OHE April 9, 1999 (Mariner's/Kaupo Cliffs)

Date: Fri, 9 Apr 1999 18:28:39 -1000
From: Kirby Young (kyoung@kahala.net>
Subject: Kaluanui/Tom-Tom/Kaupo Cliffs smorgasbord

Long fascinated by a traverse of the Tom-Tom trail, and intrigued by the recent climbs of the Kaupo Cliffs route, I opted to give both a try this past Wednesday (Apr 7). As I also wished to get an idea about the strenuousness of the Kaluanui (Mariner's) Ridge trail for a neophyte hiker friend, I selected Mariner's Ridge as my access route to the Koolau summit and Tom-Tom/Kaupo Cliffs area.

Beginning at the questionably late time of 12:45 from a curbside parking spot at the end of Kaluanui Drive, I passed an unfriendly sign to head up a connector trail to join with the old Kaluanui Ridge 4wd road (now mostly a trail itself). Surmounting the initial pu'u "off-road" for the views, I then followed the sometimes ironwood-shaded track on its short, sometimes curvy path to the summit of the Koolaus, topping out at 1600' about 1:30 PM. With binoculars, I checked out the face of the prominent pyramidal peak along the Koolau summit about 1/4 mile to the left, a place where Wing Ng recently lost his loppers. No luck was had spying this piece of equipment.

Following some photography, I departed right along the summit track for the ca. 1 mile traverse to the top of the Tom-Tom Trail. This involved first a steep descent to 1380', a subsequent steep ascent to another summit pu'u (1446'), descent to a surprisingly lush series of topographic benches (1150'), and steep ascent to yet another pu'u (1361'). Just past the latter, I encountered a white cable laying over a ledged rock scramble, the 20' or so of which I descended without incident. Minutes later I arrived at a telephone pole marking the top of the Tom-Tom Trail (1190'). It was something like 2:30 PM.

Descending a short distance on the initially narrow ridge, I paused to enjoy the fine windward views, and to examine in a bit more detail the Kaupo Cliffs area. I really had no specific idea what the route was, so did not linger pondering the possibilities. Instead, I enjoyed the overview of Waimanalo, Bellows Beach, Mokolua Islands, and Olomana. Checking out "Bear-Claw" Ridge rising towards Pu'u o Kona, I was surprised by how vegetated it was in its lower two-thirds. I finally noted what seemed like a thousand cows ambling about near industrial-size shelters towards the base of "Bear Claw".

The tourist view over, I continued my descent, following a trail that soon veered off the most prominent ridge to descend a less distinct ridge to the left. This surprised me a bit as I had once tried to find Tom-Tom from below, and had climbed the prominent ridge with a family member a very rough distance upwards before time stopped us. I could see this would henceforth be known as "Wrong-Way Ridge" to the Young family.

Reaching the bottom in surprisingly little time (15 minutes?), the trail faded in koa haole forest near its beginnings. Near a low double cyclone fence at the end of Manawaiola Street, I turned right to parallel the slope in search of an old concrete culvert. After some ambling, I ran across it, and proceeded onwards on its upslope side, occasionally seeing pink ribbons that reassured me as to my progress.

Encountering an old barbed wire fence, angling mauka-makai, I turned mauka at about 170' to follow the fence on a more distinct trail, keeping the fence to my left. This led me to a bouldery slope, which I ascended to find a distinct tread furthering climbing upwards to breach the forest canopy. Seeing a pink ribbon and a distinct tread, I knew I had found the Kaupo Cliffs Trail. To my left was a deep gully and sheer cliffs beyond. The cliffs lay at the base of a more prominently makai-jutting ridge. Above lay a maze of ridges and gullies, peppered with numerous bands of vertical lava rock.

Climbing a bit higher, the obvious trail leveled to traverse left along a sloping shelf to the back of the adjacent gully. I could sense now its ingenious intent. By traversing the gully on a broad shelf, the adjacent ridge would be attained, thereby avoiding its basal cliffs on the one hand, and avoiding cliffs directly above me on the other. Following the shelf, I rounded the nose of the left ridge, suffered route confusion for a moment, then proceeded across the base of a small, but broad gully, to begin the ascent of a ridge two leftward of my initial line.

This new ridge had a safe, somewhat vegetated slope on its right, but vertical drops on its left. I climbed down the nose of this ridge a bit to get a picture of Rabbit Island. Climbing again, the route led right up the nose of the ridge to a point where the rock jutted out vertically for a height of something like 10-15'. Goat ledges following ancient lava flow contacts to the left led to a steeply sloping rock scramble protected with several cables and ropes. Clearly the way left was the accepted path. Photographing the steep drop below the leftward slabbing ledge, I then scrambled up the cabled section. I noted a fall here would land a person onto a steep grassy slope above a vertical drop of several hundred feet.

Further climbing upwards on the ridge, I passed a copse of ironwoods, and continued scrambling upwards until the ridge steepened to near-vertical at an apex. Just below, ropes had been laid along a level-traversing goat path to the right, bypassing the vertical to join a ridge crest approaching from the right. Halfway across the level ledge, I pushed some rocks that had fallen from an outcrop to mound up on the tread. They thrashed their way down a grassy subvertical face to fall amongst trees in the gully below.

The traverse rightwards done, the final climb first passed through a thicket of ironwoods, then required two somewhat surprising rock scrambles (no exposure) before the summit. Topping out at about 5:30 PM, I took more photos, rested, gulped water, and enjoyed the windward and leeward views (the latter include late afternoon lighting on Koko Crater and Kamiloiki Valley).

Finally focusing on the long summit traverse towards Kaluanui Ridge, I headed off in the dulling light of latest sun hidden behind clouds stacked up against the higher Koolau summits. An hour later (6:45 PM) I arrived at my destination, having huffed and puffed my way on the considerable roller-coaster topography between the two points.

Descending Kaluanui Ridge in about 25-30 minutes, it was near the bottom of this trail that I chose to take an irritating fall onto my side on the eroded track. The best possible place for that, I thought. I emerged near my car under the safe cover of darkness.


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