Hike date: February 3, 2001
Jason Sunada, Pat Rorie, Laredo Murray, and I were successful in reaching the summit of the Ko'olaus from Waiahole Valley today. Since the topping out point was quite near the terminus of the Kipapa trail, I will refer to the ridge we climbed as Kipapa Windward.
|Photo by Nathan Yuen|
Once we reached last Sunday's stopping point, we were on virgin ridge. Laredo, shirtless and with hair dyed partially red, jumped out into the front and bravely ascended through uluhe, an assortment of native plants, clidemia, and the like. The most challenging sections were 1) a contorted climb around/through an ohia tree that spanned a narrow section of ridge, and 2) a steep scramble up a loose rock section just above the tree. Cables and/or rerouting might help for future ascents/descents.
The critical area was between the 1500 and 2000-ft level where we saw very closely packed contour lines on the topo map, a red-flag zone meaning very steep stuff. Yes, it was steep but never cable-steep, and with plenty of grunting, twisting, ducking, and crawling, we made progress. At one point during the steep section we found ourselves tunneling through a dark corridor formed by uluhe, an interesting albeit less than pleasant time.
After the 2000-ft point, Pat assumed the lead and powered us up the ridge. This section was fantastic, with more open ridge conditions so we could see the hogback ahead as well as the array of steep, magnificent spurs left and right that stretched and strained up to the crest. We passed plenty of native vegetation, including loulu palms, lapalapa, olapa, kopiko, and others I can't name. Yes, we damaged native plants as we climbed and later when we headed back down. There was no malice in our damage.
At 11:45, 3.5 hours after we set our from our vehicles, we summited at a wind-whipped pu'u at the 2640 elevation level. Shouts rang out and arms were thrust skyward, save for Jason, who is not the shouting or hand-thrusting kind. We also exchanged handshakes, Jason a bit begrudgingly, to mark the summit acquistion.
In an adjacent ravine to the south (our left) was a grove of sugi pines where the remains of an ancient cabin (sometimes referred to as Uncle Tom's cabin) lay in shambles. We descended toward the ravine, hopped onto the Ko'olau summit trail, and hiked to south side of the pine grove to hunker down by the cabin ruins for lunch. From our lunchspot, the Kipapa summit was about ten minutes away.
Clouds had enclosed the area by this time and a chilly wind prompted us to put on raincoats or windbreakers to stay warm. We spent half an hour resting and eating, and perhaps would have lingered longer if we had warmer, sunnier conditions. A brief rainshower prompted Jason to open an umbrella and ultimately the wet stuff hastened our departure.
The return down the ridge back to Waiahole was one of the great descents I've experienced. After 15 minutes or so of down-hiking, we were below the cloud line and from there the ridge dropped in fantastic fashion like a steep escalator toward the valley floor. There were often precipitous dropoffs left and right but since the ridge never narrowed to dangerous proportions and since we were surrounded by ample vegetation that provided security, I never felt in danger. It was actually quite enjoyable.
The rain had made the way slick, but we took care not to make a bad error that might lead to "the plunge." In all, we needed about 90 minutes to reach the ditch trail from the summit (more handshakes exchanged) and another 30 minutes to hike back to our cars. By 3 p.m. we were on Kam Hwy headed back to home and warm showers and meals.
This route has been negotiated a number of times since 2001 including in December 2009, when Nathan Yuen, Pete Clines, Drew Erickson, and August Smith ascended this ridge. This outing was chronicled.