Ulupaina

Ulupaina

by Dayle Turner

One night while channel-surfing through the several dozen TV channels available to Oahu residents, I spotted a blurb about a Sierra-Club sponsored hike along the Ulupaina trail, a trek I hadn't heard about before. Curious, I grabbed my copy of Stuart Ball's _A Hikers Guide to Oahu_ and thumbed my way through it until I found a brief description of Ulupaina in the "Closed hikes" section.

"A short loop hike in the foothills above Kaneohe" is all Ball said about it. The thought of a hike so close to home had me foaming at the proverbial bit. Pawing my way through a couple of maps I have, I found Ulupaina, with a trailhead along Kahekili Highway not far past Haiku Road.

Thinking that I'd have no problem hooking up with the hiking group, I didn't bother (foolishly, in hindsight) calling the Sierra Club contact phone number to obtain info.

Sunday, the day of the hike, arrived, and after packing my gear, my water, and a snack, I jumped in my vehicle at 8:20 and rumbled off for the short drive from my Keapuka home to what I thought would be an easy-to-spot trailhead along Kahekili Highway. I knew the advertised start time for the trek was 8:30 a.m., and when I drove back and forth between Kahaluu and Kaneohe along Kahekili several times spotting nary a hiker and no visible trailhead markers, my disappointment grew.

Determined to find the trail and the Sierra Club posse, I parked along Kahekili near the bottom of what Windwardites refer to as the "Big Dip," a gorge just Kaneohe-side of Temple Valley. Near that point I had spotted what appeared to be a trail heading mauka.

After an initial steep 100-yard section up an eroded red- dirt hill, the trail leveled off and disappeared into thick vegetation. While advancing through the curtain of green, suddenly and unexpectedly a makeshift encampment came into view. My heart raced. As I advanced a few steps further, I noticed a weightlifting bench and barbell plates scattered about. Resting atop the bench was a rectangular AM/FM cassette radio. Wild thoughts raced through my mind: What if this was the camp of some get-rich-quick, weight-pumping, AK-47-wielding crystal meth manufacturer? Or what if some former military vet--haunted by flashbacks about his time in Viet Nam--had retreated to the bush and was waiting to ambush the enemy (me)?

A hardcore hiker through and through, I suppose my desire to find the trail was more overpowering than my fear of surprising a would-be assailant, for I pressed on, making certain to announce my presence by repeatedly calling out "hello" loudly and firmly. Ten feet to my left, under a blue tarp that had been affixed to the branches of some small trees, a human figure stirred on a mosquito-net enclosed, raised-cot.

"I'm looking for Ulupaina," I announced while silently praying I wouldn't be shot. My host, an unshaven, gaunt-faced haole guy, who I'd estimate to be in his mid-thirties, rolled over and matter-of-factly told me he knew nothing of the trail I sought but urged me to continue mauka to hack my way up the ridge. "Only pig trails back there," he added, then rolled over, perhaps returning to dreams of a wife, a home, and a job long gone.

Not wanting to linger, I pressed forward quickly, glad to leave that unexpected scene behind. After about five minutes, my progress was blocked by a wall of trees and vines. I tried skirting right and left along the ridge but reached dead ends both times.

Suddenly on a hilltop about a half mile away, I saw the hiking group snaking its way in the direction opposite from me along the now clearly-visible trail. My problem was figuring out how to get to it and them. Realizing the futility of trying to head upslope from where I was, I retreated, passing the nonchalant, slumberbound host and scurrying down the eroded hill back to my Jeep.

I drove back a half mile along Kahekili toward Kaneohe to a point about a quarter mile or so before Haiku Road (which passes the Windward Mall). At that point along the highway I found the Ulupaina trailhead. Determined to catch up with the group, I gathered my things and was off.

The Sierra Club folks had done a fine job clearing the trail, which winds its way in and out of quiet lauhala-lined ravines without any noticeable change in elevation. Within a quarter mile of the start, I did pass what appeared to be a low- lying rock structure that might have been a heiau in ancient times.

After hiking for about an hour, I reached the end of the trail near the pet cemetery section of the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. I never did catch up to the Sierra Club group, which I guessed had started at Temple Valley, hiked to the trailhead where I had parked, and returned to where they began.

Instead of making a return trip along the trail, I jogged along Kahekili, descending and ascending "Big Dip," and passing the trail leading up to the hill to the camp of the unknown man who, without hassle, allowed me to pass through his lonely homestead in the windward Koolau foothills.

Sidenote: I returned and found a ridge route that begins near the Temple Valley end of Ulupaina. The trail, about a mile and a half to two miles one way, ascends and dips several times along a fairly broad finger to the base of Koolaus. At the trail's end, you'll see Iolekaa Valley where Haiku Plantations lies on one side and Temple Valley on the other. Nice makai views of Heeia and Kaneohe Bay are your prizes for a fairly short 45-minute climb.


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