Kipapa Trail (1997)

Kipapa Trail (1997)

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Pat Rorie (, Dayle Turner (, and Pete Caldwell ( collaborated to compose the following narrative about an epic hike up the Kipapa Trail, north along the Koolau Summit Trail, and down the Schofield Trail. Enjoy!
At 6:00am on Saturday, June 21, 1997, Pete Caldwell, Dayle Turner, Don Fox, Gene Robinson, Patrick Rorie and his buddy Laredo gathered at the parking lot of Anna Miller's in Pearl City for the start of what Gene would later refer to as "the ultimate day hike." Although the skies were cloudy and intermittent rain showers pelted the Koolaus, the sixsome agreed to give their proposed trek a go since it already had been postponed on an earlier attempt a couple months prior. The group parked their vehicles at Neil Blaisdell Park and at 6:40 a.m. piled in Gene's pickup truck bound for the head of the Kipapa Trail near Mililani on Oahu's central plateau.

After crossing over H-2 on the Pineapple Road overpass, they reached Koa Ridge Ranch just after 7. Because of prior special permission, they were granted access through a locked gate. Under ordinary circumstances, outsiders are prohibited from entering this area.

Driving along Pineapple Road was like a trip back in time and was reminiscent of the Big Island's Kohala district. Patrick found it hard to believe such a place exists on populous Oahu. One of the baby horses they saw as they drove by was only two weeks old!

At 7:17 the men jumped out of Gene's truck, talked briefly with a wahine caretaker, walked past a fenced-in pack of agitated hunting dogs, and hiked the short distance to the trailhead, marked with an old wooden sign stating

"Kipapa Trail D.L.N.R. '32 6 miles"
Dayle took a quick photo of Patrick next to the sign, and the group moved down the trail at 7:20. The first part of Kipapa follows a four-wheel drive road past paperbark trees. Don led the way.

Kipapa, by the way, literally translates to "placed prone," a reference to the slain bodies of invading forces from the Big Island, losers to local Oahu warriors in a 14th century battle (Pukui, et al, *Place Names of Hawaii*). Hopefully, the six hikers on this day wouldn't be "placed prone" after negotiating the long, rough Kipapa Trail.

The men, all donning raingear because of misty weather, reached a junction at 7:35 and Don inadvertantly went right and down when he should have headed left. Patrick took the ramrod position since he had been on this lower section of Kipapa Trail only a few weeks earlier during an exploratory jaunt.

The group followed the trail through thick strawberry guava, stopping briefly to enjoy a view spot toward Pearl Harbor and Makakilo at 7:50. Next they traveled through patches of solid uluhe fern. Further on they passed an interesting-looking fan palm tree grove and a large Norfolk island pine at 7:57. They passed another grove of beautiful fan palms at 8:20.

At 8:50 the group took a water break and Pat used the opportunity to put on his long golf pants in anticipation of the worsening trail conditions ahead. Dayle commented that "the trail isn't in such bad shape." However, little did he realize he had sealed the group's fate for the rest of the trek, for the condition of the trail deteriorated soon afterward.

The next stretch contoured past several landslides and had the men scrambling, sometimes over the top of fallen trees or under them on their hands and knees. Negotiating these obstacles slowed their pace.

Continuing through a mixed forest of koa, guava, and uluhe, the group stopped again at 9:50 to rest. The sun came out as partial clearing took place. As Pat continued leading the group, the trail all but disappeared because of uluhe overgrowth.

At 10:05, along a Wahiawa-facing contour section, the men encountered a massive landslide which obliterated all but a sliver of the trail. The drop off was steep enough to cause hesitation. Pat thought about negotiating the precarious sliver but with nothing to hang onto above, he thought better of the attempt. Meanwhile, Pete began forging a bypass trail on the uluhe-covered hillside above the landslide and the others, clinging to whatever trees and roots they could find, followed closely behind.

As the men moved away from the landslide at approximately 10:20, Gene took the ramrod position. Scattered Australian tea trees populated the trail and clouds obscured the ridge top. After passing below a hill topped by a pair of Norfolk island pines, the six hikers knew they were moving closer to their first objective--the summit of Kipapa. Next they contoured around a large hill with a lone Norfolk on top. Thereafter, the men regained the ridgeline, hiking through a long section of Australian tea.

The skies cleared again and in the distance the group could see the socked-in Waianae Range and nearby, the upper reaches of Kipapa Gulch. As they climbed higher, the clouds returned, obscuring the view of the deep, green valleys below. Another landslide section was difficult to cross because of large tree branches and slick mud.

