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Friday, February 25, 2011

A (Long) Dayhike to Waialeale summit and back -- Bob Burd

Bob Burd -- photo by climber.org
When one thinks of high-priced mountain adventures, one typically has images of the $7,000 Denali expedition or the $50,000 Everest attempt. Kawaikini, barely making it over 5,000ft in elevation, would be my most expensive climb yet, coming in at over $10,000. Of course that included a two week vacation for the whole family with an oceanfront condo in Poipu Beach - the price I had to pay to entice them to let me climb once more in Kauai - and worth every cent, I might add. The climb itself cost little more than $5 for food and maybe $50 for gas plus the wear on my clothes - I'd spent more on day trips in the Sierra Nevada.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pololu to Waimanu -- Part 2 -- By John Hall

Waimanu Valley -- Photo from www.hawaii-guide.com
This is part 2 of of John Hall's recounting of a backpacking trip from Pololu to Waimanu Valley on the Big Island. If you missed it, read part 1 here.

The rain continued as we proceeded for another day to head for Waimanu. Set a course, strike a gulch, climb the mountain, cross the gully, head for Waimanu, and on and on. Once or twice we startled small pigs that seemed astounded to find us there, and quickly disappeared in the brush. That night, I again found suitably spaced, if unnervingly spindly trees for my hammock, but we were out of tree ferns, and Fred and his family had to pitch their tent directly on a muddy bank. Fred recalls that it was the "most miserable, totally wet, sleepless night we've probably ever had." I was amazed that neither of the youngsters ever complained, though I thought I noticed a certain reluctance to join their Dad and me on trips afterwards. I don't know how they cooked their meals. One night they ate cold trail snacks, I believe, and the next huddled under a tarp to cook their dinner. Fortunately, I had brought many books of matches, because my hands were constantly wet andI had nothing dry to wipe them on. After lighting the stove once, the book of matches was too damp to use again, so I had to find a fresh one for every meal. As Tootsie said, we were like travelers in the desert, looking and praying for an oasis, except that we were travelers trapped in an eternally wet oasis looking and praying for a spot of desert!

The fifth day began as a repeat of the previous two as we put on wet clothes, wet socks, and wet muddy boots in the rain. I felt sure we should be getting near the trail, which the map showed running down a broad ridge labeled Laupahoehoe 1 to a gauging station and two cabins marked as New USGS camp, and, further down the mountain, Old USGS camp. Of course, the map had been published in 1957 from surveys done several years before, so even the "New USGS camp" must have been at least 20 years old. I believe it was mid-afternoon when we scrambled up out of a gully onto a broad ridge covered with low brush. I was behind the others when I spied what appeared to be a slightly more open line running perpendicular to our course, but it was so faint and indistinct that I could not be certain it was a trail. It could well have been a natural feature that gave the illusion of a track. I called for the others to wait, while I turned right and went up it a few yards. Then I noticed that some stubs were protruding from the ground at the side of the trace--the ends of stems of the brush that had been cleanly sliced on the angle so typical of machete cuts. The cuts were quite old and it was obvious that the trail was no longer used frequently, if at all. I returned to my friends and announced, with a melodramatic flourish, "Either this is the trail or the pigs have started using machetes!"

We turned to the left and followed the dim path downhill for several miles in the fading light. Just before dusk, we saw the welcome sight of a corrugated aluminum roof on the slope below us. The New USGS camp had been built with a timber frame and aluminum walls and roof. The floor had rotted out and collapsed, but there was a pile of left-over aluminum sheets beside the cabin and we carried these inside to provide a floor that would keep us out of the mud and debris. The cabin was in such poor shape that we were not sure whether it was the New or the Old USGS camp, so Fred and I hiked on down the ridge for a quarter mile or so, until we could look down the slope and see the ruins of another camp a mile below us, which must have been the Old camp. I slung my hammock between two posts and the Dodges made themselves comfortable, relatively speaking, on the floor. After two nights in the rain, we were glad to be under roof, as primitive as it was. Fred claims that I slung my hammock under the only sound section of the roof and that they were still exposed to leaks and drips, but he tends to be seditious, and inclined to cast unjustified doubt on the felicity of my arrangements. I'm sure I wouldn't do such a thing.

During the night we heard some very strange calls outside. It sounded like some night flying bird was abundant in the vicinity, but I could not imagine what the noise could be. I knew there were night herons in the islands, and since the name implied that they were active at night, I thought that perhaps they had a rookery nearby, although there was no open water near large trees in the vicinity such as I believed they would favor for their nests. (After we returned to town, I mentioned these sounds to some of my friends in the Audubon Society, and they urged me to publish a report of the observations in the Elepaio, which I did). Apparently we had stumbled upon a significant colony of Newell's Shearwater, a sea bird that was known to nest on Kauai where it digs burrows under the uluhe on remote ridges. After our report, one of the Fish and Wildlife experts on the Big Island planned to hike down to the site to confirm the existence of this colony, but I never heard whether this was done.

In the morning we rose to find the weather clearing, and that we were not far from the rim of Waimanu Valley. We hiked makai down the broad slope parallel to the rim until we came to the ridge lying just upvalley from the gulch formed by Wai'ilikahi Stream as it pours over therim of Waimanu Valley as Wai'ilikahi Falls. With backpacks on, the descent of this very steep ridge was a precarious one, but as the alternative was to return the way we had come, we were determined to take it. Fortunately, the mass of uluhe helped to retard our descent, although at one point Tootsie lost her footing and tumbled down the slope a dozen feet or more. Fred was below her, and as she bumped into a tree, which slowed her fall, he was able to grab her. Luckily she was unhurt, and by cautiously picking our way we finally reached the bottom safely.

