On June 21, 1997, Pete Caldwell, Don Fox, Gene Robinson, Dayle Turner, Laredo Murray and myself experienced the 16 hour marathon "day" hike up Kipapa Ridge along the Ko'olau Summit Trail and down Schofield. We were socked in almost the entire trip esp. while on the Kipapa Ridge Trail. Because of this it was on my agenda to return to Kipapa Ridge on a clear day and see what I missed the first time esp. the supposed incredible summit views. On Sunday, August 17, the conditions were right for another trip up Kipapa Ridge.
Departed automobile from undisclosed location at 8:16 a.m. Reached the junction with Kipapa Ridge Trail at 9:28 marked with blue and orange ribbons in a paperbark grove. After a brief rest started heading for the summit at 9:33. Went thru more paperbarks with uluhe on each side of the trail. In order to stay alert mentally I decided to break the trail up into landmarks/sections. A long stretch of strawberry guava bordered the trail and I observed lots of paw prints and a few boot prints (pua'a hunters with their dogs no doubt). Then an open uluhe section appeared. More guava followed including a nice view spot of Makakilo/Pearl Harbor. A lone tea plant marked the view spot so I decided to make this the first landmark/section to remember. The guava continued followed by another open uluhe area. Next a beautiful fan palm grove (atleast 8 trees) was encountered (landmark/section #2a) followed shortly thereafter by a single tall Norfolk Island pine (l/s #2b). Further on I went thru more uluhe then another fan palm grove was observed along the trail (l/s #3). I catagorized the next section of trail as the landslidy/soil slippage section (l/s #4). I had to constantly watch my footing and keep my balance. This section was broken up occasionally by level wider stretches but they were few and far between.
After another brief rest I started thru the "low bridge" section (l/s #5) which featured atleast one uluhe tunnel and many places where one must duck or get down on all fours because of trees which have fallen over to continue the hike. Dayle loves "low bridge" sections !
Finally reached a nice rest spot (the grass was flattended down by the hunters). It was at this location that I seriously considered turning back. I was tired, there was very little breeze, I had hiked over 3 hours already, I still had a long way to go, I would have to return the same way but worst of all it looked like the summit was beginning to get socked in. After taking a few minutes to think it over I decided to keep going.
Continuing on at 11:21 a.m. I went thru the section which was completely engulfed by uluhe (l/s #6). Managed to traverse a massive landslide (l/s #7) with its narrow shelf (unlike the last time when Dr. Caldwell cut a by-pass which went up and over). Dare devil stuff yea Pete, Dayle, Gene ?!
Further on I came across the pua'a section (#8). Fresh rooting in the soil, small pools of water, and dung were observed. Major pua'a neighborhood ! Was confident the hunters had scared them away.
I noticed a major landmark coming up - two Norfolk Island pines on top of the ridge with a grove of Australian Tea just past them (#9). Worked my way to the contour section below a single Norfolk Island pine (#10).
Next came the landslide section (#11) which included the landslide with two large trees jammed together. It was difficult for the group to pass in June.
As I approached another pair of Norfolk Island pines (#12) which I could see up along the ridge line I had to stop and enjoy my first view of the intermittent waterfall ahead under the trail. I could also see the trail cut into the side of the mountain as it contoured with its switchbacks gaining altitude toward the summit. Another highlight as I moved thru this section was another waterfall to the right of the trail across the way. A grove of ? with their dark green needles stood out located below the Kipapa Ridge falls and above and along the stream.
The relatively open contour section (#13) which took me to the top of the waterfall was wonderful. Started up the switchback section (#14) after crossing the stream above the waterfall at 1:05. Highlights of the switchback section were one of the upper falls was visible below the trail along with a beautiful grove of loulu directly across.
After the last switchback I moved forward a short distance and stopped. The view (#15) was outstanding of expansive Kipapa Gulch below stretching out for miles, Kipapa Ridge to the left with the Norfolk Island pines dotting the ridge top, other undeveloped ridges and valleys all around. The dark green ? grove was almost directly below with the stream to the left of it.
Continuing on I traveled along the contour trail (#16) which featured lovely patches of loulu above and below. Noticed yet another waterfall down and to the left inside a small gully. Passed a steep wall on the right which had a small waterfall chute toward the end of it. Just before going around the bend which leads to the final stretch and the summit I looked down and marveled at the contour trail cut into the mountain which I had traversed only a few minutes earlier. Reached the top of a side ridge which the group mistakenly went down in June. Clearly it was a ridge leading nowhere. After rounding the bend I immediately recognized much to my surprise and delight a very familiar sight - the top of Pu'u Ohulehule with its horn shaped summit region. The adrenline started pumping as I made my way toward the summit. The Ko'olau Summit ridge was completely clear all the way to Poamoho and although the sun was blocked by the clouds it was a spectacular view nevertheless ! More and more of Ohulehule was revealed as I passed the rusty metal stake which marks the start (end) of the Ko'olau Summit Trail. Passed a tall lone loulu tree which is just before the summit.
