Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Puu O Kona to Kuliouou West

This past Saturday was to be a day that I had been waiting for a long time for.  We were supposed to be hiking a trail that had been planning out and looking at for quite awhile and we were to start hiking at 3am and not finish until after dark the next day.  Unfortunately our hiking partners had busy days the day prior and cancelled at the last minute.  Not wanting to go alone, my wife and I went back to sleep and slept in for a little bit and upon waking up the next day, we scrambled to find a plan b.  We needed something that wouldn't take all day to do, and we quickly agreed on hiking up the state maintrailed of Kuliouou Ridge and then we would take a left along the Koolau Summit Trail and continue to Puu O Kona and descend via Kuliouou West Ridge, making it a loop hike.  I had heard so many great things about this trail and many of my friends had even rated this as their favorite hike on the island and I had heard that Kuliouou West was a pretty tough and fun climb.  I think I set the bar way to high for this trail, because I was completely underwhelmed by it.  It was still a very fun hike but it did not live up to my expectations, to say the least.  Overall the hike took us around three and a half hours round trip.  The mileage is supposedly seven miles but I can not vouch for that as being a fact.

Puu O Kona is a peak along the Eastern Koolau Summit Trail situated between Kulepeamoa and Kuliouou East.  The trek along the summit trail is sometimes narrow and exposed and there are numerous of climbing sections over very loose dirt invovled.  If you are an experienced hiker this trail should be fun and not give you an problems at all, but if you are a novice hiker or affraid of heights, this may not be the best hike to attempt.  As my wife and I set out for Kalaau Place in Hawaii Kai, where the Kuliouou state trail starts, I prepared myself mentally for the hike that was to come.  This didn't work at all and as soon as we hit the state trail, the uphill climbing and switchbacking started and I became exhausted in no time.  I hate the state trail.  The switchbacks are never ending and the trail is tiring and boring with very little views along the way.  This, of course is just my opinion, where as some people may very well enjoy this hike, but not me. 

The trail is very easy to follow.  Just after proceeding through the yellow gate at the end of Kalaau Place, there was a right fork where the state trail started.  We took the right fork and not to long after we reached a critical junction.  There's a wooden marker that shows the Kuliouou valley trail continuing straight and the Kuliouou Ridge going right.  We went to the right and headed straight uphill for the ridge hike.  This is where I started to feel the incline and became winded and frustrated by the switchbacks that never seemed to end.  The trail was very easy to follow and we eventually arrived at the top of an open area and took a left and headed through an ironwood forest shortly before briefly walking through a bunch of cook pines.  I love seeing cook pines here on Oahu and it always makes me feel as though I am back in Colorado or in the west.  Just after the cook pines we reached a picnic shelter and sat down to catch our breath and get some water, knowing that there was only a few more pushes before the summit of Kuliouou East.  After taking a short rest we continued steeply up the ridge, passing through by more beautiful cook pines before reaching an opening and a bench, with views of the valley in front of us.  Shortly after this we were greeted by some steps that were put in by the state  to help in the final climb to the summit, all though I think they make things more tideous than they do helpful.  As you climb very steeply up the steps, views of Koko Crater and Pearl Harbor and Hawaii Kai, all opened up behind us.  This was a perfect opportunity for me to take one last break and catch my breath, using the exucse that I was taking pictures of the amazing landscape behind us.  Just a few minutes after this we would reach the summit of Kuliouou East, and be welcomed with the beautiful views from Rabbit Island to Waimanalo to the Mokulua Islands.  We took a few moments to sock it all in and take a few pictures and then made a left hand turn along the Koolau Summit Trail and began our trek towards Puu O Kona.