From above, the valley floor had appeared to be a lush spread of inviting green, a meadow offering easy passage. I had been in Waimanu Valley before, and knew that there was a path leading from the beach up to Wai'ilikahi Falls, but I was not certain how far from it we were, and the guava and Christmas berry bush in that direction appeared to be fairly dense, so I suggested that we cross the valley floor instead. This turned out to be a disastrous miscalculation--one of the worst I have made in a long lifetime devoted to perfecting the art! The lush greenery of the floor was composed of great clumps of some kind of giant grass that towered over our heads while the footing was an irregular tangle of swampy holes and hummocks that required great effort to move through. We should have turned around immediately when we encountered this obstacle course, but we kept thinking it would soon get better. At one point, we even tried to take to the stream, hoping it would be easier walking, but the water was over our heads, so this was not feasible either.

After two hours or so of fighting this morass in the hot sun and high humidity, we approached the palm trees lining the dunes behind the beach, only to find a shallow lagoon lying like a moat across our path. Charlie said later that this crossing of the valley floor was the most miserable, arduous, and unnecessary part of the trip as far as he was concerned. I slung my pack up onto my head and waded out into the muck and water, finding the deepest part came up to my armpits. I'm not sure how the the Dodges were able to get across, but in short order we were at last assembled on the beach, in an idyllic campsite in a valley that seemed completely deserted except for ourselves. We quickly spread out everything we owned to dry and took a dip to get clean, basking in the welcome sun and cool sea breezes, and the chance to be dry for the first time in days.

The next day we discovered that there was a good trail up to Wai'ilikahi Falls, about a 15 minute walk from the beach, and probably only a hundred yards or so from where we had descended the wall of the valley. We spent that day relaxing and drying out in Waimanu Valley, walking up to the falls, and taking a dip in the pool at its foot. I recalled that we had the valley all to ourselves, but one of Fred's pictures seems to show a stranger in our group at the falls, so perhaps there were a few other people there. In any case, the Valley was certainly much less visited at that time thanit is now. The next day we hiked out the 10 miles to Waipio Valley, meeting a couple of young fellows on their way in to do some conservation work, and taking another swim in a pool along the way. Tootsie startled another pig on a bend of the trail, but in all, the trip was much less eventful than our previous days. We had planned to do the trip in 5 days, but just in case, we carried provisions for 8. Not everything went wrong! It took us exactly 8 days. Fred's oldest daughter, Francesca, and some friends met us on the other side of Waipio Valley, somewhat concerned as we were later than expected and because of the storm, and took us into town.

Fred said he'd like to do the trip again sometime, but in the reverse direction. Locating the end of the Kohala Ditch Trail from above, however, and finding the right ridge to descend to reach it, would require a degree of clairvoyance, and I could not imagine trying to scale the precipitous Wai'ilikahi Falls ridge through the dense uluhe with a pack on my back, but I guess this goes to show that there are some backpackers even crazier than I am. In any case, we never did. This was a memorable trip, and illustrates Hall's First Law of Backpacking quite satisfactorily: "A well-planned trip in which everything runs smoothly will soon be forgotten." It is only when something goes awry and one is successful in surviving perils, mishaps,and misery, enduring acute anxiety, discomfort and exhaustion, but finally emerging more or less unscathed, that one looks back on the expedition in later years and recalls it fondly to mind while reminiscing with the comrades who shared its "delights!"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pololu to Waipio, Part 1 -- by John Hall

John Hall. Photo by Nathan Yuen

It was August of 1977 when Fred Dodge and his two teen-age children, Charlie, 17, and Alyce (Tootsie), 16, and I hiked across the north slope of the Kohala mountain from the end of the road above Pololu Valley to Waipio Valley. I had hiked the Kohala Ditch trail with the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club some years before on a trip organized by Dick Booth, I believe. On that trip we had taken the inland trail, and wound behind a waterfall and in and out of many deep gulches before reaching the end of the trail. This time we stayed on the coastal route, crossing the mouth of Pololu Valley and climbing the wall on the farside. Here the trail forks, with the right branch running up the ridge and eventually connecting with the inland trail in Honokane Nui Valley.

We intended to take the left fork, but it crossed a patch of bare dirt at the junction and was less obvious, so we missed it and hiked some distance up the ridge before realizing our mistake. This is standard procedure for a Dodge-Hall hike. Each of us suffers from the misguided notion that the other one is paying attention and will keep us on the trail! Eventually, we found the right trail, however, and followed it down and across the mouth of Honokane Nui and over the next ridge to a small but lovely campsite near Bill Sproat's cabin in Honokane Iki. There is a small, but secluded bay at the mouth of Honokane Iki, and I slung my hammock between two trees at the head of this bay, while Fred and his youngsters put up their tent on a flat nearby. Cliffs lined thesides of the little inlet and coconut palms graced the shore at thehead. In all, it would be hard to find a more beautiful and tranquil camping spot.

Honokane Iki -- Photo by timberwolf.smugmug.com/
In the morning, I had the usual hassle with Fred over whether to leave at a reasonable hour (the crack of dawn) or sleep late and diddle around until it got nice and hot so we could have a good sweat while climbing the hills and, at the end of the day, have to grope around in the dark to set up camp and fix supper. Fred claims I've sometimes insisted that we leave at 4:00 AM. He exaggerates! I may rouse people out of bed at 4:00 AM, but am rarely successful in getting everyone on the trail much before 7:00. We climbed out of the valley and headed up the ridge toward the second junction with the inland trail. We had lunch at a large, old cabin on a dry ridge, above Waipahi Stream, just before the junction. At this time, no one was living along the ditch, and the cabins were no longer being maintained and were becoming dilapidated.

