This was another one of those “Nate-inspired” adventures. Back in April (2011) he shared with us an archived account of a group of HTMCers from the early days (1911) descending into Maunawillifrom the top of Kaau Crater. They reportedly went top-down using ropes, and endured several scares and injuries along the way. Nate found reports of a couple more descents, but no ascents. We (me, August, Duc) were game to check it out. Using a VERY old hand-drawn map that Nate provided, along with careful studying of the topo maps, I had an idea for which ridge it might be. However, being so obscure and not standing out from its neighbor ridges, we would need great visibility (no clouds on the summit) to guide in on the powerline towers that conveniently mark the summit. But getting there would prove more difficult then we imaged. As it happens, a dragon lives on this ridge and fiercely guards against visitors. See photo below.
Back-story: The “dragon thing” originated during fatigued and semi-delirious conversation on the 6th or 7th trip to “find” Pauao earlier this year. August can provide more details, but essentially these “untraveled” areas are home to protective dragons which must be crept up on and defeated. There are several such dragons on Oahu, though fewer as time goes on.
Well, this dragon was particularly tricky to sneak up on. The initial attempt was cancelled when Chenay broke her foot in a climbing accident the week before it, thus changing my priorities. Another attempt was called off last-minute when bad weather (and worse vibes) had all of us finding excuses to do something else. Then I broke a finger and couldn’t climb. Then August twisted his ankle on one of our night hikes. By the time the three of us actually hit the approach trail, the dragon had developed into something far larger and scarier. You know, having all that time to grow. So of course that attempt day was a failure when dragon snot (rain) poured down on us and made the conditions miserable for a bushwhack like this. Not being able to see the target ridge, we bailed after a couple hours of hiking.
So we devised a new plan: August would go to Kalalau for a week in an attempt to lure the dragon into thinking we were not coming to bother her. With that part of the plan secured, Duc and I would casually go for a walk on the Maunawilli Falls/connector/demo trails… and hope for the best. The approach is a hike in itself, measuring 5-6 miles and taking us 2hrs to complete. Along the way we kept an eye on the changing perspective on the target ridge. At times it looked foolish to attempt, and Duc even came close to “throwing in the towel.” (Not really. We found the towel hanging on a tree.)
By 10:30am we were armored up in long pants and long sleeves with clearing tools ready to battle the dragon’s defenses. Duc took lead spot through the thick uluhe to allow me to conserve energy for when I took over the lead at the start of the actual climb. We were making good progress, but I soon noticed that our presence was detected as evidenced below.
The dragon began trying to melt us with her fire-breath (sunny and no breeze). And when we began the steep climbing she tried to tangle us up with her serpent-like tail (plenty tough vines and clidemia snagging us). But we pressed on, using all the vegetation as handholds. At one point, I discovered a buried and very weathered rope – more like thick paracord, actually. (photo below) Duc also found fragments of two old ribbons in this area - a good sign that we were on the historic route. But this rope was in the lower third of the ridge, in a place where we agreed it was not needed. Above this, we would see no more signs of previous dragon-slayers. Perhaps they were defeated? The middle sections were extremely dense and some of the i’e i’e walls took considerable time to cut and untangle before we could get through or under. And a couple times the ridge was so steep and “loose” that we were forced to “leap” upwards to find something more trustworthy. When we finally reached a short, relatively level section…we were able to take a much needed lunch break.
Following lunch, we continued upwards, past hanging valleys on both sides. Looking up, I saw that we were getting closer to the powerline towers on the summit. This meant no turning back. The photo below shows the west tower, just a ways over from the east tower we were aiming for.
45 minutes later and we could see the east tower (our goal) within striking distance.
Moments later Duc made the last steps to the top, climbing like a spider on the soft soil.
It was only then that we realized that we had NOT defeated this dragon. It merely flew off in frustration to go live somewhere else. Probably Lanipo Windward judging by the direction she went. She’ll be safe there. (At least from us.) However, the dragon took off in such a hurry that she left behind her baby. Not wanting it to make trouble for future hikers, I chopped it in the head before Duc slit its fire-spitting throat. It’s all good, it was a non-native dragon.
And with that done, the ridge was deemed “dragon-free” and we could enjoy the view from the top. Looking back down, our swath was visible through several of the uluhe sections far below.
A couple of passing hikers offered to take our photo. Unfortunately, Duc still had dragon dust in his eyes, hence the blinking. (Sneezing and itchy eyes were the norm in this mess of a bushwhack.)
Following a second lunch, we went east to the next prominent peak (Palikea) and then down the Kaau Crater “Leeward” trail passing all the scenic waterfalls along the way.
A quick dip in the pool by the lowest falls, and then the Borja Taxi Service picked us up at 5pm to drop Duc off at his car before driving me to mine in Maunawilli. Awesome traverse.