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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Laie to Waimano via the Koolau Summit -- Gene Robinson

May 1998
"A man's gotta know his limitations."

I learned my limitations on the Silver Piliwale Quest this past weekend, and now that I've caught my breath, re-hydrated, slathered antibiotic ointment all over my feet and hands, and showered about fifteen times (my B.O. was toxic as nerve gas), I'm ready to tell my story. Actually, it wasn't so bad, just kind of like "Deliverance" without the hillbilly rapists and banjos. Patrick took lots of notes and will post a detailed account, should any of you like to give The Silver Trail a try yourself.

We left Saturday morning, very appreciative of all the aloha and encouragement from the ohe-l folks. Thanks very much! It was my first trip up the Laie trail, and I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful North Shore views and Norfolk pines. The summit came up quickly, and Pat and I blasted out of there, into the clouds and mud. That section of the KST has few redeeming qualities. The only highlights are the ruins of the Kawailoa cabin, the ruins of the Kahuku cabin, and the Castle and Peahinaia trail termini. These landmarks are notable because they relieve the mud-sucking tedium and, as you pass them, encourage you to believe that you just might be getting somewhere. Theoretically, along this section, there are views of the Sacred Falls and Punaluu area to windward, but all we saw was a lot of mud. Finally, the Cline memorial (when will the plaque be replaced? I'll donate) came into view, and we headed down to the Poamoho campsite and water source.

There was lots of water in the stream, and there were even more bottles of water stashed around the campsite in the bushes; it was like an Easter egg hunt! Everywhere I looked there was water, thanks to those of you that came up the previous weekend. I had my freeze-dried dinner and turned the burner over to Patrick, who whips out some CANS of stew! This was a little mind-boggling, since I'd been trying to keep up with Patrick on the trail all day, and he was carrying CANS of food in his pack? He claims to have stashed the food there the previous weekend, but I don't know. He may have been trying to make me feel less wimpy, struggling to keep up with him while he's got your basic Foodland shopping bag in his pack! Patrick on the trail is a cross between Michael Jordan and that little bunny that keeps going and going and going... He has incredible strength, balance, agility, cool, and he never seems to get tired. Must be something in the grape or orange tang he drinks.

Saturday night was one of the two coldest nights I've spent in the Ko'olaus (Sunday night was the other), with intermittent tent-rattling gusts of wind and rain showers. The Poamoho campsite is a little too exposed for comfortable camping, at least in the conditions we had. During a calm, clear, Kona winds night, it's probably fantastic. As I shivered and ate my breakfast Sunday morning, I heard Pat sharpening his machete, which is called "foreshadowing" in literary terms, or "trail-savvy" in KST terms. We got going around 8am, passed the cleared site of the ruins of the Poamoho cabin (starting to sound familiar? Anybody want to start a campaign to rebuild these cabins?) and, after a little more of the overgrown leeward stuff, we burst out onto the glorious windward section of the KST between Poamoho and Schofield-Waikane. And it was clear! For those of you who haven't hiked it, you've got to do it! You're walking along a very decent, usually sidewalk-width trail cut into the side of the pali, a thousand feet above Kahana valley, and the views are spectacular!

As we neared the Waikane-KST junction, we could see hikers coming up Waikane, and with amazing precision timing, met them right at the junction. It was Pete, Don, and their friend Kristen. Kristen, on her first hike with fearless Pete and Don, agreed that coming up the Waikane trail could be described as "gnarly." We hiked up to the top of Pu'u Ka'aumakua and had lunch, with fresh oranges and other goodies courtesy of Pete, Don, and Kristen. And of course, we toasted Silver Piliwale and his achievement 25 years ago, raising our plastic wine glasses and snapping photos. And then, guess what? The clouds rolled in and never lifted the rest of the trip. Honestly, that was the last time we saw the sun. Coincidence?

Pete and Don loaned me some dry shirts, which were what I really needed most. Future KST hikers take note: nothing ever dries out up there. I wore representatives of all fabric types, cotton, wool, polypropylene, everything but hemp (hmmm, that's an idea), and everything was WETTER the next morning than when I took it off, soaked in sweat, the previous night. So just bring extra dry clothes in your pack, right? Well, that means more weight, more bulk, and a heavier pack the next morning, loaded with your wet, muddy clothes jammed into plastic bags. Maybe when we rebuild those cabins we can put some solar-powered heaters of the radiator-type in there, so we can put our wet clothes on them, OK?