We then joined the inland trail and began to traverse the slope of the Kohala Mountain, winding in and out of gulches large and small. Many of these were sheer-walled and very deeply cut. I remember crossing one plank bridge, no more than 12 or 14 feet long, that spanned a very deep ravine. I dropped a pebble from the center of the span and counted the seconds until it hit bottom. I estimated the floor was nearly 200 feet below us! In many spots, the trail had been hewn into the side of these steep walls. There was one reach where the trail angled upward for quite a long distance along the wall, with an extremely steep, nearly sheer drop to the left, and an equally steep cliff above. I think this was probably in Honopue Valley. As I was ascending this trail, a few hundred yards ahead of the Dodges, I noticed a large black rock lying in the trail a short distance ahead, and thought to myself,

"That rock sure looks like a pig!"

Then it stood up, and I realized I was facing a large black boar! There was a small alcove in the wall at the side of the trail, where the ditch workers had carved out a niche for shelter, I assume, and I wondered if I could duck into that if the boar charged. I didn't much relish the idea of being cornered in such a small space, but I didn't want to get knocked off the side of the trail either--it was a long, long way to the bottom. Fortunately, the boar took a good look at me, and turned and trotted out of sight up the path, and we never saw him again. Pigs were abundant along the trail. Fred also had an encounter with one after he'd dropped his pack for a break. He walked up the trail a short distance and encountered a large pig. Reaching reflexively for his machete, he realized he'd left it with his pack. He turned to make a hasty retreat, but looking back, discovered the pig was doing the same. As he said later,

"I guess the way John and I looked was enough to scare anyone!" It started raining that day and we were glad to reach the last of the ditch cabins for the night. This was a small cabin in a very lush, wet-looking area, and we slept on the floor, our last dry night's sleep for several days. This cabin had a small fire-pit built into one outside wall where it could serve to heat a simple home-made furo. The furo was made of galvanized iron and just large enough for one person to squat in comfortably. It must have been quite a luxury for the ditch tenders to relax in this hot bath after a long day of patrolling the ditch in the cold and wet. We found a patch of watercress in a wet spot near the cabin and picked some for a salad. Fred noticed an ancient bottle of vinegar in the cabin. The lid was rusted in place, but he was able to wrench it off, and to our surprise, the vinegar still seemed to be good, so we had watercress salad with vinegar with our supper.

Approximate route from Pololu to Waimanu
The next day we continued along the ditch in a steady drizzle. It was obvious that few people went beyond the last cabin and the trail was increasingly overgrown and difficult to push through. Eventually, we could no longer identify it at all. According to my old topo map, the Kohala Ditch Trail ends at Waikaloa Stream, but I am not sure we actually got that far. Certainly there was no major stream where we finally lost the trail. A straight line route, as the crow flies, from the end of the trail at Waikaloa Stream to the near side wall of Waimanu Valley is less than two and a half miles long. It was to take us 3 days of hard, wet, miserable, hiking to get there. We were caught in a major storm. The rain never let up for the next 3 days, but maintained a steady, drenching drizzle, quite often with bursts of heavier rain. I had lined my pack with plastic bags, but after this trip I put grommets in the bottom of each compartment to serve as drain holes, as I found that the fabric, while not exactly waterproof, would (and did) hold about an inch of water in each pouch, so that it had every opportunity to find any pin-hole leak in the plastic bags. Fortunately, my sleeping bag and matches stayed reasonably dry. Fred and the kids were not so lucky. They slept in wet sleeping bags.

When we neared the end of the detectable trail, we were in a lush gulch choked with uluhe and other dense vegetation. We took out our machetes and pushed on to the end of the next ridge, and then, trying to find the least precipitous route to the ridge top, carved our way up the steep slope. The going was heavy. At times we could follow a pig trail, but for some reason, the pigs didn't want to go where we did, so these sections tended to be short. Fortunately, once we were well up on the top, the vegetation thinned out and progress was easier. Much of the slope of the Kohala Mountain in this area approximates the original contour of the shield volcano, lowered somewhat by sheet erosion, perhaps, but fairly flat, with a relatively gentle slope. This mountain is unique in Hawai'i in being covered by vast sheets of sphagnum moss, which coats these slopping plains with an ankle-deep layer of water-filled spongy vegetation. A few scraggly olapa and `ohi'a trees are scattered across this area, most of them not much larger in diameter than my arm. There is not much other vegetation in this boggy terrain. I was fortunate that these frail trees, though they bent, and complained at the weight, were just strong enough to support my hammock with me in it, though I lived in constant fear of being gently lowered into the wet moss every night as I slept. If I had weighed a few pounds more, I might well have been soaked.

Once on this plain, we set a compass course for Waimanu Valley and headed in that direction. Before long, we encountered a gulch too deep to cross and turned uphill to find a spot where it became shallow enough to traverse. The gulches were, of course, steep-walled and filled with dense vegetation, requiring the attention of our machetes to penetrate. Even when we were able to manage the slopes, the streams were a formidable hazard, swollen and swift, filled as they were by the steady rain. Several times we roped up, and also passed the packs across to make crossing in the treacherous waters easier. Even so, more than once we encountered streams we could not safely cross, and had to scramble back up the wall of the ravine the way we had come, and push on up the mountain again until the stream became more fordable. Once across, we again set a compass course and proceeded, until the next ravine was reached. In this way we advanced for 3 days, climbing ever higher up the mountain and drawing, we hoped, ever nearer to Waimanu.

