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Like the Castle Trail, the Kapalama Loop trail is not open to the public. The trailhead is at the top of the Kamehameha Schools campus up on Kapalama Heights in Kalihi. If you want to hike this five mile loop, contact the Kamehameha Schools.
As a Kamehameha graduate, one would expect that I had hiked the trail many times over the years. However, it was not until about 20 years after I graduated from the Schools that I took the proverbial plunge and discovered the superb beauty of this trek. Right after the Spring 1995 semester ended, my friend Guy Kaulukukui (KS '78) and I arranged to take the hike on what turned out to be an overcast a slightly blustery day.
According to Guy, he had hiked the loop many times. In fact, he told me stories about how his track coach, Hardy Hutchinson, subjected him and the other distance runners to training runs over the route every Saturday during track season. Not one to pass up a good thing (or a good method of torture), Guy carried on the run-the-loop tradition with his runners when he became a coach years later.
As Guy told me these stories, I was a bit skeptical because the route is steep, rocky, and slippery at points, and I had difficulty picturing anyone running along the path we were negotiating. Actually, the trail is a fairly good one as far as hiking goes. But running? I dunno about that.
What ever the case, we ventured upward and after 20 minutes or so we arrived at an overlook with a beautiful view of the Oahu Country Club in Nuuanu Valley. Thereafter, the trail contours along the ridgeline and after about an hour, it becomes quite overgrown with ferns. Here's a tip: wear long pants if you do this hike or else you risk having your shins scratched up. I did the hike twice in shorts and still have scratches on my legs as trophies.
After about 90 minutes of steady uphill hiking, we reached the turnaround point which is where the ridge we'd been hiking intersected with another ridge ewa of us. The trail continues mauka from there, and Guy had tried to reach Pu'u Lanihuli at the Koolau summit on two previous occasions but was unsuccessful. He described sections of densely overgrown ferns and others along razor thin ridgelines that he and his hiking companions negotiated by crawling on all fours. Guy told me about others who have tried the summit assault and knew of no one who had reached the top. Undoubtedly, a summit assault is tough and hairy.
Not feeling in the mood for risky hiking, Guy and I headed makai on the return leg of the loop. After an initial 30 minutes descending along the ridgeline, the trail becomes a series of long and gentle switchbacks that ends at the bottom of a dried up Kapalama Stream. Along the way, we had nice views into upper Kalihi Valley and passed a dilapidated cabin that Guy told me was in good condition up until the early 80s. Pay attention to the ribbon markers while descending the switchbacks, for it is easy to stray off onto a side trail when you should have turned at the corner of a switchback.
After crossing the riverbed, the trail contours along the side of ridge and connects back about a quarter mile above the trailhead. With breaks and a 10 minute stop for lunch, the hike took us less than three hours. If you want to try reaching the summit, plan on an overnighter, or at the very least, a very early start.
Again, you need permission from Kamehameha Schools to get access to the trail. If you have the wherewithal, give the Kapalama Loop a try.
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