OHE April 26, 1999 (Waianae-Kaala)

Date: Mon, 26 Apr 1999 10:14:18 -1000
From: Kirby D. Young (kirbyd@teleport.com>
Subject: Mt. Kaala - (late "assignment")

Visiting Oahu for family matters several weeks ago (from Portland, OR), I decided I had been doing enough hiking recently to tackle a climb of Mt. Kaala, Oahu's highest summit. I have reached its flat-topped apex two times before, once on foot and once by motorized transport, but those ascents were many years ago, long before the existence of my chosen route this day, the Waianae-Kaala trail.

I arrived at a hunter/hiker check-in mailbox far into Waianae Valley about 9:30 AM, April 1 (yep, April 1). As I was preparing my gear, a Board of Water Supply Chevy Blazer pulled up to the gate, eventually passing through after Mr. Water Man unlocked this vehicle barrier. Before proceeding upslope, he made sure to lock the gate behind him. Signing in, I followed several minutes later on foot under blazing sunshine.

I soon passed the Water Man, who had stopped at a water tank on the left amidst open country. Kamaileunu Ridge lay beyond with Mt. Kaala, my destination, towering ahead and slightly to the right. At one photo opportunity I stepped back just in time as Mr. Blazer roared around a curve on his ascent to higher purposes. The Water Man smiled as he passed, perhaps in relief, or perhaps not, at my step-back.

Passing a trail leading off from the paved road to the left, I noticed it headed towards the prominent ridge extending down from Puu Kawiwi. It was marked with pink ribbons. Probably the access trail used by the Kawiwi gang, I thought.

Shortly thereafter, the road leveled off briefly and passed Waianae Well #1 and the now-parked Blazer. Making a mental note of the momentarily motionless vehicle, I proceeded on, watching the forest grow lusher as I climbed higher and ever closer to the mountain masses. Sure enough, the Blazer blew past me in the last 100 yds of pavement to stop at its final destination, Waianae Well #2. Passing the again-stilled vehicle, I stepped onto an eroded 4-wd track that continued the upward climb initiated by the one mile of pavement behind me.

Passing a picnic shelter constructed by the Boy Scouts (#10), the route narrowed to a footpath, soon angled left off a low ridge, crossed a gulch, and ascended the adjacent low humpback for 1/4 mile. An obvious trail angled left from my route in this area and I assumed it was the makai leg of the Waianae Kai Trail. Wrong-o as it turned out later. Another left traverse led to a gulch, where the route apparently divided again. Since I thought the previous junction was Waianae Kai, I followed the more distinct path at this second junction, which climbed left initially over a low ridge and then way down into the next gulch. Only then did I sense my error from before, and concluded I was on now on the makai leg of the Waianae Kai trail. Confused? I was, and I even had a topo map!

Backtracking up and down, I returned to the junction to begin the more direct route to Mt. Kaala, a powerline tower on the Waianae/Makaha saddle my immediate distination. Climbing 700' in a huff-and-puff 22 minutes (trying to make up a little lost time), I reached the tower and dramatic open vistas of Lualualei, Waianae, and upper Makaha Valleys, as well as Kamaileunu and Ohikilolo Ridges. The latter had a somewhat fluted sculpturing a little like some of the spires of the Na Pali coast, Kauai, and I concluded it would be impossible to walk along its serrated spine mauka from its highest "pyramid" to the Waianae crest. (Patrick Rorie later told me it has been done by humans, however). Kawiwi and unnamed "Noname" peak were close at hand. Behind me rose the very steep ridge I would ascend 1300' to Kaala's summit bog. Sunshine beat down steadily as I flopped on the ground for a drink.

Departing about 12:15, I began my assault on Kaala. The ridge alternately climbed moderately, then leveled off briefly. A dropoff of 100-300' developed on the right. At the last level stretch I had a very clear view of the steep climb of the ridge through resistant bands of thick basalt lavas forming a caprock of sorts to Kaala. There were well over a half-dozen such bands of rock exposed right and left, but only a couple manifested themselves as pronounced bare rock on the ridge itself. The rest were covered by the rapidly thickening ridge-top vegetation. The first rocks were an easy boulder scramble. The second had a flexible ladder draped over a fractured and broken assemblage of rock 10-12' high. In the dry, sunny conditions, a scramble first right, then up over the rocks seemed easier than tackling the ladder.

Steep conditions prevailed above, with many rope and cable sections. At one point, where the ridge became more of a vertical yet totally vegetated face, the path contoured right briefly to find a slightly less steep slope. Many blackberry vines were growing along this general stretch of the trail. Ouch! I passed an Ohia with its red blossoms loaded with bees. Why are they only on this tree? I wondered.

At around 1:30 PM I "topped out", sort of, on the edge of the summit plateau. The sun was still strongly bombarding me, but certainly I had no complaints about that! A fantastic vista of much of the Waianae coast from Lualualei to Kaena Point lay in front of me. Mighty Kamaileunu Ridge immediately opposite seemed a bit low.

Turning plateau-ward, I ascended very gradually on a low ridge, soon passing a Kaala Forest Preserve sign and yellow-bristled boot scrubber. Soon I came upon the first twin planks of the boardwalk across what is a surprisingly level summit bog. Enjoying the flat (and dry) boardwalk, I ambled about 20 minutes past ground-covering moss and an assortment of chest to head-high native plants, heading in the general direction of the summit Air Force radar station. Upon reaching the vicinity of this military facility, I passed through a gate to be greated by a definitive "End of Trail" sign. A few steps later placed me on the pavement of the Mt. Kaala road just outside the Air Force radar facility that very effectively has parked itself upon the entire portion of what passes for Mt. Kaala's true summit. The gated entrance was adorned with a variety of signs, one of which noted that "Threatcon=alpha".

Recalling a description from Stuart Ball's guidebook, I headed left down the road and away from the unfriendly signs towards what was advertised as a fine North Shore viewpoint. Sure enough, in a few steps a graveled through-way headed right. Though guarded by an "authorized personnel only" sign, I, well, oops, summarily ignored it. Passing a small building on the right (DLNR?), I stopped at a jutting clearing marred somewhat by telephone wires but nevertheless affording a great view of the North Shore 4000' below. Lunch followed as I enjoyed this vista.

Reluctantly packing my things about 2:40 PM, I departed for the Forest Preserve gate. Crossing the boardwalk, I enjoyed pondering the thick mats of moss once more. An animal trap lay low amidst the trees at one point. Reaching the plateau rim on the Waianae side, I began the long descent after scoping out a shot of my car 3400' down with my camcorder zoom lens. That always gets the family members shaking their heads in "wonderment".

Near the Waianae/Makaha Valley saddle, I decided to continue straight on, so that I could descend the makai branch of the Waianae Kai Trail. At this far junction I encountered BSA shelter #11 where I relaxed with a drink of water. Walking a few feet further towards "Noname" peak past the descending trail turnoff brought me to a fine view of upper Waianae Valley in the late afternoon light.

Descending steeply on the Waianae Kai Trail led me eventually to the junction that had given me some trouble earlier in the day. Soon after that I was back at the Board of Water Supply Road and making my way down in the late afternoon sun to my car. On the way I tried to understand some of the geology of the ridge separating Waianae and Lualualei Valleys. In the end, this very diminutive ridge remained something of an enigma for me.


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