The first night in the open, I slung my hammock between two spindly trees, and sitting in it, held my little Bluet butane stove between my feet to keep it from sinking in the sphagnum and turning over. In this way I cooked and ate my supper, sheltered under the tarp which I had stretched over the hammock. Fred, Charlie, and Tootsie found a reasonably level spot, and, since tree ferns were common in the area, cut armloads of fronds to build up a platform on which to pitch their cheap Sears tent. I cannot imagine that it was a very comfortable night for them, but worse was to come.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Pali Notches to Piliwale -- Pete Clines

Hike date: 23 January 2011.

In January of 2003 I climbed up to Konahuanui from the Pali Lookout by way of the “Notches” ridge. My climbing buddy back then, Brian, was naïve enough to join me. Except for a tense moment when a handhold-rock busted loose on Brian while in a crucial spot over a death drop…. we had a fantastic time with lots of excitement and killer views on a cloud-free day. We exited via the seldom traveled (overgrown) Lulumahu Ridge and looped back to the Lookout.

This past Sunday – almost exactly eight years later – I got Laredo (Murray) and Duc (Ong) to join me for another round of adrenaline. This would be their first time on this ridge. We met at the Lookout and began for the Notches at 8:30 or so. Below is a map of the route, with the orange dash marking the hardest part. This picture was taken from the summit of Lanihuli East – the equally nasty ridge across the valley.


We got to the ridgeline in no time, and were treated to a blast of wind. We realized the gusts would keep us cool as we climbed, but they were also strong enough to make it risky. At times we could feel ourselves being pushed around - not good when you are traveling so near to the sheer windward drop. And the drop on the town side wasn’t much safer. But we had nothing else to do that day…We easily dropped into - and climbed out of - the first notch. There are lots of handholds. The second notch was trickier, but someone has roped it up real good making it reasonable. Back in ’03 there was no rope, and I remember Brian and I climbing halfway down before jumping to the bottom. At that point I remember we joked about being committed to reaching the summit.


Following the second notch, the ridge stays narrow but it also levels off for a stretch until you get to “the Nipple” which is a prominent feature that needs to be climbed. Below is a picture of Laredo and Duc on top of the Nipple. In the background in the photo below is the vertical wall that stops most summit attempts on this ridge. The guys are smiling because they know I volunteered to go first.



A hefty backpack and high winds conspire against you here, so as in 2003, I dropped my pack and tied a long rope around me. I also removed my sneakers so I could get my toes in the cracks and minimize slipping on the wet rocks. I gave Laredo my camera to record the foolishness.

There is a rope in place along the upper half of this wall. But it is possibly the same one from back in ’03. We didn’t trust it much then, and I certainly wasn’t about to bet my life on it now, so I used it only as a guide. Mostly I was using my toes, finger, elbows….anything I could jam in the rocks or create friction with. At the top of the climb is “The Chimney.” Here you are sandwiched between two relatively featureless slabs of rock, and I shimmied up it like I was Santa. The photo below shows me just about to enter the Chimney. A fall here would be painless. The impact…now there’s the problem.


Upon successfully reaching the tiny flat(ish) spot at the top of the chimney, I got to work hauling up the packs. Bracing myself against one of the large boulders, I first pulled up my pack before tossing the rope back down to pull Laredo and Duc’s packs together. The wind was so gusty that I had to tie a heavy rock to the free end before sending it down to Duc. A couple prior attempts with a lighter object (my survival knife in the sheath) resulted in the rope and knife wildly going skyward. Luckily Duc’s knots held as I dragged the gear up the rocky wall. A few snags occurred on the overhangs, but it got done.

With all the packs behind me on the tiny flat spot, I began tying off the ropes for the guys to use in the climb. To be extra safe, I put up a second rope that would reach just below the chimney. As I was doing this, and standing in a sketchy spot above the chimney, I was startled to see a bag go flying over my head! The wind had picked up Laredo’s pack and launched it over me. I helplessly watched it sail down to the town-side…below the ridgeline. Crap. At this time Duc was getting into position to climb while Laredo was resting on the Nipple. He was probably wondering why his bag was now below him.



Duc worked his way up the wall and the Chimney, as I snapped a photo.


After Duc arrived, Laredo made his equally successful attempt. It was then that I learned that Laredo had over a hundred bucks in that pack, along with IDs! He insisted that I go back down and retrieve it. Just teasing. He repeatedly told me to forget it, but I didn’t want this on my conscience so I descended the Chimney and wall…climbed down off the ridge….and managed to get to a tree where his pack got hung up. Even found the water bottle that had flown out.

Relieved, I got back to the ridgeline with a little maneuvering, and made my second climb up the wall. Much easier with the ropes installed! Back together, I climbed several feet above the others to get this look at the top of the Chimney. The boulder on the left was my “brace” when hauling the packs.



We pressed on, reaching another tricky section. We were on a narrow spot and were blocked by another rocky wall. Going over or to the windward side was not a safe option, and the town-side route wasn’t any better. But this was how we would go. This was where Brian slipped the last time, and that memory haunted me as I looked at the death-drop below. So I took off my sneakers and pack (again) and worked my way along a near-non-existent ledge, digging in my toes as I clawed above for handholds. At one point I shoved my knife in the wall to get a momentary foothold and then scrambled up to the ledge above. Then I sent a rope down for my pack…and then Duc and Laredo climbed up the rope which was now affixed to the lone anchor there – a suspect looking rock. With that out of the way, the ridge was more agreeable again to visitors, and we charged up through ie ie and other low vegetation.