At long last I reached the Kipapa Ridge Summit (#17) at a flat grassy overlook (elev. 2785 ft). The time was 1:34 p.m. Stretched out on the summit meadow. The views were awesome ! Arguably the best on Oahu ! Snapped quite a few photos. I could see much of the windward coast. Below were Waikane and Waiahole Valleys. To the left were the Ko'olau Summit ridge, Pu'u Koiele (elev. 1683 ft), Pu'u O'Kila (elev. 1530 ft), Pu'u Piei (elev. 1740 ft), Kahana Valley, Turnover (elev. 2027 ft), Pu'u Ohulehule (elev. 2265 ft) with its long southeast ridge stretching almost all the way to the ocean, Kaaawa Valley, Pu'u Kanehoalani (elev. ? ft), Chinaman's Hat (only slightly to the left). In front and to the right was all of Kaneohe Bay. Also to the right were Mokapu Penninsula, the Mokulua Islands, Kaiwa Ridge, Rabbit Island, Makapuu, Olomana. The Ko'olau Summit ridge to the right was clear all the way to Makapuu with the only noticeable clouds hovering over the the summit of Konahuanui. One very interesting item that especially caught my attention was the long, very broad summit of Pu'u ? (elev. ? ft) located on the Ko'olau Summit ridge between Waiahole and Ka'alaea Valleys. It looked very similar to the Waimalu Middle Ridge Summit. Perhaps even wider ! To my knowledge there are no trails which lead to this mighty summit. Also studied the very steep, exposed section of the Ohulehule southeast ridge trail. Looked impossible without a cable. The Norfolk Island pines of Waiahole Valley were below and to the right. Sections of the Ko'olau Summit Trail could be seen below and to the left cut into the leeward side of the peaks. Got up to take a look at the summit ridge as it goes south toward Manana for a future backpack trip. It looked very do-able ! There was even a faint trail visible. Noticed heavy rain in the Schofield area with dark clouds toward Haleiwa. After an hour of rest and enjoying the views I very reluctantly departed the Kipapa Ridge Summit.
I began to retrace the 17 landmarks/sections. On my way down I enjoyed the spectacular section of trail above the falls. Because of fatique I had to adopt the Wing Ng strategy of hiking back to the trailhead - chip away at it very methodically and if you get too tired just lay down on or next to the trail and take a nap. If its dark when you wake up just bust out your flashlight and keep going. I would have to resist the part about taking a nap ! After crossing the stream above the falls I continued to carefully work my way down the trail. It started to drizzle. At 3:50 the rain increased in intensity and just after 4 p.m. it began to rain hard ! I stopped to put the trash bag I brought over my day pack. It wasn't long until I was completely drenched. I thought of all the times I had laughed hard at Dayle when I knew he was somewhere hiking in the rain (i.e. Halape). It was all coming back on my head now !!! As I entered the pua'a neighborhood I began talking out loud hoping that they would hear me coming and flee.
At 4:40 p.m. I lost the trail just after departing the pua'a section ! It looked like a landslide blocked the route. I searched around for several minutes to find where the path continued. I didn't need this delay ! After a few more minutes I pulled out my bolo knife and started cutting thru the huge amount of uluhe above me searching desperately as the rain continued to fall. I tried to climb but to no avail. Finally I cut thru the entrance to an uluhe tunnel. "Had the hunters purposely blocked the way ?" I asked myself in my paranoya.
Pressing on I crossed the narrow sliver of trail which went thru a massive landslide (#7) and made it to the nice rest area. Stopped briefly to have a drink and consume a powerbar. Opened up a compartment in my day pack to make sure cell-phone and camera were still dry. Much to my relief they were.
Moving on I negotiated the "low bridge" section pretty well but the landslidy/soil slippage area was made even more difficult because of the rain. Even with cleats on my footing was unstable. I fell down several times.
At 5:08 p.m. the rain stopped ! When I reached the second grove of fan palms I stopped to check them out. The bird head part was esp. interesting. Pushed thru uluhe and reached the long stretch of guava. The trail was almost a freeway as my pace quickened thru this fast moving section. Embraced the tall Norfolk Island pine just before reaching the first grove of fan palms realizing that I was not far from the junction.
Reached the junction at 6:37 p.m. and went left without delay. Arrived at my car at 7:48 p.m.
Notes: "Kipapa Ridge is the longest hike in this book. It's worth it, though, because it passes through some of the wildest back country on O'ahu. The final climb to the Ko'olau summit is so spectacular you may even forget how tired and beat up you really feel. The entire trip is for experienced hikers only. Do the hike during the summer when the days are longer, and the weather is drier. Start early because you'll need every hour of daylight."* Kipapa Ridge is another trail on the endangered trails list. If it were not for pua'a hunters using the lower and middle sections the trail would be completely lost.
* Ball Jr., Stuart M. THE HIKER'S GUIDE TO OAHU. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993.