Once we had veered off from the state trail and started along the Koolau Summit Trail, the path now became overgrown and very narrow in spots.  We negotiated a few small rock faces and then continued along the edge of the cliff.  The drops are spectacular along this stretch, but as long as one is not affraid of heights and is cautious, the trail is not overly dangerous.  There are ropes in place on almost all of the climbing sections to make things easier.  My wife and I leisurely strolled through this section and then came to a huge lookout where the Bear Claw hike terminates.  We took a few more pictures, grabbed a little more water and then looked up towards Puu O Kona, which was clearly visible and just a few short climbs away from us now.  We passed by a narrow and eroded, landslide portion of the trail that I have heard so much about.  It didn't catch me as being dangerous at all though and we zoomed right past it.  Next, with the aid of a rope, we began ascendly very steeply with the cliffs edge ever so present to our right.  After this my wife and I had one more scramble up another steep portion and then made the short walk along the now wide and level trail and then finally reached the summit of Puu O Kona at a huge open and level area where we took another short rest.  The views from atop Puu O Kona were even better than the views from the Kuliouou summit.  We take only a few minutes to admire the sights in front of us and then we set off on our trip down Kuliouou's West ridge.

To get to the West Ridge from the top of Puu O Kona was very easy.  From the summit we took a left and headed down towards the valley.  After about 30 seconds another big clearing appeared.  We continued down towards the valley and shortly after reached the first rock face along the west ridge.  It was not bad at all and there was once again rope in place to help.  There were only two rock faces that were even somewhat difficult to get down.  One was only about ten foot, but the other was much larger and without ropes there, would be quite a task to get down.  We took a lot of time on this section to make sure we got down without incident.  After the steepest portion of down climbing the trail leveled off but narrowed at the same time.  It was only briefly though and within no time the trail became wide and began to resemble a state trail.  The whole route down is very easy to follow and there is no way to go but straight.  The only part that I found tricky was finding the junction that goes left and down into the valley to complete the loop and to have us exit on the access road where the hike originally began.  There was a pink ribbon on our left marking this junction but it's imperative to really keep your eyes open to find it.  Keep looking down towards the valley as you are walking and if you see that the access road is parallel to you or behind you then you will need to turn around and backtrack for just a few short minutes to find the junction with the pink ribbon leading down into the valley.  Once we had found the junction we headed down into the valley through an ironwood forest and after about twenty minutes of proceeding steeply downhill we finally exited at a water tank on the access road.  A short two minute walk up the access road and we were back to the yellow gate on Kalaau Place where our hike had started a few hours prior.  This hike was a lot of fun and was not nearly as mentally taxing as I had expected.  While I don't think this is a beginner hike, I wouldn't rate it as an expert hike either.  If you are wanting to try this trail but are unsure if you can do it, I would suggest going with a few friends, and if at point you feel uncomfortable you can just backtrack and head back down the state trail.  Despite being initially upset that our original plans had fallen through, the end result of the day way very pleasing.  Yet another great day of hiking completed and yet another trip to 7-eleve to get our slurpee on before heading home.

Directions: From Kalanianaole Highway heading east, take a left on Kuliouou Street.Drive mauka towards the back of the valley. Follow the curve to the left, and take a right on Kuliouou Road. Turn right on Kala`au Place, continuing to the the cul-de-sac at the end of the street. Park at the end of the cul-de-sac and proceed on foot past the yellow gate on the access road. The trail begins on the right of the access road.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Mt. Kaala (Waianae-Kaala)

For some time now I have been walking out of my house and looking up towards the Waianae mountains at the tallest peak on the island, Mt. Kaala.  As I have often looked up and wondered what it is like atop the flat peaked 4,025 foot summit that is Kaala, I have never had any desire to hike to it.  When I talk to most of my hiking buddies and they ask about Kaala, they seem shocked when I tell them that I have never hiked to its summit.  It seems that every time I look up at the summit from my house it is covered with clouds and since I despise being greeted by cloud cover and no views at the climax of my hikes, I have always kind of ruled out hiking Kaala.  As time has gone by though I realized that I would eventually make the trek, and just hope that mother nature would cooperate.  As it so happened, as my wife and I were driving down the road the other day, she looked up at Mt. Ka'ala and remarked how clear the summit had been recently.  She told me that she had a feeling that this week was a perfect time to go and so two days later we would finally make the journey to the highest peak on Oahu.

