A Three-Hike Weekend (Turner)

Waimalu Ditch, Pali Puka & Notches, Waianae Kai

Well, the fall '96 semester begins tomorrow (8/26) at Leeward Community College where I teach, and it's back to work for me after a restful and hike-filled summer. I used this past weekend as one final chance to immerse myself in Oahu's backcountry before lesson plans, essays, tests, and tenure application documents move into the priority file.

On Friday (8/23), I led my friend Mike Uslan and his wife and daughter up the Waimalu Ditch Trail. The trail begins atop Pearlridge Heights on Onikiniki Street. A quiet gated community is situated there and the path into the valley starts adjacent to its entrance gate. After a short steep descent, we contoured along a ridge trail for 30 minutes before arriving at Waimalu Stream. We looked for mountain apples along the trail, but the trees, though numerous, were fruitless.

The trail crosses the stream, skirts around the front side of a finger ridge, and continues up the valley. Another hour of hiking along a mostly tree-covered trail (we did find a few mountain apples along this section) brought us to an open grassy spot with a superb view of the undeveloped green splendor of upper Waimalu Valley. In another 10-15 minutes we reached some excellent swimming holes in the stream. Not one to miss an opportunity to make a big splash, I plopped my considerable bulk into the cool eight-foot deep water of one of the pools. Marvelous! Total roundtrip hike time = 3.5 hours.

On Saturday (8/24), I headed up to the Pali Lookout for a couple of short solo hikes. If you've never really scanned the ridgelines that rise up to the right and left of the lookout, take a look at these the next time you're heading Kailua-bound up Pali Highway. Or for that matter, check these out if you're over on the windward side.

What you'll see are two remarkable manmade features on the ridges. Assuming a townside approach up Nuuanu Valley, what you'll see above the right side of the lookout is a series of teeth-like notches. If you follow the ridgeline to the left of the lookout, you'll see that it rises up fairly steeply to a point where a small puka appears in the mountainside.

Unbeknown to most, these features occupy places in Hawaiian history. Both were created by the members of the army of Kalanikupule, the chief who Kamehameha defeated at the Nuuanu Pali (also known as Ka Nuku [lit. "the mountain pass"]). Kalanikupule had cannons mounted at both the notches and the puka to aid his forces. Apparently, these emplacements had tactical value in keeping Kamehameha and his army at bay, at least temporarily. Not to be outdone by his Oahu rival, Kamehameha ordered a select group of warriors to climb from Manoa Valley up the ridge to Konahuanui and make a precipitous, death-defying descent to the notches to sack the Oahu warriors manning the cannons there. If you look at the ridge descending from the top down to the notches, you'll see what an amazing feat Kamehameha's commandos pulled off.

On Saturday, I climbed to both the puka and the notches via short, steep trails. The trailhead to the puka trail begins atop a stone wall on the side of the parking lot where tour buses park. A sign next to the trail warns of the danger of continuing on beyond that point.

The trail ascends an eroded hillside through guava and ironwood trees to the ridgeline. Thereafter, the path proceeds straight up the oft-wind-whipped ridge, at times right along the ridge's edge and at others off to its left (Nuuanu) side through a canopy of small trees. There's enough rocks, trees, and roots to grab onto to offer security. The final approach to the puka is along a 4-foot wide, 20-foot rock dike with steep dropoffs left and right. If the wind blows up and over the ridgetop as it normally does, traversing this section can be a bit unnerving. Fortunately, Saturday was a humid, minimal-wind day, and I arrived without incident at the puka, a six-foot by three-foot oval shaped carved through the mountainside. A 12-story overhanging rockface blocks further progress along the ridge beyond the puka.

After climbing to the puka, I descended back to the lookout and began the ascent to the notches on the opposite side. Trails leading up the hillside on the right side of the lookout are readily evident. I passed a sign, heeding warnings to watch for falling rock and to not use rappelling equipment.