Next the group followed the trail along the top of the ridge then as it contoured on a well defined, freeway-like segment. On the left and a couple hundred feet below was the head of Kipapa Stream and mauka of it was a small, beautiful waterfall with an inviting pool at its base. Patrick marvelled as he watched Gene and Pete hike along the trail as it contoured and climbed to a point above the falls.

At approximately 12:15 the men stopped for a lunch/rest break at a grassy landing in a gully just past an intermittent stream that feeds the waterfall. Recalling their prior hike up Kipapa, Pete and Don noted that the summit was about 30 minutes away. After the break, the men headed upward on five switchbacks. During the ascent, Pat and Gene noticed a beautiful grove of loulu across the gully. Next, with Pete leading the way, the group climbed along the leeward side of the summit ridge. They stopped briefly at a bend in the trail where Pete and Don had camped 14 years earlier! Several huge trees (not ohia or koa) and scattered loulu lay below.

At approximately 1:05 the men encountered summit-like winds and, even though they couldn't be certain because of view-blocking clouds, thought they had reached the junction with the Koolau Summit Trail (KST). Pummeled by fierce breezes, Pete and Don headed left there and the rest followed. Dayle took a compass reading as the group made its way along the ridge and told the others they were heading west. After a topo map review, Gene said the correct direction along the KST to Waikane should be north by northwest.

Hearing this, the group turned around and returned to where they had mistakenly turned left. They then contoured for 5 to 10 minutes until finding a rusty metal stake with two blue ribbons on it marking the true junction with the KST, which headed left and down at that point. Because of time constraints and clouds blocking the view, supposedly one of the best in the Koolaus, the men did not make the short trip on a trail to the right to the Kipapa summit, much to Pat's disappointment. According to the topo map, the elevation at this point is 2,786 feet. In all, it had taken nearly six hours to travel the six-mile Kipapa Trail.

And worse conditions lay ahead.

Laredo led the group as they left the rusty metal stake behind and descended the KST toward Waikane. The time was 1:27. In 10 minutes or so, they reached the stacked remains of a cabin. A grove of tall sugi pine trees lay just below the trail to the left as they headed north toward Waikane.

Dayle assumed the ramrod at this point. The human bulldozer made it very easy for the others to move along the trail which was hard to find because of incredible overgrowth. Everyone concluded that no one had used it for years and Pat commented that this section of the KST is another on the rapidly growing endangered-trails list.

The group lost the trail again but after searching around Laredo rediscovered it. Even when on the right track progress was pathetically slow. The men rotated into the ramrod slot as often as possible because the person in front was paying a heavy toll in abuse and fatigue. Every once in a while an open, incredibly windswept (30-40 mph at times on this day) section was encountered and the men would shout out in glee at the discovery. At one of these wind-whipped sections, a short tree near the summit ridge looked like a hand flipping the bird!

But these freeway segments rarely lasted long and the norm was a snail-like trudge through badly overgrown stretches of trail, almost without exception to leeward, the more heavily vegetation-choked side. Disorientation because of cloudy conditions and/or massive uluhe thickets continued, so Dayle constantly checked his compass and Gene his topo map to make sure the group was heading north (toward Waikane junction).

Gene did an exceptional job, pulling long stints in the ramrod slot and helping the group make much needed progress. Although obviously fatigued, he continued without complaint. While moving along a decent leeward section, Dayle spotted a large black wild boar dash down the trail right after Patrick walked by. It moved away quickly, and Patrick was bummed he didn't get a chance to see it.

At Dayle's urging, Patrick relieved Gene at approx. 4:30. "Psycho" took out his bolo knife and with a sense of urgency furiously cut through uluhe and pushed the pace as much as he could. The group moved faster for a stretch mainly because the trail opened up slightly (not a freeway but better than usual). However, the trail once again became incredibly overgrown and Pat lost it.

While the other men tried to find the trail without success, Laredo ascended the summit ridge claiming that a groove (rut) he saw must be the KST. Pat and Dayle looked at each other and mumbled, "The trail isn't designed that way" (the KST, as a rule, almost exclusively contours along the side of the ridge rather than moving along its top). Gene and Don followed Laredo while Pat, Pete and Dayle waited for a report from them. The three in front were advised to go left and descend after they made significant progress along the summit ridge. They did so trying to pick up the contour trail.

Pat and Pete followed them up the summit ridge but instead of going left and down continued up the spine of the ridge to see what they could find. Laredo, Gene and Don became frustrated and returned to the summit ridge and met Dayle there. Pat and Pete waved to the group below to ascend the windy, cloud-enshrouded ridgetop. When the group was reunited they discussed strategy, including the possibility of spending the night out since it was nearing 5:30.