We soon passed the junction with “Konahuanui Windward” – a spur that I tried (unsuccessfully) to climb several years ago. The upper portion was just too steep with nothing solid to hold. Soon after this junction we reached a flat spot and took a break to enjoy the views. Following the break, we continued upward, passing a small notch at ~2500’ and a steep wall at ~2800’. I remembered this wall from before. You need to hoist up into a small tree and pull at uki grass and other such things to get above it. With that accomplished, we could taste the summit.


Unfortunately the summit tasted moist. The clouds began to collect as we got nearer, but we soon passed the Piliwale junction, and then saw the “three pinks” marking the terminus of the Club hike from the town side. We did it - and ahead of schedule! Despite messing with ropes and my detour into the valley to fetch Laredo’s pack, we still summitted at 12:45 – 15 minutes ahead of goal. No views, and it even misted on us a little, so we just used the time to have lunch before prepping for the descent.

I had climbed Piliwale Ridge in September 2002 and did not particularly care for it. The upper parts were really overgrown at the time and progress was scratchy and slow. I never returned. But with all the recent use of this route – particularly August who cleared on the way up last summer – we were treated to a pleasant swath on the descent. This would be Duc and Laredo’s first time on Piliwale, and I had to explain how much uglier it used to be. And once we got down to the rocky parts – the ones I like – we were babied with long lengths of fresh new ropes. Before, I just remember old, rotten cables. So even though going down steep ridges like this can be harder (since you can’t see your footing and gravity is pulling) we had no problems. Just took it slow. And once we were below ~2500’ the views came back as we dropped below the cloud line. Great views! Below is the exposed stretch above the (Piliwale) notch.



The ropes were certainly helpful (thank you to the installer) but getting into and out of the notch is certainly doable by relying on the strong trees in the area. And Duc and I even used a welltimed leap to get across one gap in the notch…to avoid going down lower into it. Rainbowman, meanwhile, said something about liking to go down and we left it at that.

With all of us up on the town side (safe side) of the notch, we sat down to finish lunch and soak in the views. It was then that my phone rang. August was stuck in Vegas for work and he must have sensed what we were up to. He guessed correctly on his second try and was obviously bummed to be missing out. See, only hardcore hikers would prefer to be sweaty and dirty on a crumbly ledge than in the “City of Sin.”


Break time concluded, we departed the notch and made our way down the mellow trail to eventually meet up with the Maunawili Demonstration Trail. What exactly it was demonstrating was fodder for our conversation as we took one last break there. Then we set off towards the hairpin turn parking area at a brisk pace….turned left on the connector just before it….and followed it to the “Old Pali Road.” We stopped along the way to check out the ridges we climbed. Below is Piliwale, with the notch directly above Laredo.



The road brought us back to the Pali Lookout at 5:45pm

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Extreme Koko Crater tramway ascent

Photo via http://2.bp.blogspot.com/




The Koko Crater tramway climb is a tough aerobic ascent but not really an extreme hike. However, Brandon Fuller took this to an extreme by running from Waikiki (about 9 miles) then ascending the tramway trail in under 14 minutes, then running back to Waikiki. He did all this in three hours and change.

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Aiea Ridge to Waimalu Middle Ridge

The Aiea Ridge Trail is regularly hiked by many, including the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club, which also helps to maintain the trail. Few have ever hiked to the summit of the Koolau Range via the middle ridge of Waimalu Valley. In 1997, Patrick Rorie ascended Aiea Ridge, crossed along the Koolau summit ridge to Waimalu Middle Ridge and then exited via Waimalu Middle. Nowadays, it will probably be easier and faster to exit via Waimano Ridge trail since Waimalu Middle Ridge has been swallowed up by uluhe and other vegetation.


Date: Fri, 28 Nov 1997
From: Patrick Rorie
Subject: Aiea Ridge-Ko'olau Summit Ridge-Waimalu Middle Ridge Trek

Thanksgiving day is normally a day when family and friends get together to enjoy ono food stuffs and each others company all the while being thankful for the many blessings in their lives. With no family living in the islands I had no committments to attend to on turkey day therefore I decided to do a solo hike. Got up at 6:45 a.m., ate some breakfast and headed for Keaiwa Heiau State Rec Area above Aiea Heights. Arrived there shortly before 8 a.m. and after final preps started up the Aiea Loop Trail at 8:15 a.m. It was cloudy toward the Ko'olau summit crest but I could see separation between the crest and the clouds in the area where I'd be crossing over so I was hopeful. Winds were trades 10 to 25 mph.

It took me just under half an hour to reach the junction with the Aiea Ridge Trail. Turned left onto Aiea Ridge and almost immediately saw the concrete monster which is H-3, soon to come to life, forever impacting the various trails which surround it. I cursed the Senator who pushed it thru Congress. A short distance up the trail I observed one of Wing Ng's Christmas ribbons tied to a tree limb. "Is Wing ahead of me ?" I thought to myself. "I didn't see his car in the parking lot !".

Continuing along the ungraded ridge trail I made good time mainly because it has quite a few contour sections and the ridge is fairly level (not much rollercoaster action). On the way up thick clouds moved in socking in the Ko'olau summit ridge and Pu'u Kawipo'o (elev. 2,441 ft) which is the false summit of the Aiea Ridge Trail. I was bummed. I saw two more of Wing's ribbons the last one appearing shortly before the start of the stiff ascent to Kawipo'o.

