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


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