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.

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