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Sunday, September 9, 2001

Piliwale Ridge -- Stan Yamada (2001)

Remind me never to do this climb again. The benefits do not outweigh the burdens. A lot of the problems were self-created. We got off to a late start, didn't fuel up properly beforehand, and underestimated the difficult trail conditions. Normally not a problem with the usual trail. With this trail, they combined to kick my ass.

Piliwale is the ridge connecting Maunawili Valley on the Windward side with the summit of Konahuanui (3150 ft.), apex of the Koolau range. There was not much beta available for this climb. Jason Sunada's account of his trip up and down the trail last year was sketchy on details, and I now understand why. This is a long and difficult trip up and the numerous outcroppings and meanderings get confusing fast for anyone intent on trying to memorize a path to the top.

We parked at the hairpin turn lot, the bad luck car now stripped of anything of value. Passed three women intent on doing the entire Maunawili trail with one one-liter water bottle in sight. On our way to the turnoff up the ridge we ran into two Peahens casually strolling along the trail (a few years ago I followed a large walking bird of some sort on this trail--brown, chicken sized, unafraid of me). The hens would swing their heads back and forth as they walked as if looking for something. We just trailed about ten feet behind them. They ignored us. After about a hundred yards they took a side mauka trail and stopped to look at us about ten feet up the trail. We looked at each other laughed and continued on, the hens turned, perhaps relieved that we had a different destination, and went on their way.

We found the trailhead up the slope and commenced a nice stiff climb. Adam startled a pig and it jumped off the trail with a loud splash and zoomed off diagonally down the hill. We could hear it plowing through the brush and it was gone.

I always start slow until I get my second wind and this day was no exception. I was nicely warmed up by the time we got to the notch and was ready. At this point some have written of having to jump across a gap to proceed. I have no idea how or why that would be done as there is a perfectly good contour down and around this section on the left. Once you cross to the other side you have to climb a short steep (I think there's a cable) to regain the trail.

While attempting the steep, a branch that I was using as a handhold broke. There is some exposure here so when it broke, and my brain told me a fall was imminent, I immediately turned, looked down, and assessed that below me were two rock outcroppings. One, a couple of feet down, was big enough for one foot, a larger one a few feet below that could hold both feet. I fell, tapped the first rock with my left foot and nudged myself over toward the bigger rock. Landed on-target with both feet, totally relieved and shaken to the bone. This fall affected the rest of the climb as I was thereafter tentative and nervous. Not good. Confidence is the key factor in doing most anything of this nature. Something I now lacked.

After gathering myself we continued on. I think we got to the spot that seemed to give previous hikers pause. We just climbed right on up so we aren't sure where the spot is. I guess last week's Bear Claw experience made this face seem doable. Confidence. This starts the middle steep section of the climb. This area has the worst rotten rock I've ever encountered in one spot. After my previous fall I was extrasuperespecially careful going up. This made the going very slow for me. I'd try several options for each crux area before proceeding. Adam just climbed straight up the ridge full of confidence. Soon I was far behind and communicating with him via our Cobras (great asset on this climb). So the lesson here is that it is doable easily (relative term) if you have confidence, but it's a bear if you don't. More often than not, straight up the ridge is best. That is where the best rock is located. I kept getting sidetracked looking for easier routes to bail on, but that was a giant waste of time (but sometimes there is a route so look anyway if you're scared of the ridge and the exposure).

The rock all the way up was very weak and brittle. I dislodged so many and had so many close calls, I shudder to think about them now. I used every rock climbing technique I know to get up due to my circuitous route. It seemed like I would get stymied at each outcropping, struggle up, then rest to get myself back in gear (stress is very tiring). There are a couple of cables on the way up and they were good as of yesterday. After what seemed like an eternity because of my mental strain, you reach a point where the vegetation takes over. I carved a notch in a tree to mark my passage. I don't know its name, but one hardy species with spear-like leaves makes the going possible in this section. Even one or two leaves would be enough of a handhold to get you up and over a ledge.

