid about continuing.  When we returned to the ridgeline three of us headed up the ridge for manamana and our other two friends turned around and headed back the other way to their car.  I felt bad but in retrospect I know this was the right decision.

We pushed ourselves up the ridge as every step we took became harder and the ridge became steeper and steeper.  We climbed over a couple of rock faces and then at last, everything leveled off and we were greated by clear views of Kahana bay and the windward coast behind us.  Directly in front of us were the legendary knife edge ridges that we had heard so much about.  This part was a lot safer than what I expected and I found it extremely fun.  The ridge walk was one of the most beautiful and relaxing I have had here on Oahu.  I fell in love with this ridge.  The mountains in front of us were being lit up by the sun and the views of the ocean to my left were gorgeous, as I couldn't stop glancing at the clear aqua waters.  The ridge was narrow but not narrow enough to cause any real hesitation.  We calmly made it past this part and shortly afterwards we were greeted with a rock face that we would have to negotiate to get to the next part of the ridge.  There were plenty of footholds but this section requires concentration and there is no room for error.  If you fall, you will be seriously injured or most likely killed.  However this is easily doable if you focus.  Whoever is most comfortable in the group should go down this part first and then guide the rest of the group as they proceed down the rock face.  This is exactly what we did on this day and everything went perfectly.  There is a cable to aid in the climb down but be careful if you decide to use it.  It did not look very inviting to me and I am sure it will snap at some point in the future.

I know there were more rock sections that were dangerous on this day but this was the only one that I remembered to be honest. After this part the ridge narrowed and then widened only to narrow again. The climbing was steep over many tiny rock sections on an often narrow ridgeline.  We reached what seemed to be knob after knob taking breaks at each one we reached.  After maybe four of five knobs, amazing views of Makaua valley (hidden valley), Kahana bay, and Kahana valley presented themselves and the trail finally leveled off a little for us (all though we were still climbing) and the ridge broadened, putting all of our minds at ease knowing that the toughest parts were behind us.  We walked through what was now an overly vegetated trail for some time and eventually reached a wide open grassy knoll, known as turnover.  This is where the trail ends.  There is a side trail to the left (I believe that leads in to Makaua valley), and a fairly ovbious trail straight ahead.  The obvious trail directly in front of you is the true manamana trailhead and only a number of people have ever completed this trail, beginning with Laredo Muredo and Pete Clines back in 2010.  It is imperative that you stop at this grassy knoll and do not continue further, for if you do, what you will encounter will be one of the craziest and scariest ridge lines that you have ever seen.

From the open grassy knoll turn around and backtrack for about one or two minutes and you will see a juction to the left.  Take this side ridge and you will slowly start contouring down.  This is the return route and will complete this hike as a loop for you bringing you out right at your car.  This ridge is known as cemetary ridge due to the fact that at the end of the ridge there is a very old and small cemetary you will briefly pass through before reaching your car.  The trail is very obvious the whole way down this ridge and all though it does become extremely narrow in parts, there are tons of trees and vegetation on both sides to obscure your views and to prevent you from falling.  You still need to be careful on this part but you are safer than before and your hike is now almost over.  As we got further and further down the ridge stunning views of Kahana bay directly in front of us and the amazing backdrop of Kahana valley just to our left was ever so present as we constantly looked up in awe of what was another amazing day for us here in Hawaii.  We eventually entered a wooded area and came upon the old cemetary and within minutes of this were back to our car and headed for 7-eleven to get our postgame slurpee session on.