Kapalama Loop Hike (5/30/97)

Kapalama Loop Hike (5/30/97)

by Dayle Turner

My hiking buddy Bill Melemai and I completed an afternoon jaunt of the Kapalama Loop trail yesterday (Friday, 5/30). The traihead can be accessed by driving to the highest part of the Kamehameha Schools or via the top of Alewa Drive.

Since Bill and I are alums of KS and can get on campus without being questioned, we start from the former. We meet at just past 3pm in the parking lot above one of the dorms and begin hiking at 3:20. We have hiked the loop several times in the past and the traverse time has usually been 2.5 hours, give or take. That being the case, I figure we will be pau by 6.

We follow a chained-off gravel road for about a 100 yards and then veer left on a trail through a forest of mostly ironwoods. Twenty yards to the right (Diamond Head direction) of the trail is a new paved access road built by KS. This road extends upslope for a quarter mile and ends abrubtly at a turnaround circle. What the Kamehameha folks plan to do up in this area is a mystery to me (and to Bill). A watertank? More campus buildings? We'll see.

After about 10 to 15 minutes, we reach an obscure junction in the forest. At that point, one can head right to the part of the loop that follows the ridge above the Oahu Country Club and Nuuanu Valley or left on a trail that contours on the Kalihi-facing side of the slope and descends down to Kapalama Stream.

Usually we do the hike in a counterclockwise manner by heading right at the junction. Today, for variety, we opt for the clockwise route and head left and down.

After a few minutes, it becomes obvious that few hikers have put boot to trail in this area recently because weeds and branches have encroached upon the path more than I recall from previous visits. We eventually reach the (dry) stream, cross it in a dark, forested area, and then pick up the trail as it heads right across the base of a wide, heavily vegetated slope. I usually carry ribbon with me when I hike but forget to stuff a roll in my pick else I would have marked this area. Some old yellow ribbons are present to give one a sense of what direction to take.

Bill and I have been through this section before so we have a sense of where the trail heads. Soon, we pick up the trail that becomes more discernible and begins an extended series of switchbacks to gain the ridgeline.

Considering the lack of traffic, most of the switchback segment is in pretty decent shape. Periodic blowdowns (fallen trees) need to be ducked under or crawled over. On a previous hike about a year and a half ago, I placed ribbons at spots where the switchback trail changes direction from mauka to makai (or vice versa) but several of these ribbons are no longer there, having either deteriorated, fallen off, been removed by someone, or blown away. And these ribbons would be helpful to someone who has never hiked the trail before because without them, it's possible to continue heading mauka on a faint (probably pig) trail when one should switchback and head makai.

Maybe an hour into the hike, as we near the top of the switchbacks, we follow a faint trail mauka for about 50 yards and arrive at a dilapidated cabin. We duck inside to examine its interior. The floor of the structure has collapsed, a tree branch has pierced the corrigated aluminum ceiling, and a plethora of names of prior visitors (and the dates of their visits) are scratched into the walls. The oldest date is 1957! Bill and I even recognize some oldtime Kamehameha names--Bob Worthington, Louis Hubbard, Raplee Fitsimmons, to name a few.

Of course, we cannot resist the urge to scratch "5/30/97", "Melemai" and "Turner" on the cabin walls.

After that 10-minute interlude, we press on up the switchbacks, passing another dilapidated cabin on the right (we had carved our names on the walls on a previous hike :-) so we don't pause here).

Just before gaining the ridgeline, I make a turn in the trail and see a black-as-charcoal baby pig sniffing around in a pile of leaves twenty feet in front of me. I stand motionless for a minute and watch the keiki pua'a continue its sniffing and rooting. Bill soon rounds the same corner and I motion for him to stop so as not to send the pig bolting away.

Now, wherever a keiki pig is, a mama (and perhaps papa) pig are bound to be nearby. Sure enough, as I stand motionless and quiet, I hear the faint shuffling of leaves on the far side of a little hump in the trail. Mama and papa and brothers and sisters? We'll see.

As I've done in the past when I spot pigs on the trail, I let out a quick yelp to alert the keiki (and any ohana members in the vicinity) that Bill and I are there. Bam, the baby pig sprints off up a slope away from us as do mama (about a 50-pounder) and three or four other na keiki. One baby darts off into a ravine to the right.

Our close encounter with mountain swines complete, we continue on the trail on its mauka tract on the ridgetop. Our progress is slowed by fallen branches, pesky uluhe and scratchy Australian tea blocking the trail, which is in the worst shape I've ever seen it. I mention to Bill that it will be a shame if this trail is ever lost to the vegetation.

At points along the ridge, we can look left (ewa) and down to see the Kamanaiki (lit. "the small branch") Ridge. Stuart Ball describes a trail on this ridge in his book.

At just past 5pm, we reach the high point of the loop at a junction marked by many ribbons and a couple of metal pipes/stakes in the ground. We rest here for 10 minutes, drinking water and eating some muffins and bananas. Did I ever tell you that Bill and I are big eaters?

From the junction, one can continue mauka up the ridge for a few hours to eventually reach the 2,700-foot peak Lanihuli (lit. "turning royal chief"). No time for that today.

The return portion of the loop initially drops into a ravine lined with a small grove of bamboo. The trail then climbs a small pu'u, drops down, and ascends to a distinct peak called Napu'umai'a (lit "the banana hill"), elevation 1,870 feet.

Kekoalele (lit. "the leaping warrior") Ridge, which starts by the Oahu Country Club in Nuuanu Valley, rises up to join Napu'umai'a. I eyeball Kekoalele as I hike along. It looks do-able, and I'll give it a go on another day.

Meanwhile, down the main ridge Bill and I proceed pushing our way through thick uluhe tangles for a good spell. Fortunately, this segment, since folks use it as the primary route to Lanihuli, seems a bit more traveled than the opposite side of the loop. It's far from a freeway, though.

The trail eventually opens up (read: no uluhe), takes us past a couple of rock outcroppings that span the trail and some beautifully flowering ohia trees. The path then passes benchmarked Waolani (lit. "heavenly mountain area"), said to be a place of significance in Hawaiian lore. According to legend, Waolani is where Hawaiian gods built the first heiau in the islands, and where the first man, Wakea, was born. Wow!

All along the route are nice views of Nu'uanu Valley and of downtown Honolulu. We even spot a couple more pigs darting off along the slope to our left a few yards off the trail.

We return to our cars around 6:30. Total time 3 hours, 10 minutes. Estimated distance--5 to 6 miles.

In his well-known hiking book, Stuart Ball refers to this as "a beautiful loop hike in the Koolau foothills." I concur. We just have to find a way to keep hiking it so we don't lose it.

Aloha and safe hiking to all,


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