Deciding to continue along the ridge top, the group moved on led by Dr. Pete Caldwell. When they reached a point where the ridge split, the clouds opened momentarily. Gene and Pete pleaded for the white stuff to blow away long enough for the group to see the windward side to gage how much further they had to go. No dice.

The men fanned out on the fairly broad, descending ridge looking for the best way to proceed. Laredo continued along the right edge of the summit ridge scrambling as he went. Pat, Dayle, and Pete were stationary, hoping the clouds would part again revealing where the group was in relation to Waikane Valley, Ohulehule, and other windward landmarks. Don, thinking he discerned the KST ahead, descended along the ridge's left (leeward) side.

Soon after Pat, Dayle, and Pete followed him. There was much rejoicing when the men reached a windswept section and found the KST again. Pat took the ramrod and instructed Laredo, just above the trail, how to get to it from his ridgetop position. Five minutes later, the group encountered a detour in the trail which crossed a small gully. Patrick recognized the area as part of the stretch he had explored on May 4, the same day HTMC cleared Schofield Trail. A renewed hope of getting out without having to stay overnight now existed.

Talk shifted to Pu'u Ka'aumakua (lit. "the family god"), the distinct hilltop on the summit crest that marks the highest part of the Waikane Trail. "That's gotta be it," said Pete to Dayle on several occasions when he spotted a high hilltop ahead in the clouds. After several incorrect calls, Ka'aumakua was finally reached, first by Patrick and Laredo, and soon thereafter by the four others. A rusty metal stake marked the junction of the KST and Waikane Trail. The group had covered the 2.2 rugged and excruciating miles from the top of Kipapa to the KST-Waikane junction in five long, tiring hours!

At that point, the wind bellowed with great intensity. Since it was about 6:15 the men agreed to proceed the wind-tunnel half mile on the KST to reach the more traversed Schofield Trail and descend it to Wahiawa since it was in much better shape than Waikane, the original descent choice. For some reason the men weren't up to the challenge of crossing landslides in the dark!!!

Once again Pat took the lead followed by his shadow Laredo. When all of the men arrived at the Schofield summit at about 6:35, they rested briefly. The clouds lifted periodically and the group enjoyed the breathtaking views of Waikane and Kahana Valleys below that they had been deprived of all day. Dayle asked everyone to stay within sight of each other especially when darkness set in since there were only four flashlights among them. Pat seemingly agreed, saying, "Let's stay relatively close together." However, Pat and Laredo had other ideas and had already discussed a plan to go as fast and as far as possible during the remaining daylight.

At 6:47 Pat and Laredo started down Schofield followed by Gene and the others. Pat and Laredo moved very rapidly and were surprised that Gene was able to keep up with them. Just before darkness set in Gene called out to them to wait since he was alone and didn't have a flashlight but they didn't hear him and continued their descent. When darkness made it too difficult to hike without the aid of a flashlight Pat and Laredo decided to stop for a rest. They enjoyed the city lights off in the distance as they ate and drank.

Meanwhile, Pete, Don, and Dayle, moving at a slower pace, eventually caught up with Gene, who continued hiking slowly for a considerable distance in the dark without a light. Dayle and Pete commented about Laredo and Pat's location. "`Relatively close' must mean a mile or two," joked Dayle.

The trailing group of four stopped on a couple occasions to rest, eat, drink water, and at one point to call worried loved ones via cell phone.

Using Laredo's small flashlight, Pat and Laredo completed the 6-mile Schofield Trail by 9 p.m. Looking back Pat could see the almost mahealani (full) moon, visible for a few moments in between clouds above the Ko'olaus. The stars also appeared every once in a while. As for the others, they were "relatively close" behind--75 minutes to be precise. To pass the time, the two early arrivals lay down to sleep.

Just before 10 p.m. Pat woke up shivering and realized the others had not reached the trailhead yet. He hoped they were alright as he stood up and moved around to keep warm.

At 10:15 Dayle, Pete, Gene and Don reached the trailhead, Dayle teasing Pat and Laredo about how "relatively close" they had stuck with the group. After a 15-minute rest, the re-united gang of six moved together down the 2.5-mile dirt-gravel road that leads to the Army's East Range ranger barracks and then to California Avenue.

Dayle's good friend and hiking buddy Bill Melemai was waiting with his van at the end of California Avenue near the water tanks. For the famished, thirsty, and tired sixsome, Bill had cold bottled water, muffins, Jumbo Jacks and chicken sandwiches which they devoured without delay. Dayle had cell-phoned Bill from the Schofield Trail a few hours earlier and he was kind enough to meet them. Mahalo nui, Bill!

The ending time for the hike was 11:30 p.m., over 16 hours after the gang of six had launched from the Kipapa trailhead. The ultimate day hike? No doubt.

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