Back Door to Puu Piei (Piei Mauka) -- Pete Clines

Author:  Pete Clines <peteclines@YAHOO.COM>

Having hiked Pauao ridge from the water tank to the Koolau summit several times, and having scrambled along the tricky section of the same ridge from Puu Piei to the coast a couple times (Piei Makai)…. I thought it would be interesting to complete the remaining section in the middle. Chenay Borja was up for it, and we headed into Kahana valley on foot sometime around 9-9:30am. We endured the long road walk to the water tank at the foot of the Pauao up-trail that I have become too familiar with. Once on trail, I was bummed to see that the uluhe was already growing back from a recent clearing that was done here.

Upon reaching the ridgeline, we paused for a snack at the clearing before heading makai with Piei far in the distance. With knowledge of the terrain and vegetation on the extreme ends of this ridge, I explained to Chenay that we would face the hardest bushwhack at the beginning due to uluhe…with that tapering off along the way…and the ridge gradually becoming more narrow and crumbly but less vegetated. That turned out to be an accurate prediction.

Uluhe choked up the ridge, but it did not grow as high as in the upper regions of this ridge. For the most part, we pushed through at a reasonable pace. A few times I would battle a denser section while waiting for Chenay to catch up. At other times a swath would appear, and then turn off the ridge into the valley on either side. Pigs and pig hunters obviously visit parts of this route.

An impromptu goal of this trip was to check out a spur ridge with a prominent rocky feature that we had noticed many times from the valley. So when we hit the puu where we estimated it originated from, we dropped our packs and went to take a look.

This section provided a nice break from the bushwhacking. It was far more open, but was also steep and narrow in places, and involved using the trees as handholds. There were also a couple trees growing out of the narrow ridge that we had to hike over or through to get by.
After negotiating a tiny saddle in the ridge, I popped out into the open and confirmed I was on the rocky point we were targeting. This was definitely one of the better vantage points in Kahana Valley.


Chenay soon joined me, and we hung around for a while to appreciate the surroundings.
Looking mauka, we could see the ridge snake its way up to Puu Pauao in the clouds.

This vantage point would be a destination in itself, but Chenay reminded me we had other places to be.
Zooming in, the fun and challenging “teeth” of Piei Makai stand out in the shadows.

Refocused, we made our way back to the main ridge, grabbed our gear, and continued makai. We continued to make good progress. Some stretches were surprisingly open while others required more effort. But it all balanced out.

At one point we looked back and could see how far we had traveled from our “prominent rocky feature.” (Spot is too cool to not have a name. Let’s call it Reference Rock, for now.) That’s it in profile, just left of the puu at center.

Moving along, other spur ridges appeared. Some (below) looked really exciting.
As I promised Chenay, the uluhe was being replaced with “trumpet trees” and bad rock. Some sections were so brittle that the slightest foot pressure re-arranged the trail bed. I luckily realized not to trust the large rock in the photos below. A gentle tap was enough to drop this chunk hundreds of feet.

As we neared our goal, we began to encounter several ups and downs that were a bit unexpected. Some were narrow enough to require caution, but the ultimate result was simply a slower pace versus a threat of danger. Given the time of day, though, I checked my watch more than a few times on these parts to make sure we weren’t getting into trouble. In the end, I believe Chenay agreed that some of these spots looked worse from a distance that they were up close.

There were two spots that made the final ascent more rewarding: a diagonal climb on hands, knees, and feet up a loosely vegetated slope….and a short rock face that I scaled before dropping a rope for Chenay. Once the terrain started to level off, we sat down to relax and study our route. Once again, “Reference Rock” is visible, at the very top of the photo. As a reference point, we had begun our bushwhack a fair distance mauka of that - out of view from this angle.

As the sun set behind the Koolaus, the scenery became even more pleasant. With darkness encroaching, we finished our meal and crossed the actual summit of Puu Piei, before descending down the “traditional” route back into the valley. When our eyes alone couldn’t guide us, we broke out the headlamps to finish the journey through the forest and back to the car.

We were fatigued and scratched up from the bushwhack (tore my pants apart) but as always, it was definitely worth it. Pauao ridge has killer views from tip to tail, and wildly varied terrain and challenges one end versus the other.

Hike date:  December 2011


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