Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Moanalua Valley Waterfall via Kulanaahane Trail

Back in June of this year I turned 30 years old.  I would of course celebrate my birthday by getting outside and enjoying a hike.  Luckily for me, my wife would also have the day off of work and would be able to accompany me on this birthday hike.  It was without a doubt a birthday hike, being that my wifes birthday is the day before mine.  Being that we had planned to have some friends over for dinner that night we decided to do what we imagined would be a relatively short hike.

Our goal was to venture to Moanalua Valley Park and find our way to a waterfall off of the Kulanaahane state trail.  The waterfall flows directly off of the koolau summit.  We figured the hike would be about 11 miles, but due to some epically bad navigating by yours truly on this day, the trek was quite a bit longer than we had anticipated.  We started off from Moanalua Valley Park around 11am.  We made our way through the gate at the back of the park and began down the gravel road.  The gravel road seems to go on forever but after a few miles we reached a signed junction reading "kulanaahane trail".  This is where we would take a left and cross the stream and start on our main trail for the day.  Just beyond this junction is the start for the Moanalua Middle ridge trail.  For some reason I decided to follow the stream past the middle ridge junction and just keep heading upstream.  We came across a couple of nice swimming spots but eventually hit a mini-waterfall chute that blocked further progress and the stream had completely ended.  Above us was the Koolau Summit.  Deep down I knew I was going the wrong way the whole time but kept going further and further in the wrong direction for some reason.  With no other options having hit a dead end and obviously having gone the wrong way, we decided to backtrack and still give the original plan a shot, despite the fact that it was now much later in the day than we would have liked.

We made our way back to the Kulanaahane trail sign and this time crossed the stream and followed the obvious trail briefly uphill.  In no time we hit the stream and started on what would be one stream crossing after another for the next few miles.  I think it's something like 26 stream crossings in all, but I don't remember the exact number.  The trail was incredibly easy to follow.  Just as the sun was creeping through the trees and pounding down on us, we came to an opening with an amazingly clear and beautiful swimming hole.  We spent quite some time dipping in the unexpected swimming hole.  After drying off we continued back on the state trail and began stream crossing after stream crossing once again.  After a few miles on the state trail, we finally came to our last stream crossing.  This junction is crucial to finding the waterfall.  Instead of taking a left and heading up the trail that leads to the Kulanaahane summit along the KST we veered right and into the stream.  There appeared to be a trail but it was so overgrown that it was even close to being discernable.  We followed the stream and I somehow ended up in another streambed that eventually ran dry and I ran into another dry waterfall chute.  I turned around and headed back down stream a little bit, dropped down a little hill and found a flowing stream, praying that I was close to the waterfall and that we would make it home before to late of an hour.

At this point I could tell my wife was pretty upset and annoyed with me and my lack of being able to find the waterfall.  She began to trail behind me a little bit as I went ahead to see if this was truly that right way.  After climbing a few mini-waterfalls I came upon a little opening and could see a huge waterfall not far in front of me.  We picked up the pace a little bit knowing that we were a matter of minutes away now.  Finally we reached a wall at the base of the Koolau Summit and were greeted by a beautiful waterfall.  The waterfall needs a lot of rain to flow and we figured that it might not be going (it was more a hike to find it, so we knew the way for the next big rain), but luckily it was flowing just enough to make it worth the trek.  We hung out for a little bit taking pictures and getting wet in the little pool beneath the falls.  I'm not sure how tall the waterfall is but it was bigger than what I had originally expected.  After spending some time at the waterfall we realized we had better get going if we were going to be able to get home and prepare to have guests over for dinner in a few hours.  On the way out we passed some wreckage of what appeared to be an old plane that had crashed.  The hike out of the valley was very quick, now that I knew where I was going.  Once we were back onto the state trail, my wife and I took off, running all the way back to the gravel road and then continued to run down the gravel road back to the park.  I was a little embarassed when I realized how quick the hike could have been if I would have just gone the right way.  I wasn't upset though.  There's a sense of satisfaction I get from being lost but ultimately reaching my final goal.  All in all it was a fun hike and a great birthday.  We reached the park, jumped in the car and hurried home to get things ready for our friends to arrive, but not before one quick stop at 7-eleven to grab our post-hike birthday slurpees.

Nice swimming hole about 30 minutes into the kulanaahane state trail

Spending a lot of time cooling off at the nice swimming hole

One of the many small waterfalls further upstream on the trail

Heading away from the stream the trail became increasinly overgrown

Finally reaching the waterfall flowing off of the Koolau summit

Not much flow but still nice.  While it had been raining recently, it takes a good amount of rain to get this waterfall really pumping.

A picture taken by Leslie Merrell of the same waterfall after a few days of very heavy rain.

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