In one spot I tried contouring left around an outcropping as it looked easy and a path seemed to go there. Unfortunately, the ground cover hid a drop off and no foot placements. I was stuck under an exposed overhang with barely a foothold and just leaves to hold for security. After fiddling (read: flailing) around for a few minutes, consulting with Adam as to his route up (no help-he was too far up and couldn't recall the spot), I managed to maneuver myself so that I was sitting, back to the wall, on top of a large clump of grass...very tough grass. Severe drop off below, but other clumps of grass sticking out of the wall just below me. I took a moment to contemplate what sort of person would find himself in this position. Dummy comes to mind. Great view though.

I ever-so-slowly eased myself down off the clump by moving my hips forward. I managed to get good footholds on the lower clumps and got back to safety. Around to the right was an easy way up. Grrrr.

The upper part of the climb is well protected with plants, but is very very rough. The going was super slow for me and my legs were getting hashed even with high gaiters on. I didn't think to wear my rain pants until I was nearly to the top (fatigue causes brain farts). It doesn't look like anyone ever uses this trail and I don't know how Jason did it in 3 hours. Outstanding. It's possible I guess if the trail is clear, but overgrown and dense, not to mention steep, and it was a slow slog for me. I kept wishing I had worn my full blown downhill mountain biking armor. Adam reached the ridgeline at least an hour before I did. Large beehive there at the clearing. They weren't aggressive and they took to hiding in the grass when it started raining.

That reminds me, we were in whiteout conditions during the top third of the climb ruining the views. Trail got very muddy. Had to climb over, through, under, around, aside, and combinations of the above to get by the thick vegetation...mostly in the vertical plane. The few dikes we did cross were all overgrown. Thick, foot thick, moss clung to branches and sheeted across the ground in clumps. I was very discouraged in this section and extremely tired fighting the greenery (beautiful flowers though) in addition to climbing. I did not want to go back down this path although that was the original plan. I was terrified of the loose rock going down and I only had one rope.

I attained the ridge and stumbled upon Adam who had been waiting over an hour. He was huddled under a tree cuddling himself and wearing the $1.50 poncho I gave him last week on the Claw. Shoulda packed a jacket like Dad.

From here we were unsure where to go. Couldn't see a thing and neither one of us had been this far up before. I had been exploring the Konahuanui Trail from town side, but for various reasons never summited. I had only gotten to the middle section of the last mud slot part of the trail. I knew if we could locate that, we were home free as I was not about to go back down Piliwale and darkness was approaching. We just followed the obvious trail to K1 and on down the mountain.

We passed the Castle/Olympus trail crossover which is apparent coming down from the summit. I had explored this trail a little last week and found it coming up from the Nuuanu side. The Manoa side is unclear and very steep. You can bypass the steep climb from the lookout if that contour is opened up.

By the time we reached the puu with the pipe, it was dark. I had a Photon on my lanyard and a headlamp in the pack so we negotiated the Makiki-Tantalus trails with no problem. Caught a ride down the hill from a good samaritan and retrieved the bad luck car with a ride from a friend. Took me five hours to summit with many detours, rest stops and cusses.

The Bear Claw climb was exhilarating, exciting, stupendous, beautiful, fun and the best. This climb was tough, scary, dangerous, tiring and not worth it. I'm glad I did it though. I probably would have a different opinion had I not fallen early, but I doubt it. Even Adam said he would not want to do it again, but he wore shorts with no gaiters and his legs were in bad shape.

After the Claw, we jogged down Kuliouou deliriously happy and full of pep and energy, running on the adrenaline and endorphin high. A week later we still talk about it excitedly. After Piliwale, we were whipped and tired; just relieved it was over. I think the white out robbed us of the views and payoff a climb like that demands. I would gladly do the Claw again, but not Piliwale. That having been said, if you are a climber now is the time to do it since we bulldozed a somewhat usable trail through the thicket. Won't last long though. Do it before the year's out to celebrate Silver Piliwale's hundredth birthday.

sky 9/9/01 (stanboy50@hotmail.com)

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