Pu'u Kaua

Pu'u Kaua

With some free time on my hands on a recent Friday morning I made my first-ever ascent of Pu'u Kaua (elevation 3,127 feet), the third highest peak on Oahu. The distinct hump just about dead center in the Waianae range (it's easily discernible while driving toward Pearl City on H1), Kaua can be reached from a trailhead off of Kunia Road near the Kunia Golf Course (aka Hawaii Country Club).

While driving up Kunia Road, I was surprised to see the urban sprawl had made its way leeward. A couple of fairly new housing developments and a shopping center had sprung up where cane fields had once been.

Just a bit past the golf course, I veered left (mauka) off the highway onto a pine field dirt road and began the slow drive toward the upper edge of the planting area, a cloud of red dust swirling behind me as I went forth. Along the way, I passed fields recently plowed over in preparation of a new crop. Near the trailhead, I exchanged waves with a lone tractor driver piloting his huge yellow machine over the ocean of red soil.

Reaching the mauka boundary of the pine land, I parked my vehicle, booted up, loaded my pack, and headed forth into the eucalyptus forest. A few yards along the trail, a sign announced that those entering were now in the Honouliuli Forest Reserve, the domain of the Hawaii Nature Conservancy.

The trail meanders through the forest along the base of the Waianaes for an eighth of a mile or so before connecting with the Honouliuli Contour Trail, a hikers' byway that skirts along the windward side of the Waianae range from Makakilo to Kolekole Pass. The route up Kaua follows the HCT for a short bit before veering mauka for a pulse raising upward leg. The first half of the ascent was over a semi-heavily forested, broad ridge. Stands of guava dominated here, their leaves forming a crunchy carpet underfoot.

Alone on this day, upward I went, my pulse thumping like a base drum in the back of my throat and sweat cascading from my brow on this nearly windless, humid mid-morning. Just past the half-point of the ascent, the ridge narrowed to a spectacular dike--not as gnarly or breathtaking as the legendary ridge routes of Kalena and Manamana but superb nevertheless. The canopy of trees now below me, I used the opportunity to snap of few photos of our island's central plain and the far-off concrete chessboard of Honolulu to the east and southeast. To the northeast, gray rain clouds--like ghosts--rolled over the Koolaus and down toward Wahiawa and Mililani. Seeing this, I packed up and resumed my ascent, for I was certain I didn't want to be caught atop Kaua in a rainstorm.

More dripping and puffing continued and as the top neared, the angle of ascent became more pronounced. Fortunately, some well- placed rocks and ohia stumps and branches assisted my climbing.

About 90 minutes after setting out, I was standing on a grassy plateau at the summit of Pu'u Kaua. Marking this point was a geodetic survey benchmark stamp--a round, metal piece about five inches across. The summit panorama was marvelous. From that point, most of Oahu's west shore now was in view. To the southeast, I could see Lualualei Valley and Pu'u Heleakala, a 1,890 foot mini-mountain I had climbed with the Sierra Club about a month before. To the north, along the Waianae ridgeline, stood the island's two highest summits--Kaala (elevation 4,025) and Kalena, 500 feet its junior.

I didn't linger long at the top, for rain clouds were sweeping toward me. Opting to forego an alternative loop section descent route because of the threat of precipitation, I descended along the same route I had come up. I retraced my steps without incident, and in just over an hour after standing on the summit, I was in my car making my way back across the island to my home in Kaneohe.

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