Sunday, January 15, 2012

Moanalua Middle Ridge to Haiku Stairs (Stairway to Heaven)

This past weekend a friend of mine notified me that he was going to be joining a big hiking group to hike up the Middle ridge in Moanalua Valley and was inquiring to see if I would like to join him.  I seldomly, if ever, hike in big groups and I never join the hiking clubs.  I gain a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from finding places on my own without having them shown to me and conjested trails really bug me, so I informed my buddy that I wouldn't be going.  I was also fighting an ear infection that had kept me from hiking since New Yeas Eve, so I went to bed the night prior with no intentions of hiking.  Upon waking up the next morning, I felt a lot better and was bored and wide awake at 4am with nothing to do.  Knowing that my wife would be working all day, and that I had nothing else to do, I decided to call my friend and let him know that I had decided to hike.  I couldn't help but laugh when he told me that he had decided not to go.  Instead of wakeing my wife up for a ride, I instead chose to run from my house to Moanalua valley.  I am not sure how far of a run it was, but I got lost a few times, and it ended up taking me about two hours.  I arrived to Moanalua valley park around 7am and was surprised to find a huge group there, still waiting to start their hike.  As I walked up, a few fellow hikers who I have hiked with numerous times before, approached me and we started joking around about how I got to the park.  Shortly after the group took a picture of everyone together and then everyone set off down the gravel road, into Moanalua valley.  Me and my buddy talked and joked as we walked with noone else from the group anywhere in the vicinity of us.

Once we walked through the gate in the park and had begun down the gravel road, we crossed the stream (or non-existent stream) or streambed numerous of times and follow the trail for what I believe to be around two miles, until we reached a flash flood warning sign on our left and another sign next to that, that read "Kulana'ahane Trail."  Taking a left and crossing the stream at the Kulana'ahane trail sign would have taken us to the Moanalua saddle trail, so instead we walked about ten yards past the sign and crossed the stream there, at an obvious junction, passing a huge boulder in the stream and then heading up into the woods towards the middle ridge.  There were plenty of ribbons to help us find our way, but the trail was very obvious.  We meandered our way through a wooded but insanely tiring section of the trail.  Up we went and I had no shame in stopping and taking a few breathers along the way.  At this point, the whole group was either far in front of me or far behind me, with the exception of three people.  As I caught up to one person and another caught up to me, we all made friends and hiked the rest of the way together.  With my usual excessive taking of pictures, I was once again constantly behind the small group I was now a part of and found myself playing catch up, like always.

As soon as we came out of the woods, the ridge line opened up and the route to the top was clear, with the Moanalua Saddle in plain sight to our left and our destination of Puu Keahi a Kahoe looming in the distance, directly ahead and above us.  We cautiously negotiated a narrow section with very nice drop offs to our left side.  Some were more cautious than others, and of course I used this opportunity to play with my gopro and get some "dramatic" video of me crossing this stretch, knowing the gopro would make it look scarier than what it really was.  After the narrow section the trail continued straight up the ridge, with many sections having ropes to aid in the ascent.  The trail was often muddy and a few narrow sections required constant attention and concentration so one would not slip and fall.  As we took short breaks at each false summit that we reached, we finally arrived at a peak with a sign reading "middle ridge (to valley road)" and I was shocked to realize that we were already at the middle ridge summit.  I didn't remember it being as short of a hike when I had hiked up in the dark a few weeks prior, but I was incredibly happy to be off the steep ridge and officially done with the huffing and puffing part of the hike.

Once reaching the middle ridge summit, our small group took a few pictures and then took a left and headed across the now, clouded over, Koolau Summit Trail and towards Puu Keahi a Kahoe and the haiku stairs.  With fifteen minutes the group reached a railing and jumped over it to arrive at the ccl building and the terminus of the haiku stairs.  Being that the whole summit was clouded in, very few pictures were taken and the group shortly thereafter began down the 3,922 stairs towards the bottom of Haiku valley and the awaiting cars.  I took some pictures and video and once my video camera died I made a mad dash for the bottom of the stairs.  Having been up and down the stairs way to many times to count, I had no desire to revel in this moment, and therefore was willing to embrace the finish line a lot sooner than many others, who were taking their time and enjoying the views on their way down.  Once at the bottom, I waited for the others and was lucky enough to have one of the other gracious hikers give me a lift back home.

While I still don't see myself hiking with big groups in the future, this hike did open my eyes a little bit as to hiking groups here on Oahu.  Even though I don't personally care for them, I do see how they can help many other hikers in the community and how they make it possible for others to more easily enjoy the land and to not have to hike alone.  I also met many people on this day who I hope to hike again with in the future, another great aspect of the hiking groups here.  For now, I am just glad to be finished with the cardo killer that is the Moanalua Middle Ridge.  No more "Stairway to Heaven" hikes for me until the Moanalua Saddle hike and after that, I don't care to set foot on the stairs for a very long time.

Directions: (I took this from Stuart Ball's "Hikers Guide to Oahu" book - I hope it does the job) Take 78 west  to Aiea.  Take the exit marked Moanalua Valley-Red Hill.  From the off-ramp turn right on Ala Aolani Street heading into Moanalua Valley.  The road end at Moanalua Valley Park.  Park anywhere on the street before the gate where park begins and then walk to the park.  The trail starts at the back of the parking lot on the gravel road.  For directions to where to park another car in Kaneohe and to find out where to get once exiting the stairs, see my Stairway to Heaven/Haiku Falls write-up.  To go up the Middle Ridge and down the stairs, it should take anywhere from three to seven hours, depending on your level of fitness and experience.  If you can not position two cars (one in moanalua valley and one in haiku valley near the bottom of the stairs), it will probably take around five to eight hours to go up the Middle Ridge to the stairs and to come back down the same way (somewhere around or over ten miles round trip).  You can also try going up Middle Ridge and coming down the Tripler Ridge and making it a loop.  I'll try to do this route at some point and post it on here for those who don't have the ability to station two cars.

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