I reached the top of the false summit at 9:49 a.m. now free of cloud cover and stopped for a brief rest. Much to my surprise and delight the entire cloud bank passed thru leaving much of the Ko'olau summit crest completely clear ! The views were excellent of Pearl Harbor and Ford Island below, Tripler Ridge with its twin Norfolk Island pines, Red Hill Ridge with the large Norfolk Island pine forest occupying one of its humps, Halawa Ridge with the magnificent Halawa Ridge contour trail cut beautifully into the side of the ridge on its way to the summit crest. The building at the top of the Haiku Stairs was also visible and I thought of Art Neilson who told me of his plans to climb "The Stairway to Heaven" sometime that day. Before heading for the Aiea Ridge summit I studied the Ko'olau summit crest toward Waimalu briefly.

At 9:58 a.m. I departed Kawipo'o descending a short distance before ascending gradually over a series of small humps. This part of the trail was very enjoyable because the ridge was open, windswept, and at times narrow. Endured a somewhat steep climb to a large grassy clearing and just caught a glimpse of the ridge between Ohulehule and Kanehoalani before another huge cloud bank moved in. I also noted the location of the two power-line towers before visibility became nil.

Next I went right then down toward the power-line tower which is just below the Aiea Ridge summit. Walked underneth it at 10:21 a.m. Having read Gene's account I knew I had to get to the second tower so I backtracked to the large grassy clearing. Changed into long pants, put on a second shirt and waited for a few minutes hoping that the clouds would lift. At this point I seriously considered aborting the cross over attempt because the winds were very strong and visibility was zippo which created the possibility of getting lost down a side ridge.

At 10:53 a.m. I decided to press on. However, I began tying ribbon to trees as I moved toward the summit crest just in case things didn't work out and I had to go back down Aiea Ridge. Descended the trail which is on the left side of the large grassy clearing opposite of the trail which goes to the first power-line tower. Dropped down to the bottom of a ravine and crossed a stream which was not flowing but had water available. Ascended steeply to the second power-line tower. Went around the tower in search of Gene's trail (swath). Found it on the left side of the tower as one faces windward and began following it at 11:24 a.m.

The socked in conditions continued as I battled the strong gusts and descended briefly heading north along the Ko'olau summit crest. Went up and over 3 minor humps and looked back at the peak which supported the second power-line tower. The tower was no longer visible.

Ascended part way up the first peak from the second power-line tower then decided to contour along its windward side. I reached a ridge but it descended steeply and disappeared into the clouds. I realized that it was a ridge which goes down to a windward valley. Backtracked removing ribbon and ascended to the top of the first peak. On the way down the other side of the first peak toward Waimalu I noticed three bolders jutting out of the ridge, a very interesting formation. The swath went to the leeward side of the summit ridge thru thick vegetation.

On the way to the second peak I was able to identify more ridges which descended steeply to the windward valley below. Most of them were not "do-able" ! Continued tying ribbon where possible. At the top of the second peak I noticed a short metal pole similar to the one found on one of the peaks between Kipapa and Manana.

After the third peak there was a very pleasant windswept ravine with low grass. It looked similar to the one some of us used to camp in during the Kipapa-Manana trip. However, this one was not flat enough for tents.

Rollercoaster action (up, over the top and down) followed during the next four peaks. I was so concerned about following the swath and staying on the correct ridge while making good time that things were a blur thru these peaks. There was a side ridge on one of them which went to the left toward Pearl City easily identified by two tall (for loulu), distinct loulu trees. Got confused at this point but once I found the trail again I knew I was heading in the right direction. Below one of the peaks on the windward side of the Ko'olaus was a large grove of loulu trees and another large grove existed on the windward side of one of the low points between two of the peaks. Followed the windward side of the summit crest as it took me around a heavily vegetated area in between two more peaks (probably the location of Gene's heiau). I looked at my watch only once during the traverse (at the 1.5 hour mark - around 1 p.m.). I said to myself,"Do I have two and a half hours to go ?!" (Gene took 4 hours to do the cross over). I never knew how much further I had to travel to reach the Waimalu Middle Ridge because of the socked in conditions so I just kept moving.

Climbed steeply up the eighth peak (Gene counted 7 peaks between Aiea Ridge and Waimalu Middle - perhaps I included a couple of smaller peaks in my tally) mostly on the leeward side thru thick vegetation while crawling up along the windward briefly. It was difficult and tiring but exciting nonetheless ! Encountered more thick vegetation on the top of the eighth peak and worked my way thru it, once again tying ribbon.

Between the 8th and 9th peaks was a tough leeward stretch with a low bridge section. Went thru a grove of mostly yellow ginger plants before reaching the start of the steep ascent to the 9th peak.
The climb to the top of peak number 9 was difficult mainly because of the thickness of the foliage as the trail went on the leeward side of the summit crest. Gene paid a heavy price in abuse as he plowed thru the flora and fona. I benefitted from his work but after a while I told myself "the hell with this !" and proceeded to tip toe along the narrow steep pali. The climb never seemed to end. Once it began to level off another ascent followed ! There was a steep sheer drop off on the right and the ridge became narrow at times.

Finally reached the summit of the Waimalu Middle Ridge at 1:52 p.m., a large, flat plateau covered mostly with short grass. Walked over to the beginning of the large bowl region to make sure I was truely at the right place. Departed the plateau at 2 p.m. Recognized more of Wing's Christmas ribbons but concluded that he could not have done the cross over because I did not find a machete or any loppers along the way !

Highlights going down the middle ridge were: (1) the most excellent initial descent/final climb from/to the plateau, (2) the lovely patch of loulu to the right of the ridge (as one moves down) above the upper stream, (3) a nice narrow dike section, (4) the multi-tiered waterfall in the back of the valley, (5) the steep, angel shaped waterfall which had a fair amount of water flowing down it. Worked my way thru a long, open, uluhe section which ended at the valley floor.