Patrick and I spent the rest of the afternoon after the wine-tasting flogging along the KST towards Kipapa. Pat's machete and my City Mill folding saw were put to good use. The good news is that we re opened the lost segments of KST; the bad news is that we approached exhaustion doing so. Pat suggested going over the top of the tougher early ridges, but I wanted to OPEN that trail UP. This may have caused us to pull into Kipapa campsite by headlight, but maybe not. It was a lot of work, though, with Patrick looking like a cross between MJ, that bunny, and Zorro.

There is an other-worldly campsite just before you get to the end of the KST and the junction with the Kipapa trail, with the ruins of another cabin, called Uncle Tom's cabin (I don't know why). The site is in a dark, narrow, perpetually cloudy valley forested with a juniper-type tree. It's somewhat protected from the wind, very quiet, and very spooky. It's hard to say what makes it so unique, but it feels like the loneliest, most isolated place on O'ahu. We didn't camp there, because, ummm... there was no water source! We got out of there fast and headed down the Kipapa trail, Patrick in the lead with his headlight, me stumbling along behind, whining, "Are we there yet?" like the classic kid on vacation in the backseat of the station wagon.

We reached the Kipapa stream water source, set up our tents in the dark on a wide spot in the trail, and I crawled into my tent as quickly as possible, after fixing a snapped tent pole with duct tape. I was feeling VERY tired, had no appetite (bad sign) and after a cup of hot tea went to sleep. It was another cold night, but less windy, with scattered showers and scattered rocks everywhere I tried to put my hips or shoulders. Ko'olau campers take note: spend the big bucks and buy the lightest weight but most luxurious mattress you can. Ditto with sleeping bag. You won't regret it.

I woke up sometime during the night (Nathan is waiting for the Kaupe story right about now) and felt extremely anxious. I lay there in the dark, listening to Patrick snoring, and tried to remember the last time I had urinated (sorry if this is getting a little too clinical). I couldn't remember the last time, and I got even more worried when I realized that I wasn't thirsty! I became convinced, in my somewhat exhausted/delirious state, that my kidneys had shut down, and I was going into renal failure. I wondered if I would need dialysis, and how I would get down the trail to reach a dialysis center. I decided to drink all the water, over a liter, that I had with me in the tent, and feeling better, went back to sleep. Not to be too clinical again, everything was fine the next morning, and my kidneys were... functioning properly. I even cooked Sunday night's dinner and had it for breakfast that morning.

We left our foggy campsite Monday morning around 8am, headed back up the Kipapa trail, and set off along the summit trail that Pat, Dayle, Pete, Laredo and I had explored last year. We came out of the clouds at the Waiawa gap, and while we rested before ascending the steepest, hairiest climb of the trip, I let Patrick know that I missed my nice, soft, warm, dry bed too much to continue all the way to the end of the Silver Piliwale trail. Patrick was very understanding of my wimpiness. Perhaps I frightened him with the story of my delirious/crazed state the previous night? Maybe he asked himself, what am I doing out here with this crazy guy? Anyway, Patrick was very gracious when I told him that I wanted to bail out at Waimano, then he tried to push me off a cliff. Nahhh, joke!

As we climbed up from the Waiawa gap, I got stuck on some loose stuff about halfway up, took off my pack, tied rope to it, and threw the line up to Patrick. Then I climbed up another route and we hauled my pack up about twenty feet. It was a nice diversion. We went up and down, up and down, along the summit overlooking Waiahole valley, which, of course, we couldn't see. We reached one point where we lost the (minimal) trail, and had to figure out which ridge to take. Interestingly, the correct choice was to go due east by the compass, as the summit curves from its usual north-south route in that area, just before reaching "The Corner" and heading south again towards Manana.

Nobody was at the Manana trail terminus, so we set off for Waimano. In my mind, I had trivialized the Manana-Waimano segment, because I had done it several times before. Let me tell you, that is NOT a trivial crossing, especially at the end of the day with a pack on. We crossed the most knife-edged segments of trail on the trip before and after Eleao. And the up and down, up and down section before Waimano terminus had me whining, "Are we there yet?" again. But we finally reached Waimano, took off our packs, and rested.

I said goodbye to Patrick and set off down slippery Waimano trail, running into Dayle the Ko'olau Bear, and later on Wing, the Ko'olau Camel, making his waterless ascent. I had to use my headlight on the way out, but like the horse heading back to the barn, I was unstoppable on my way back to the trailhead. I got out about 9:30, and within an hour was soaking in a nice, hot bath, wondering how my buddies were doing up at Waimano (fighting off mystery animals, it turns out!).

Thanks again to everyone who dropped off water (like Gary at Aiea... sorry!) and sent their best wishes for us. I just might try to do the whole thing again, learning from this attempt, and I bet Patrick will. But I suppose that the best way to memorialize Silver Piliwale's hike is to do it at age 72, just like he did, right?

Well Patrick, how about it?

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