There are two main hiking routes to Mt. Kaala (there are other routes also, but they are pretty crazy). The first main route to the top of Ka'ala is the Dupont trail, which is currently closed and has major access issues.  The other route is the route we choose for this day, the Waianae-Kaala trail, which starts off of the Waianae Valley Road in Waianae and is around an eight mile round trip hike.  I figured that this would be a tiring hike, but it was even more exhausting than I had first imagined.  We arrived at the trailhead around 10am, with accomodating blue skies above us.  We passed around a yellow gate and began down a gravel road.  The gravel road was over a mile long and despite having just started the hike, I already had a feeling of contempt for this trail.  The sun was beating down on us and the gravel road just kept getting steeper and steeper without relenting one bit.  We passed by three water tanks, and at the third we finally entered the woods and were now, thankfully, shaded from the blazing sun.  As the ascent was still pretty steep and I was once again, huffing and puffing, we arrived at what was a very welcoming sight for me.  It was a picnic shelter with a bench.  I wasted no time in taking off my pack and sitting down.  With my water in hand, I sat for about ten minutes replenishing my fluids and griping about how I hoped the rest of the hike was not as steep as the first part.  It turned out that the rest of the hike was not all that bad, in my opinion.  The insanely steep sections that were still to come, would have ropes in place and would help minimize the effort of climbing and would save us so much needed energy. 

After leaving the picnic shelter, we proceeded back into a thickly wooded area and followed the trail to a hill top with a utility pole.  From here we went right and shortly meandered through another densely forested area, with some cool tree branches encompassing us on both sides.  Very shortly after this, we came to a junction.  One way went straight and the other took a left and went down into the valley and towards the stream.  We took the left junction and headed down for the dry stream, crossing it and then taking a left and following the obvious trail.  This was where I also learned a huge key to following this trail.  Some nice folks who live in the area, have put up color codes.  Follow the purple spray paint and purple bottle caps that are on the trees and these will take you to Ka'ala.  On your return trip you will be seeing orange spray paint and bottle caps to mark your return route.  A very nice and helpful thing these hikers have done and I am sure it will save many of us a lot of time on these trails back in this area.  Once we had crossed the dry stream and took a left, the trail became increasingly easy to follow.  This stretch of the hike climbed only gradually and gave us time to recover for the steep climbs that were still to come.  And of course, before we good blink an eye, the steep stretches were upon us once again.  We climbed steeply up a hill, that felt like it went of forever, and once we reached the end of the huge hill we came to a two way junction.  We took the right and within about a minute we came to a utility pole with jaw dropping views into the valley and out into the ocean.

After taking a short break we started our push towards Ka'ala.  There were many steep sections, but at every climb there seemed to be at least one and sometimes two ropes to help us pull our way up.  We reached a few tiny rock faces and then finally came upon one that was a little bigger, but fun to climb and had a rope in place for security.  It was not daunting in the least though.  Right after this rock face
we reached the rock face that we had heard so much about.  It was a little bigger and a bit tougher to climb but was, again, nothing to dangerous.  The rope that was there seemed to be more of a hinderous than a help, so I decided not to use, which I believe was the smart choice.  We had to be cautious on the rock face but it was fairly easy and went buy very quickly.  We quickly continued heading up the mountain and could tell we were getting closer and closer to the summit.  We climbed and steeply climbed some more, using one rope after the next to keep from exerting our energy.  Finally, we reached a sign, reading, Mt. Ka'ala.  From this point on we were in a tiny bit of bog and were on a boardwalk that would take us all the way to the military radar station that sits atop Ka'ala.  The boardwalk went on surprisingly longer than I thought.  It was flat and the trek was easy, but it went on for about twenty minutes, and I really enjoyed this section.  We eventually peaked our head out of the forest and there was the huge golf ball radar dish and the military station.  There are no trespassing signs along the fence, but we brazenly ignored them and walked all the way around the fence line.  If we wouldn't have done this, we would not have gotten any views.  All the good views are near the far left and backside of the military installation.

My wife and I basked in the glorious views of the North Shore and sat down to eat a little lunch and take a short rest.  We could see that the weather was now making a turn for the worst.  We grabbed our packs and started to return back the way we had come.  As we walked out on the boardwalk, atop Ka'ala, the weather started to get a little nasty and we were met by rain and bog, but we didn't mind.  It is actually a real neat feeling along the boardwalk to be in that type of weather.  The further down we went, the less rain there was.  We made really good time, going slow and easy down the rockfaces, and then took off for the start of the trail.  We arrived back at our car about five or six hours from the time that we had started.  As we got into our car the skies opened up and the rain came down in a furry.  All of the peaks that were so clearly visible when we started, were now dark and covered in clouds.  We were incredibly lucky and thankful for the views on this day.  Mother Nature was very kind to us and very accomodating.  We drove out of Waianae and headed towards our house with one thing on our mind: a slurpee from 7-eleven.