Stopped for a rest beside a stream at the new HTMC Waimalu Ditch hike termination point at 3:24 p.m. A steady rain began to fall as I continued the hike five minutes later. The rest of the route was a freeway thanks to the HTMC trail clearing crew. However, the recent high winds had blown some branches into the trail. I removed them as I went.

Worked my way past some nice swimming pools in the stream, out of the valley floor and onto the contour segment. Paused briefly to appreciate the lushness of Waimalu Valley. I especially delighted in the grove of Palm Trees. The ditch trail seemed to go on and on and on. The rain stayed with me until the very end. Ascended somewhat steeply and reached the trailhead at 4:54 p.m.

Rang Gene Robinson's residence from the gate at the top of Onikiniki. His girlfriend Julia answered and was gracious enough to let me into Gene's home. She provided hot tea and spicy cageon fish with rice for my consumption. A huge thank you to her and to Gene for driving me back to the park above Aiea Heights Drive. He dropped me off at my car just shy of 6 p.m.

Notes: For some of you big boys it might be easier to go to the Aiea Ridge summit beyond the first power-line tower. From there you can follow the summit crest to the second power-line tower rather than dropping down into and climbing out of the ravine.

== Patrick

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Haleakala ascent via Kaupo Gap - Pat Rorie

Kaupo Gap from South Maui coast --Photo by mauiguidebook.com
Many people have hiked/backpacked down the Kaupo Gap from Haleakala Crater. Few, I would wager, have hiked/backpacked into Haleakala Crater via Kaupo Gap. What follows is an account of the latter by members of the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club circa 1999.


Date: Thu, 15 Jul 1999From: Patrick RorieSubject: Haleakala Crater Via Kaupo Gap
A friend once told me "The weather is everything!". While I don't entirely agree with this statement, I do believe that excellent weather is the foundation for a wonderful day hike/backpack trip. It sets the table for a memorable visit to a special place. Such was the case on Independence Day weekend 1999 for seven members of the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club who ventured up Kaupo Gap into Haleakala Crater on the island of Maui.

Our group, consisting of Arnold Fujioka, Chris Atkinson, "Big" John Darrah (making his seventh ascent of Kaupo Gap), Herman and Myra Dombrowski, Steve Becker and myself, caught the Aloha Air early bird (5:15 a.m. flight) from Honolulu to Kahului, Maui, on Saturday morning, July 3rd. David Bloch of Off-Road Shorefishing Expeditions ($350 total for our party of seven, contact him at (808) 572-3470) picked us up and we departed the airport in his suburban at 6:20 a.m. Because Dave had already purchased fuel for our stoves, we proceeded directly to the town of Kaupo on Maui's south shore via Route 37. Along the way we enjoyed nice views of the West Maui Mountains, Kahoolawe, and the Big Island. Upon arriving in Kaupo, Dave continued mauka up a semi-paved road to the trailhead (elev. 1,000 ft) sparing us atleast a mile of boring road walking.

Following final preps and the obligatory "before" photo, our group began the adventure at 8:15 a.m. past a wooden sign which read "Paliku 5.5 miles", an incorrect figure as we would find out later. Perfect hiking conditions prevailed (an abundance of blue sky and sunshine with a gentle breeze from the east) and directly behind across the Pacific Ocean hidden partially by cumulous clouds was a stunning view of the Big Island featuring the Kohala Mountains below Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Hualalai. With almost 5,400 feet of elevation to gain in just under 7 miles, we ascended, steeply at times, almost immediately through tall grass and a forested area, dark brown wooden posts marking the route. Fifteen minutes into the climb while ascending steeply on a dirt/gravel road, I noticed a national park sign indicating that we had two more miles to travel before reaching the park boundary. Between the trees the nice view of the Big Island directly behind continued with entirely blue sky above. Further up, our group passed a catapillar bulldozer on the right, and the light breeze at our backs made for a sweaty ascent (we learned to appreciate the shady stretches). Pleasant vistas of the lower countryside between the coast and the trailhead were ours to enjoy, and Myra, Steve and I (bringing up the rear) noticed black fiberglass pipes near or stretching across the footpath and could hear water flowing through them. Despite the tough climb, it was a gorgeous day through beautiful territory (the different shades of green).

We made the transition from the forest to an open light green low grass region and, soon after, reached a broad relatively level campground (approx. elev. 2,275 ft) at 9:20 a.m. complete with two white bath tubs and a small corrugated shelter. A large ten foot tall water tank located above the area provided H2O for visitors and in order to obtain fluid one had to remove the cover and dip a container into it. John drank from the supply freely without chemical treatment and Chris told me privately that it smelled funny. Since we were only a little over an hour into the trek I still had plenty of liquid in my bottles and passed when offered an opportunity to fill up. Light green slopes existed above the region and I recognized white puffy cumulous clouds advancing upslope from the west in the distance toward Haleakala Peak. The seven of us enjoyed the spot for a time sunbathing and checking out the sights (Mauna Kea across the deep blue Pacific Ocean, the southern coast of Maui in the direction of Kahoolawe).

Suffering from a hangover brought on by the consumption of too many beers the night before, Herman proceeded no further and his wife Myra certainly would stay by his side. This gave John the excuse to remain as well, the campground being one of his favorite locations to relax. Steve also elected to call it a day.

