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Friday, June 24, 2011

East Oahu Super Loop -- Duc Ong

Duc Ong completed a truly super hike, starting and ending at the top of Maunalani Heights at the head of the Lanipo Trail (aka Maaumae Ridge Trail). Here's his report:
First, I would like to thank all of the people who have helped me clear and mark these trails and to all those who came before and provided the inspiration for this project. Not wanting to implicate anyone, I won’t name any names. The route was developed as an expansion to the East Honolulu Rollercoaster, which started from Wai‘alae Nui Valley and ended in Haha‘ione Valley. I wanted to make this a closed loop, so as to avoid the need for car shuttling.

In the misty wet morning of the day after the summer solstice at 4:30 AM, at the Lanipo trailhead, I embarked on what is the longest day hike I’ve ever done. By 5 AM, I was beginning the descent down “Ironwood” trail into Wai‘alae Nui Valley. The trail itself hits a pseudo-bottom, where one might think that one has arrived at the valley floor. However, it turns out that more descending is in order before the true bottom is reached. At the valley floor, the stream was flowing quite nicely. By 5:40 AM, I was starting the ascent up “Beehive” trail. The name is more of a tribute to trailblazers of the past, since I never encountered any bees here. At this point, there was enough light to allow me to put away my headlamp.

At 6:13 AM, I had arrived at the back of the mansion on Wai‘alae Nui Ridge. The confluence of this mansion and another homeowner’s wall provided some of the inspiration for this project. After walking along the ridge for 5 minutes, I began my descent down “Guava Tunnel” into Kapakahi Valley. This trail got its name from my tunneling through a dense thicket of strawberry guava saplings on my knees while cutting each sapling at the base with borrowed loppers. I reached the bottom of Kapakahi Valley at 6:45 AM and started going up “Pua’a Akamai Mauka.” This is an improved pig trail that intelligently contours around cliff faces up to Kalani Ridge. I attained Kalani ridge at 7:07 AM, and headed towards Wiliwilinui, where I had my first stir-fried noodle break. After filling up my camelbak with the 1.5 L of water I had stashed, I started descending the HTMC route from Wiliwilinui at 7:52 AM. The club route was so much easier than the previous more obscure trails due to the heavy foot traffic and obvious trailbed.

At 8:26 AM, I veered off of the jeep road in ‘Āina Haina Valley and headed towards the base of the “Pōhaku” trail. This was named after a decent cliff face that stands out leading up to Kului Ridge, the eastern most ridge of ‘Āina Haina Valley. This climb was especially taxing, due to the steeper grade. I was feeling the first signs of fatigue at one rock face, where I had to rest mid-climb. I reached the Kului ridgeline at 9:18 AM and took another short break. The views from here are one of the best of the day, due to the steep drop into the valley. After a nontrivial ascent of Kului ridge, I began the descent into Kului valley at 9:50 AM. This was one of the smaller valleys, but the footing here was very slick, which provided ample practice in the art of falling. I pulled myself up through the guava dominated forest and reached Hawai‘i Loa ridge at 10:14 AM. To my surprise I ran into two of my former students, who happened to be hiking up to the summit. I find it strange that this happened even though I was only on the ridge for a few minutes. At this point I filled up with the next 1.5 L water stash and proceeded down the HTMC route into Pia Valley. This descent and the ascent up to Kulepeamoa ridge were relatively easy, thanks to the work of the trail maintenance crew.

Upon gaining the Kulepeamoa ridge at 11:06 AM, I took another break and proceeded up the ridge to the connector trail down into Kupaua Valley. Creative juices were no longer flowing at this point in the project, so no names were assigned for these trails. It was here where I had the most trouble with the fatigue and was moving very slowly. I didn’t make it to Kuli‘ou‘ou West until 12:49 PM. When I sat down and ate a snack, I resolved to move faster through the next valley, Kuli‘ou‘ou. I refocused and decided to override the feeling of fatigue and to move with greater determination. This coupled with being back in HTMC territory resulted in my arriving at Kuli‘ou‘ou East Ridge at 1:40 PM. I felt a lot more confident about completing the route at this point. However, this confidence waned as I faced the reality of traversing the Haha‘ione jeep roads and climbing the Haha‘ione Spire under sweltering heat. Before the climb, I grabbed another 1.5L water stash at the base of the Spire trail. Telling myself that I could eat another solid meal at the Ko‘olau summit inspired me to endure the 45 degree grade and the heat to reach the summit at 3:03 PM. Climbing the last steps to the Spire was immensely fulfilling, as I had been hiking for 10.5 hours at this point. I found it mildly amusing that this is only the half-way point in terms of distance.

After a 20 minute break to re-energize and connect with my support crew via text, I started going back along the KST. The Haha‘ione KST section was open enough to allow me to run and make up some lost time. At 4:09 PM, I reached Kuli‘ou‘ou East. The KST section above Kuli‘ou‘ou remains one of my favorites for views as it bends around Pu‘u O Kona. I also ate many thimble berries and ohelo berries, which turned out to be not so sweet. I reached Kuli‘ou‘ou West at 4:42 PM and laid down for a minute on the nice grassy knoll. I felt like I could stay there forever, but I still had a lot more to go to get back to my car, so I got up and pushed on. Having previously worked on the section, it wasn’t as overgrown as it can be, but the climb up to Kulepeamoa was intense. Around here, I discovered a method of getting through the mental challenges of distance and fatigue. I synchronized my breathing with my steps a la yoga. This was the lesson I was to learn from the Ko‘olaus.

With renewed energy, I was able to float almost effortlessly through the rest of the KST. I reached Hawai‘i Loa at 5:47 PM, Wailupe Middle at 6:17 PM, Wiliwilinui at 6:37 PM, and Wai‘alae Nui at 7:05 PM. I had doubts about reaching Lanipo before dark, but those thoughts were far gone at this point. I got to Kainawaanui, the summit of the Lanipo trail, at 7:32 PM. There was still enough light to allow me to descend Lanipo trail for 15 minutes without the aid of headlamp. Because of the darkness, I decided against running down and took each step carefully. By 9:45 PM, I was at the car, concluding the longest day hike I’ve ever done. What I went through this day was not just a rollercoaster of elevation, but also one of emotions—from frustration and doubt to elation.

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