This morning (6/2/96), I had the good fortune to join members of the Sierra Club for a superb trek up Tripler Ridge to the Koolau Summit. Actually, I had found out about the hike at the 11th hour. I didn't possess the most up-to-date SC newsletter so I was unaware of the schedule for May and June hikes. A fellow I had exchanged email with, David Tasaka, came to the rescue. He not only told me about the Tripler Ridge outing, but also agreed to mail me the newest club newsletter. Mahalo, David!!
Club members and guests self-selected different levels of difficulty for the hike up the ridge. The "easy" group would venture to an open eroded spot on the ridge just beyond the two large pine trees easily visible from many points from Aiea to Honolulu (take a look above Tripler some time when you're driving along H1 and the pair of towering trees stand out distinctly). The "moderate" group would hike about three miles up the trail before turning around. The "strenuous" group would make the six- mile journey to the summit.
The group heading for the top departed around 8:45 a.m. I had hoped to join them but was delayed and didn't leave my home in Kaneohe until 9 a.m. By 9:30, I had parked my vehicle along the roadway at the highest point of the Tripler grounds, booted-up, shouldered my pack, and was off.
Faced with a 45-minute late start, I wasn't sure if I could catch up with the "strenuous" group but thought I'd hump along as quickly as I could.
The first section of the hike follows a steep, narrow paved road for about a mile and a quarter. Near the road's end, I passed the first hikers--a mother and her seven year old son (my estimate), who had a mom-what-are-you-doing-to-me? look on his face. Huffing and sweating heavily at that point, I smiled a hello to the heavy-pack-carrying mom and pushed on.
At the apex of the paved road was a brick building that was home to an unmanned radar station. A dirt road continued mauka for a couple hundred yards and then turned to a trail right after a pair of powerline towers. Not far after the trail began, I spotted more hikers ahead. In minutes, I had hustled by them, all members of the "easy" group.
Early on, the trail climbed gently through thick groves of guava and strawberry guava. Dripping wet with perspiration now, I jogged by more hikers, several I recognized from previous outings with the Sierra Club. Several wished me well on my attempt to catch the "strenuous" group, who were "moving at a pretty good pace," I was told. I even met David Tasaka for the first time. We talked briefly and shook hands. A minute later, I continued on.
At about the 40- to 45-minute mark, I passed the moderate group, most of whom were resting at the base of one of the two aforementioned large pine trees. I announced my intention as I strided by and one person patted me on the shoulder in a gesture of encouragement. Reese Ligget, one of the local Sierra Club's most vocal public figures (he ram-rodded the campaign to open up public access to the Hawaii Loa Ridge and Wiliwilinui, among others), was leading this bunch, and he said I'd have to hustle to catch up with the summit ascenders, about 25 in all, he reckoned.
I hiked on alone for another 20 minutes.
The vegetation along the trail became increasingly native, with uluhe ferns, ohia, and koa the most dominant species. Below to the left was Moanalua Valley, a good distance above where homes ended. Rising up in a parallel fashion to the right was the ridge on the ewa side of Kalihi Valley, atop which was the rugged Bowman trail.
After descending a steep eroded section, I spotted a trio of hikers--two males and a female--a hundred yards ahead. In a couple of minutes I had caught up to them. The female, a slender 30-ish Oriental gal, turned out to be the "sweep" (trailing hike leader) of the "strenuous" group. I told her about my late start and about my hour-plus effort to track them down.
After a few minutes of traversing a series of gentle, the trio plus an orange-shirted newcomer strided up to the summit-bound group, then hunkered down trailside for a rest break. The hike leader, Cedric Yoshimoto, and a second assistant (a bubbly young haole woman, name unknown) acknowledged my presence and signed me in. In all, it had taken me about 90 minutes to catch up with the group. I was just a bit tired but eager to press on.
Hiking on, we reached about an elevation of 1,500 to 1,600 feet. There, the trail moved onto mostly open ridge. A mile and a quarter ahead, in magnificent clarity, was the deep-green summit line of the Koolaus, unobscured by clouds or haze. At a distance, the trail further ahead was vaguely discernible, but it was clear what line we would ascend to reach the top--the path rose gradually upward to the base of the mountain's bulk and then veered upward with intimidating steepness along what appeared to be a razor-thin spur.