Directions: Head towards Waianae.  Take Farrington Hwy (Rte. 93).  Drive through Nanakuli and Ma'ili to Waianae.  After passing Waianae mall on the right, make a right hand turn on Waianae Valley Rd.  Turn left on a one lane paved road (still Waianae Valley Rd.) by a huge circle turnaround, marked with white curbs, and then veer right.  Drive all the way down this road until you can go no further due to a gate blocking the way and park in a pullout on the left hand side of the road where you will see a Waianae Kai sign.  Walk up the road and pass by the gate, following the gravel road.

New Years Eve Fireworks Atop Stairway to Heaven

This past year held many great moments for my wife and I, but we have come to realize that hiking and being out in nature is what we cherish most and that this is where so many of our great memories come from.  Having realized this, my wife and I decided that there would be no better way to welcome the year 2012 than by hiking somewhere to see the fireworks.  The skies had been perfectly clear all day, so we decided to go ahead with our plan and hike up the Stairway to Heaven in Kaneohe.  Little did we know that the weather and skies in Kaneohe were not quite as appealing as the weather on our side of the island.  This did not stop us however, and while most people were out partying and getting crazy to celebrate the New Year, we decided to start our own tradition.  I did bring a bottle of champagne up with us, but since it had been raining and the stairs were wet, it didn't get opened until we arrived home later that night, which was probably for the best.

We started our trip up the Stairway to Heaven a little bit past 10pm.  I had my huge duffle bag on my back, with blankets and lanterns, and a few fireworks inside to keep us comfortable and entertained once at our stopping point.  As we started climbing the stairs, we could see that the actual summit of the Haiku Stairs, was socked in and that there would be no views from that juncture, so we immediately made up our minds to stop at the first concrete resting area, where the city lights were still visible.  As we went up the stairs I counted every step, one by one, to keep my mind off the tiring hike.  This only lasted for a little while, until I eventually lost track.  The climb up was pretty slow going, as the stairs were wet and I could barely fit up the narrow stairs with my huge duffle bag constantly getting in the way and getting me stuck.  We slowly made it up the vertical sections and could see our stopping point just ahead of us.  One last steep climb up the almost vertical staircase and we had reached our destination for the night.  It wasn't even 11pm yet, so we took out our blankets, some sterno to try and get a little heat, and our lanterns so we could see.  About twenty minutes later we saw three others heading up the stairs.  My wife jumped over the railing and began taking a bunch of pictures as the fireworks really started going off as the New Year was growing ever so closer.  A few minutes before midnight, one of the hikers who we saw heading up the stairs earlier, finally reached us.  It was a hiker who we had hiked with and knew, so we talked for a few minutes and then the clock struck midnight and the amount of fireworks going off in the city below grew exponentially. 

It was a beautiful site from atop the stairs and my wife and I were really pleased by the outcome.  We waited until about 1am and then decided that we had had enough for one night and began our slow descent down the ever so slippery stairs.  This was by far my slowest trip ever down the stairs due to the wetness and my huge pack.  On the verticals I had no choice but to turn around backwards.  A few times I didn't do so and my duffle bag almost made me take a fall down the vertical stairs.  I don't know why I bring huge bags on some of the night hikes we do, but this will seriously be the last time.  After this and my experience at Puu O Hulu, I have definetly learned my lesson.  As we came arrived at the bottom of the stairs, we walked through the creepy forest and finally arrived back on the paved access road.  As we were walking on the access road back to the main street, we saw some people start to come around the gate, but when they saw us and caught a glimpse of our head lamps they took off running.  We tried to catch up to them but when we got to the gate they had already jumped in a white suv and took off in a hurry.  I couldn't help but laugh but I also felt pretty bad.  I am sure that they thought we were guards or cops or something and that we scared them off.  I wanted to catch them to tell them that everything was good and that they should go ahead and go up, but it wasn't meant to be I guess.  Hopefully there New Year starts off on a better note next year, just as ours did this year.

