Castle Trail via Waiahilahila Ridge

Castle Trail via Waiahilahila Ridge

by Dayle Turner

On Sunday, 3/2/97, I joined the HTMC trail clearing crew (I think 15 in all) on the above-mentioned ridge, also referred to as Kamapua'a. Wing Ng has referred to this hike as the "Backdoor to Castle" and has even written a narrative about it.

Because of the length of the trek, we started at 7 a.m. sharp, some folks' cars left at Punaluu Beach Park fairly near we'd come out and the rest used to shuttle the gang to the Sacred Falls parking lot where we began.

We initially followed the gravel road used to get to Sacred Falls but about 15-20 minutes in we veered right on another dirt road and when it ended began hiking up a ridge on the right. The initial goal was to reach a peak called "the nipple" (elevation 1,264) so-named because of its resemblance to this particular body feature. This peak is also known as Pu'u Waiahilahila. After a steep, sometimes-slippery climb, we reached this at just past 8. Cables were available at three spots on the ascent for security.

From there, we made a short, muddy descent with the aid of another cable and the then pushed mauka up a long series of humps. This section was very rugged, slippery, and mildly perilous. We reached a junction (elevation 2,600) where the ridge intersected with the famed Castle trail at just past noon after four solid hours of hiking. Grant Oka, who would lead the members-only hike on this ridge on 3/16, said he doubted if anyone would get that far on that outing (he was nearly correct as just two of the nine folks who turned out reached the junction).

We ate lunch at the junction and headed left (toward Punaluu) on Castle at 12:30 (heading right on Castle would have led us to the Koolau Summit Trail in about an hour). Castle is graded and follows the indentations and gullies in the upper ridge. It is also overgrown with uluhe but still passable. Along the route, yellow police-type ribbons occasionally marked the trail, these markers apparently left by search teams looking for Wade Johnson, the BYUH student who went up the Laie Trail and had intended to traverse the Koolau Summit trail and then descend Castle. As you probably remember, he was never found and three men died in a helicopter crash during the search.

At 1 p.m we crossed a briskly-flowing Kaluanui Stream which eventually flows over the pali to Sacred Falls!! There is a campsite with a deteriorated lean-to on the makai side of the crossing point.

At around 1:30, after contouring along the side of ravines on the leeward side of the ridge, we passed through a gap at a low saddle (but still at 2,000 feet) and emerged on the windward-facing side of the ridge with a spectacular view of Punaluu Valley and the windward coast to Makapuu.

From there, the sometimes-narrow trail is cut into the ridge with sheer drops of a thousand-plus feet all the while. This section, by the way, is the top of the Castle's famous switchbacks.

Instead of following the switchbacks in their entirety, about a quarter-mile down we turned right down a steep ridge to bypass a long switchback, which apparently is extremely overgrown. This long section, by the way, crosses a 10-foot long, bare-rock, narrow, dangerous-as-hell dry waterfall chute that I did with two friends, Bob Benham and Guy Kaulukukui, in the early 80s. I'm glad we bypassed that part today.

The steep ridge descent eventually brought us in 20-25 minutes to a lower section of the Castle switchbacks. We hacked our way down the switchbacks and eventually reached a dirt road that leads to the back of Punaluu Valley at around 3:30. The walk on the road to Kam Highway would have taken 20-30 minutes but we shaved some time because Mabel, the HTMC trail-clearing boss, and Ralph Valentino, a trail gang member who hiked out before the main pack of the clearing crew had finished, drove in and shuttled us back to the beach park and the Sacred Falls lot.

In all, we spent nine hours on the trail, and a damn tiring nine hours they were. My cammie pants and boots were chocolate brown afterward and later that night, I had some excruciating cramps in my inner quads from all the abuse I inflicted on my legs that day.

But I'd do it all again--just not the next day. [g]

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