Rising up a half-mile ewa was the middle ridge of Moanalua Valley, atop which was a trail that led to the 2,820-foot peak Keahiakahoe (I had hiked up this ridge in December '95). Continuing to mirror us to the right was the Bowman ridge trail that topped out at Pu'u Kahuauli (elevation 2,740).
As we hiked on under a mostly-cloudless sky, several members of the group decided to turn back, including the slender "sweep," apparently a Tripler-Ridge first-timer who said that she had had enough for the day. I had no such thoughts. My main concern was if I had brought an adequate supply of water to see me through the hike's end. A profuse sweater, I had consumed about a third of my gallon supply with still another hour of hiking before the summit. In my early morning haste, I had forgotten to pack anything to eat. Shipwreck victims had survived under more extreme circumstances, I told myself.
The group, now down to 20, continued the upward push. We passed above two sections where landslides had eaten away at the mountain, creating precarious dropoffs of hundreds of feet. At times, the path moved over broad sections of the ridge. At others, the trail was barely more than a foot wide, calling for vigilance and concentration on our part.
By noon, we had reached a small metal-stake-marked plateau at about 2,200 feet in elevation. Just before the stake, a trail steeply descended down a side ridge along a string of powerline poles into Moanalua Valley. Looming a hundred yards ahead of us was a massive several-hundred foot pu'u that experienced members of the group warned us was a false summit. Once scaled, the pu'u was the last major hurdle on our journey to the top. Our leader, Cedric, a gentle-voiced, knowledgeable man and a physician by trade, said we'd be eating lunch at the summit clearing by 12:30.
The group puffed its way up the steep pu'u and continued pushing toward the ridgetop. Just as Cedric had predicted, at just past 12:30, the first of us had reached a sizable grassy knoll (10 yards wide by 30 yards long) high above Likelike Highway and Kaneohe. The elevation was 2,760 feet.
The summit panorama was the among the best I've ever experienced. We were blessed with a day with near-pristine conditions, for nary a cloud hovered near the length of the Koolaus. A quarter- mile south along the thickly vegetated summit ridge was Pu'u Kahuauli. Continuing southeast, the ridge dipped into a low saddle above the Wilson Tunnel and rose up hundreds of feet to Pu'u Lanihuli. About three miles distant, at the far side of ridge above Nuuanu Valley, was Pu'u Konahuanui, the high point of the Koolaus at 3,105 feet.
North along the ridge, less than a hundred yards from our position, was a 100-foot goalpost-shaped powerline tower. About a half-mile further away was Pu'u Keahiakahoe, and a quarter-mile beyond it, a concrete cabin structure sitting precariously at the end ridge's end.
Across the island to the west, clouds enshrouded the peaks of Oahu's highest points, Ka'ala (elevation 4,025 ft.) and Kalena (3,504). Sprawled under them the was the island's central plain, formerly dominated by expanses of cane, now dotted with housing developments.
Below us, the mountain fell off to the windward side almost straight down for a couple thousand feet. A handful of the first arrivals snatched up spots along the edge of the clearing so that their boots dangled over the side as they guzzled liquids and gobbled-down lunch. Cars raced down and up Likelike Highway. Below that lay Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens and the subdivision of Keapuka where I live. I scanned closely and even spotted my house, where from my front yard I had looked mauka hundreds of times to the very spot I stood upon.
Out in Kaneohe Bay, a dozen catamarans darted and dashed about in a game of ocean tag. Inland toward Kailua, triple-peaked Olomana served as a pointer to Manana (Rabbit) Island and beyond to the islands of Molokai and Maui, clearly visible with the naked eye. So clear was it that someone with a pair of binoculars said he even could see the summit peaks of the Big Island.
I snapped a handful of photos of this beauty milieu before I ran out of film (major bummer). Thereafter, I removed my boots and massaged my feet in anticipation of the joint-jarring descent to our starting point. I even took 10 minutes to lay back, close my eyes, and breathe in the sweet trade winds that danced over the ridge.
After an hour at the top, Cedric roused us to prepare for the return trip. At 1:45, we left our summit paradise. My feet crying out in protest, I descended slowly, drifting several minutes behind the bulk of the group. Several folks limped behind me, victims of cramps, sore joints, or fatigue. Cedric assumed the sweep position for the descent. The group took three or four breaks during the downward trek and by 4:30 we all had successfully completed our ascent and descent of the rugged magnificence of Tripler Ridge.