Directions: See one of my previous Stairway to Heaven blog write-ups for directions.

Waimano Pool and Falls

Tucked away in Aiea is a very nice little waterfall and tiny swimming hole named, Waimano Pool and Falls.  This is a great, three mile round trip hike, suitable for any level of hiker.  For the more intrepid, the 11 mile Manana trail starts just past the beinning of this hike.  The one downside to Waimano Pool and falls is that it seems to be very dependent on rain and on numerous occasions, I have arrived to be greeted by a non-existent waterfall and a stagnant pool.  This usually happens during the summer months, but when the setting is right, the pools can be goreous and hikers have a blast jumping from the rocks above into the pools.  After huge rains the waterfall pumps, but the pool usually won't be very inviting or safe.

About six months ago I convinced my wife to join me on a hike to these pools and falls.  She did not want to go at all, having been before and having arrived to a non-existent waterfall and nasty looking pools.  She finally agreed to go with me and we set out for the short hike.  We arrived to the Pacific Palisades subdivision and the start, somewhere around noon.  We walked up the street and passed through the gate and down the dirt road.  Near the end of the road we reached a water tank and kept going straight.  My wife and I had both been on this trail numerous of times before and to our delight this was by far the best weather that we had ever experienced on this hike.  We were just keeping our fingers crossed that the falls would be going and that the pool would be nice, so we could swim, being that it was a scorcher of a day.  From what I remember the trail was very discernible and easy to follow.  We stayed on the most obvious trail and eventually veered right and headed down into Waimano Valley.  If we had continued straight we would have ended up on the Manana Ridge trail.  I appologize for the crappy directions but I will add this to my list of hikes that I need to go back to and update with accurate and pinpoint directions (do check out the hikers guide to oahu by stuart ball for good directions and if you google waimano pool and falls, someone should have better directions for the first part of this hike).

Once taking the right and heading towards Waimano valley, we hit a massive hill, covered with banyan tree roots.  This is "cardiac hill".  Due to the insane steepness of this hill and the muddiness the usually comes along with the area, the walk down is slow and we found ourselves walking sideways most of the time.  The trip back up this hill is not much better, and it is correctly deemed "cardiac hill".  Once at the bottom of this hill, we took a left and followed the muddy trail downwards until we reached a few ropes to help us descend and then we veered right and crossed a stream onto a once again muddy trail.  From here the trail was insanely easy for us to follow.  We passed a couple of tiny rockfaces, slowly climbing down each, and then we finally reached a junction in which we turned left and shortly thereafter we reached the falls.  I found that once we were in Waimano Valley, all of the major junctions were left hand turns, so as long as one remembers that, they shouldn't get lost once they are in the valley.

Once at the falls, we put our stuff down and took a tiny trail heading up to the big watefall.  Getting down to it can be a little tricky, but there are ropes to help in the descent, but it requires going down a small but vertical rockface.  Not the toughest thing in the world, but not the easiest either.  Once down we hung out at the waterfall, taking pictures and taking a dip in the water.  We then climbed down to a miniature waterfall and jumped off the rocks into the beautiful, deep swimming hole below us.  We swam around and talked story for quite some time with the other folks who were hanging out at the falls on this day too.  This place gets pretty packed on the weekends and you'll see a lot of locals jumping from the higher cliffs above.  Be careful if you decide to attempt this.  All in all this a great hike for a nice sunny winter day here in Oahu.  If deciding to venture back to the falls in the summer, make sure it has rained a good amount lately, or you just might arrive at a stream with stagnant water and no waterfall.

Directions:  From H-1, exit at the Pearl City/Waimalu exit. Turn right on Moanalua Road at the end of the ramp. As Moanalua Road ends, turn right on Waimano Home Road. Turn left onto Komo Mai Drive, driving through Pacific Palisades to the end of the road. A locked gate restricts vehicular traffic beyond this point. Park here, and proceed on foot through the pedestrian passageway adjacent of the gate. The road becomes the trail just past the water tank.  (Driving directions are from

The big waterfall after a period of very little rain

The big waterfall after some decent rain

The big waterfall after a torrential downpour

The deep swimming hole.  Probably at least ten feet deep in the middle.