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.