Photo by Joseph Bullough
With so much time remaining in the day, Arnold, Chris and I decided to continue and departed our colleagues at 10 a.m. The steep climb resumed over a dirt/gravel road but the breeze intensified keeping the three of us from overheating. Occasionally, we stopped to catch our breath and, looking back, took pleasure from the sweeping views of the lowlands and southern coast. Later, while in transit, I recognized an abundance of pukiawe on the side of the now grassy road. Arnold and Chris tramped ahead of me as I halted to take notes and gaze at the surrounding topography. During the next stretch the angle of ascent increased and compared to hiking the steepest part of Wilhemina Rise (believe me, I should know, esp. since I carried a 45 pound backpack up Wilhemina three times back in April). Finally, the steep climb concluded, and I stopped again to catch my breath and stare at Kahoolawe and two prominent pu'us in the distance as well as the brown slopes below the massive ridge containing Pu'u Kumuiliahi and Haleakala Peak. Directly ahead, the crest of Kalapawili Ridge which forms the upper northern wall of Paliku came into view for the first time.

Pressing on, I ascended more gradually over a grassy road through open grassy terrain and a few healthy koa trees off to the right caught my attention. I delighted in the magnificent vistas of the southern coast toward Kahoolawe, and the four broad mountains of the Big Island really stood out. Like giant bookends, Haleakala Peak to the west and Pu'u Kuiki on the eastern side of the gap towered high above the crater floor. The sheer rocky cliffs forming the west wall of Kaupo Gap were in direct contrast to the steep vegetated flanks of the eastern pali.

Just prior to 11 a.m. I approached Arnold and Chris reclining under a grove of tall koa trees along the road and joined them as they took pleasure from the shade and sound of birds singing. After a fifteen minute break, we saddled up again and a short distance ahead passed a campsite on the left also containing a small corrugated shelter in route to the fenced Haleakala National Park boundary (approx. elev. 3,800 ft) which we reached at 11:24 a.m. The location featured a spectacular view of Haleakala Peak, now socked in by clouds, and the sheer rocky cliffs below the peak that form the steep west wall of the gap. The three of us entered Haleakala National Park via a gate in the fence, but I backtracked to take in the sights while Arnold and Chris proceeded toward Paliku. Beyond the gate upslope was a relatively level stretch through knee high grass under numerous tall koa trees offering ample shade. At 11:46 a.m. I passed a sign that read "Paliku 3.9 miles" and thought to myself "that was the longest 1.6 miles I've ever hiked!" in reference to the bogus mileage figure (5.5) on the trailhead sign. The steady ascent continued on a narrow but distinct footpath skirting the base of the steep east wall (no longer a road - the road terminating at the national park boundary), pukiawe on both sides.

Around noon I caught up with Arnold and Chris and sat down near them in shade under a stand of three spreading koa trees, the sunlight causing the koa leaves to glisten above our heads. We consumed lunch and took a nap (we caught the early bird, remember?), our solitude broken only by an occasional chopper flying high over Haleakala Peak.

Arnold, Chris and I found ourselves moving again over a well worn trail lit up nicely by the sunshine a few minutes prior to 1 p.m. The footpath became a graded contour and we gained elevation via switchbacks through a wealth of native flora growing on top of old lava fields. As I paused to take notes and gaze at the surrounding topography, Arnold and Chris moved ahead of me once more and I would not see them again until arriving at Paliku. Further ahead, a fifty foot vertical waterfall shoot located on the steep east wall grabbed my attention, and I spotted an ohia lehua with numerous red blossoms for the first time all day close to six additional lovely tall koa trees. Higher up, koa, the dominant tree thus far, disappeared, replaced by ohia lehua.

Clouds moved in from the north causing the sky to become overcast while I traveled through a lovely meadow filled with akala plants. Eventually, the sun came back out as I passed through another larger meadow where I obtained my first view of the crater floor toward Sliding Sands including the various cones. A narrow gully existed in the east wall to the right of the second meadow, and I was awstruck by the incredible amount of ohia lehua growing on the sides of the upper reaches of the gulch. I spotted a handful of native birds while passing through yet another meadow and rocky sheer cliffs bordered the right side of the field covered partially with grass and dotted with small ohia lehua.

Recognized Pu'u Kuiki (elev. 7,553 ft) towering high above the third meadow, bypassed a prominent pu'u (elev. 6,300 ft) on the left and enjoyed the wonderful final level approach to the Paliku Cabin, the completely clear surrounding ridges and peaks lit up nicely by the afternoon sun. Halted to study a wooden sign at a junction which read "Kaupo 8.0 miles, Kaupo Trailhead 6.8 miles".

Arrived at the Paliku campground and cabin (elev. 6,380 feet) shortly before 4:30 p.m. and proceeded to the place where Arnold and Chris had their tents set up. While the tract they chose was more discrete in case a ranger should come around checking for permits, it was too bumpy for my taste so I decided to take my chances in the open with a flat campsite.

At 6:20 p.m. I recognized the completely cloudless sky except for a few puffy clouds low on the horizon down Kaupo Gap and totally clear Haleakala Peak and Pu'u Maile visible to the west, the slopes of Pu'u Kuiki covered with ohia lehua. When the campground became engulfed in shadow we experienced a significant temperature drop causing campers to put on additional clothing. I ate dinner with Inger Lidman, Laura ?, Charlotte Yamane, Steve ?, and a friendly Japanese lady, and all of us took pleasure from excellent star gazing that night, the silhouette of the mountains with the stars in the background made Kaupo Gap very obvious.

At ten minutes before 10 p.m. the temperature outside my tent read 42.5 degrees fahrenheit and I retired for the evening at 10:05 p.m.