Steve Brown was the HTMC honcho for today's hike, and among the news he passed on to the 15 or so folks who braved the impending u'a was that instead of descending into Kalauao, the group would make the 4.5-mile journey around the muddy and pedestrian Aiea Loop Trail. Steve told us he had conferred with the club's trail clearing boss, Mabel Kekino, who had recommended against traversing the planned route into the valley and along Kalauao Stream because of the possibility of flash flooding. Add to that the tragic death of a woman hiker in a raging river in Palolo Valley a week before and the club's decision was undoubtedly prudent.
We set off at around 9:45 from the upper parking lot of the Keaiwa Heiau State Park, a ceiling of gray clouds hovering overhead. Underfoot, stale-smelling mud oozed beneath the boots of a dozen plus three hikers. Strawberry guava season is at its peak and hundreds of red fruit hang from branches of trees along the trail.
While the group tramped along, I hung near the back of the pack and talked story with Steve, who I had conversed with only by email prior to that day. Several months before, I had set up a web page with information about the HTMC and Steve was helpful in providing hike schedules and suggestions about what to include and not to include on it. After the obligatory nice-to-meet- yous, Steve and I got to talking about the various side trails in the vicinity and about Kipapa, a trail I was interested in finding more about. A truly nice man, Steve proved to be a willing source of information.
The loop trail gradually rises up the ridge, reaching its highest point just below Pu'u Uau (elevation 1,656 feet). Prior to the change of plans, Steve had intended to lead the group on trail that ascended Uau and followed a finger ridge down to Kalauao Stream. Today, the group used that junction as a rest spot before continuing on the loop trail.
Since I often hike the circle route because it's conveniently located between where I work in Pearl City and where I live in Kaneohe, I wanted to try something different today. So I told Steve that I'd break off from the group and descend the ridge trail to the stream alone. He bid me well and off I went.
Mabel and the HTMC trail-clearing gang, as is their custom, had traversed the route a couple weeks prior and did a superb job hacking back the uluhe and various plantlife that had choked the descending pathway. As I hiked in a strengthening drizzle, I noted how Mable and crew were careful to spare koa saplings and other native plants from the machete's chop. An experienced and akamai group is the HTMC crew, no doubt.
From the junction with the loop trail, the descent to the river takes in the neighborhood of 30 minutes. Just as most folks occasionally do in life, I slipped a couple of times on my journey. And save for a generous coating of trail mud on my left rump, I was none the worse for my stumble. I pushed on.
Before reaching the river, the finger ridge trail intersects with another trail that contours mauka to makai. I had contemplated turning left at that junction and working my way back up to the loop trail at a point about 10 minutes before the starting point. Instead, I decided to turn right and descend to river, at the very least to check out what the water flow was like. In five minutes, I was standing on the bank of the Kalauao Stream, its chocolatey water flowing with more volume than usual. It was nothing to be alarmed about, in my estimation.
I took a few minutes to plunk myself down on a rock near the river's edge and rinse the mud off my shorts, shirt, and boots. That done, I surveyed the still-gray sky, determined that a storm surge was possible but unlikely, and opted to follow the trail downriver instead of returning the way I had descended.
The trail hugs the banks of the river, crossing it fourteen times. Right after the fifth crossing, a 15-foot waterfall, gushing with impressive force today, cascaded into a good-sized pool. Numerous huddles of guava and mountain apple trees (the latter fruitless, unfortunately) are nestled along the river's shoulders. As rainshowers came and went, I watched and listened to the river carefully, always mindful of the possibility of a sudden rush of water. I made a mental note not to panic if a flash flood occurred. If it did, I'd wait it out, even if doing so meant enduring some temporary discomfort.
I completed the stream trail section and its 15 river crossings in about 45 minutes. That done, I'd have to climb out of the valley on a steep, slippery trail and make my way back to the trailhead via the Aiea Loop.
Before ascending, I nestled down on a rock at the base of the trail up, retrieved from my pack my water bottle and lunch (ham and potato au gratin--Meal Ready to Eat), and switched into consumption mode. Even as rain rattled on the jungle canopy overhead, I sat in my temporary jungle abode, drenched like a wet rag, immersed in a comforting sense of security. With silent kid-like glee, I shoveled down my meal and slurped down my water.
One person's bad weather day is another's nirvana, I suppose. I ascended without incident, striding the final meters to my car in a driving rainshower, an apt conclusion to my hike into a quite damp but sublimely comforting mountain valley.