There are several ways to approach the notches. That day, I chose the scenic route along the ridgeline. Initially, I followed an eroded trail up a small ravine. Fifty yards upslope, the path split and I opted to take the left fork that veered windward toward the edge of the ridge (the right fork proceeded basically straight up through a forested, severely eroded trail). An alternate ascent route begins at the end of the parking lot furthest from the lookout (not recommended).

I scrambled upward, negotiating a steep, crumbly rock trail over the final 150 yards or so. Several hundred feet below, hikers strolled along the Old Pali Road to and from the lookout. At the lookout itself, armies--of tourists not Hawaiian warriors-- battled for the best photo op spots. Windward Oahu from Lanikai to Kualoa was visible during the entire ascent.

The notches are approximately 15- x 15-foot cuts into the seven- foot wide spine of the mountain. I spent some time resting atop the ridge, my feet dangling over the edge into the first notch. I gazed upslope toward Konahuanui and imagined brave, loyal men picking their way down the dangerous mountainside in a surprise commando raid. I imagined warriors fighting for their lives there, some successful, others not.

Today (Sunday 8/26), I drove to Oahu's west shore for the five-mile traverse of the Waianae-Kai Loop Trail. My intention was to join the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club trail-clearing crew, but I arrived at the hike's starting point at the farthest reaches of Waianae Valley Road 45-minutes after their scheduled 8 a.m. launch time.

I proceeded up single-lane concrete road wondering if my vehicle would be stolen or broken into during the three-plus hours I'd be on the trail (I always tell people that when I go hiking I'm usually more concerned about my car than myself). The road approach, steep at times, leaves much to be desired. But because the state forestry folks had decided to put a lock on a gate (buildings housing Board of Water Supply well sites had been vandalized in the area), a mile-plus hump up the road is what one has to submit to to reach the trailhead.

The paved road gives way to a 4WD dirt road after about 30- minutes of sweaty tramping. Koa, ohia, and silk oak trees, some quite massive, occupied spots in the forest along the way. Five minutes later, the dirt road ended and the trail began. After dipping up and down a couple of ravines, the route turned into a heart-pounding, sweat-dripping, lung-heaving climb straight up the ridge.

About 90 minutes after leaving my car, I had reached the spine of Kamaileunu Ridge at an elevation of 2,720 feet. My heart slamming in my chest and my mesh shirt and cotton gym shorts thoroughly sweat-soaked, I stumbled to the concrete base of a powerline tower on the ridgetop and slumped down there. It's amazing what water, rest, and a nice view can do for one's energy level, for after gulping down a liter of H20, relaxing for five minutes, and scanning the panorama of the makai-side Waianae coastline and the mauka-side views of Ka'ala, Kalena, and other peaks, I was ready to resume my trek.

Once the ridgetop is gained, the trail veers makai for about half a mile. About midway along the ridge, I caught up with the HTMC crew, about 15 strong that day. Instead of sticking with them, I continued by the group, thanking them for letting me pass as I strided by.

At a sizable clearing along the ridge, the trail heads left and descends steeply to the valley floor. Koa, ohia, and guava trees and a dry trail helped to facilitate my downward ramble. While descending, I could hear the sound of someone clapping, whistling, and whooping in the valley below. My hunch was that it was a hunter calling for his dog(s), but I also reckoned it could be some yahoo type making noise for the hell of it.

I made it back to the paved road about 40 minutes after leaving the ridgetop. On the way, I met the clapper-whistler-whooper (I was right--it was a hunter calling for a lost dog). Actually, I met a half dozen of his pit bulls before I met him. They charged up the trail at me before the hunter, a no-nonsense, knife- wielding, 6-foot-2, 200-pounder, realized what was happening and called them off.

Relieved that I wasn't ripped to ribbons by the dogs, I continued down the road to my car, which, by the grace of some higher power, was still there and unmolested. Total hike time: just over three hours.

I suppose I could have laid around at home this weekend resting up for the piles of work I'll be presented with tomorrow and in the months ahead. Aching feet and legs notwithstanding, spending my time hiking in Oahu's magnificent mountains was, I think, the right choice.

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