Kalihi Saddle -- Pete Clines

Last summer I made several trips to upper Kalihi Valley to explore the Koolau saddle between Lanihuli (to the east) and the peak next to the Bowman Trail terminus (to the west.) I found a ridgeline that is narrow and crumbly, making for an exciting walk. Anyone who has ever looked up at this area over the Wilson Tunnels has noticed a number of sharp ups and downs which add difficulty to this walk. In order to reference them, I have given silly names to these menacing pinnacles: Witch’s Hat, Shark Fin, The Bunny Ears, Doorstop, Pimple, and Can Opener. (From west to east)

This shot was taken from a scout trip last year from a spot partway down the west ridgeline of Lanihuli. The red and blue dots mark the two routes I put together to climb or descend the saddle. The orange “flags” mark the extent of how far I have gone in either direction. The left flag is the “Witch’s Hat” and the right is the “Doorstop.” Last Sunday, we went up the blue (look closely) and down the red, with Duc and I making a side trip to the top of the first “Bunny Ear” which is marked with a blue flag.

Just getting within climbing distance of this ridge is a chore, as there is no parking area near the tunnels. As such, I would begin from Kalihi Valley and use my mountain bike to get me as close as I could ride. From there, I scouted and ribboned two town-side ridges that would allow me to gain the Koolau ridgeline and make a closed loop. Then I went to the mainland for a month, and when I returned this project went on the “back burner” for half a year.

Last weekend I was able to recruit some of the gang to go check out this loop. Since we would not have the benefit of bikes for everyone, part of our goal was to find a route that would begin at the end of the road in Kalihi and connect to the trail I had already marked. August, Duc, Kevin, and I set off at 8:30am, hoping to find remnants of an old road that has since been overtaken by nature. After a couple false starts, we decided to simply follow the stream itself. Most of the time the water was only mid-shin, but there were one or two deeper spots as seen below left. We soon intersected an old bridge, and from there we able to follow the nearly unrecognizable road mauka. We had one moment of misdirection when the way was completely overgrown, but soon regained the correct route and saw the first of my ribbons from previous trips.


Back on familiar territory, I swiftly led the group to the base of the loop. We began climbing through a eucalyptus forest on an open but steep and slippery ridge. Though the photo above makes the rope look unnecessary, the mix of incline and slick footing meant that we were all glad to use the 200+ feet of assistance in place along the way. Higher up, in the uluhe zone, we had a great view of some of the more challenging features along the ridgeline. (Not listed on the photo below is the “Pimple” which is just below and to the right of the “Doorstop.”)


Not long after noon, we all climbed the final steep section and popped out on the saddle ridgeline. With the ground only a person wide, we sat side by side to eat lunch and enjoy the views. We were at ~1600’ and were lucky to be below the clouds that socked in the higher summits on our periphery. Being over the freeway tunnels, we had a unique vantage point where we could look down and see the windward entrance…then turn around and see the leeward section.

Though we were to head left (west) to hit the down trail, Duc agreed to head right (east) with me to check out the first “Bunny Ear.” August came along to get some photos. Being the self- proclaimed “Hawaii’s Worst Hiker,” Kevin opted to stay where he was (relatively) out of danger.

Getting to the base of the climb is narrow but mostly level. From there it gets intense. It is super steep, and much of the rock is rotten, including pieces that would seem far too large to wiggle around so easily. As such, I had a left a rope on the lower half of the climb last summer. Since it had 6 months of weather on it, we tried to rely on it as little as possible. Right, Duc?

Below is a photo looking back from the base of the first Bunny Ear. I labeled everyone as they are hard to pick out otherwise.

Below left: Duc on rope climbing up. Below right: Pete on rope climbing back down.

 The top of the first Bunny Ear was enough for today. But had we gone further, the climb up the second ear is just as sketchy. And the climb down the second ear is immediately followed by the climb up the doorstop where you would get this view (below) from the crest. (Hang onto something.)

 This was the furthest I have gone (so far.) Though interested in a climb to the top of Lanihuli, I am not sure how “doable” it is. Progress up here is decidedly slow, as each rock needs to be tested. Getting down off the doorstop would be reasonable, but the “Pimple” – seen above in the middle of the pic – is indescribably thin and followed by a notch. After the notch, it gets worse as you look up.

Above, we are looking head-on at the “Can Opener,” with the little “hook” dead-center in the picture. Looks nasty. Top-down to install ropes would probably increase the odds. (But not by much.) So after Duc and I descended the first ear, we all headed back to our lunch spot - at the terminus of our up trail – and continued along the ridge to the down trail. Though this stretch has few pinnacles to negotiate, check out the drop to the windward side that is ever-present. Though hard to see, that orange arrow is pointing at August on the narrow ledge as he approaches us.

Just before the down trail - which comes off the “Shark Fin”- we had to drop down a steep section. The guys thought a rope would be helpful so I got to work installing one before going down to get some pics of their descent. I waited about halfway down to assist if needed, and as each guy passed me they would continue to the low point before climbing back up to the “Shark Fin” on the far side. I came down last, and August took a pic of me from the Fin.

Once near the top of the Fin, the route splits. To continue over the Fin and along the saddle would bring you past more tricky pinnacles including the “Witch’s Hat.” The pic below was taken from the leeward base of this obstacle on a previous trip. To continue up to Bowman would mean getting around – or most likely over – this “Hat.” A contour seems unlikely and I have not yet attempted it.

Instead of summiting the Shark Fin, our route was to carefully contour THROUGH a tree just before the top. The solid branches provide hand and footholds on an otherwise steep slope of the pinnacle. Once past the tree and a brief narrow tangle of ie ie, the ridge broadens and enters a eucalyptus forest like the one on our way up. Without the benefit of ropes on this route, there was much butt-sliding and controlled falling on our speedy descent. Once at the bottom, we easily looped back to the trail we came in on earlier.

With all the danger behind us, we focused on finding the part of the old road that we missed on our way in. No easy task, but occasional flat stretches and/or half-buried car parts let us know when we on track. We managed to follow it back to the old bridge over the stream that we found earlier. We then ribboned a while longer before losing the road for good in a total mess of clidemia and thimbleberry. We stubbornly continued to beat and crawl our way through this terrain before deciding to return to the stream. As luck would have it, as we made our way downhill to the stream, we realized we would intersect it at the pleasant waterfall that we stopped at in the morning. Losing daylight, we opted for a quick break to enjoy the deep, clean pool.

Kevin, Duc, and I all enjoyed several leaps from the rocks…and then it was time for the big event. August was going to jump. But first, a little back story – some of you know this one. During a neighbor island backpack trip in mid 2009 we found one of the most scenic waterfall pools imaginable. I convinced the group to join me in jumping off the high rocks – as seen in the pic below.

In the above pic, you see August waiting for his turn to take the plunge. What we can’t show you is that immediately after jumping, August must have suffered a bout of narcolepsy as he unintentionally oriented into a reclined position as the rest of us watched in horror. The splash heard around the world. He surfaced in pain, and was forced to hike the 10+ miles out the following day with a bad back. A tough guy, he made it out on his own…but I have not seen him pool jump since.

Until this past Sunday. With almost 2 years of flashbacks haunting him, August stood at the edge of the rocks. We positioned cameras at multiple angles, as you would for any significant moment in sports history. A quick countdown… and then the leap. Note the (preferred) upright position.

And then the entry. I give it a 9.5! Note the blurry dreadlocks which confirm who the jumper is.

And finally, he surfaces in triumph. August got his mojo back with that jump. Thus ending an exciting, injury-free outing.



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