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.


  1. Another small trail n narrow one too , forget it , give me Sacred Fall's n Waimea Fall's . This road where it's blocked in the ( up to the early 70's people cpuld n drive in their cars , start from Wainae n end in Schofield area in Waihiawa n vice versa , especially when it was like a special holiday , I know this !!, because we used to take this drive sooo many times when we lived in Hawaii n when the Army or Air Force or whoever closed the roads to drive n take that awesome n scenic drive away , then what can I say ??? n to repeat , you hikers can have this hiking up to the highest point on Oahu !!

    1. a lot has changed since the 70s. sacred falls is closed and guarded

    2. a lot has changed since the 70s. sacred falls is closed and guarded

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