OHE August 21, 1999 (Manoa Middle)

Date: Sat, 21 Aug 1999 18:47:06 -1000
From: Dayle K. Turner (turner@hawaii.edu>
Subject: Manoa Middle Ridge (8/20/99)

A few minutes before 6 p.m. yesterday (Fri, 8/20), Brandon Stone and I were happily chugging down soft drinks at Wa'ahila State Park on St. Louis Heights. The drinks were courtesy of Brandon's wife, Joan, who'd driven up to Wa'ahila to transport Brandon and I down the mountain. Ten hours earlier, Brandon, Wing Ng, and I met on Waaloa Place in Manoa Valley to begin what we thought would be a not-too-long, fairly routine day of hiking. As things turned out, we had more in store for us than anticipated.

The idea for the outing was Brandon's since he'd explored upper Manoa around Waiakeakua Stream and an adjacent ridge on previous visits. The plan that formulated was to ascend a middle ridge of the valley to the Ko'olau summit and return the same way. A possible alternative was to turn right when the summit was acquired, hike along the crest to Olympus, and descend the Olympus/Wa'ahila and Kolowalu trails to return to Manoa.

Our sojourn began on a Board of Water Supply access road at the end of Waaloa Way. As we hiked along, we noticed signs warning against trespassing placed by property owners with parcels along the BOWS easement. We crossed at least two wooden bridges before arriving at the start of a muddy trail. Not far along the trail, we arrived at the base of a concrete staircase.

At that point, we veered left on a faint/non trail through a patch of ginger instead of climbing the stairs, and in a minute we crossed a gently gurgling Waiakeakua Stream. On the far bank was a steepening slope covered with bamboo. The slope was quite muddy, and the thick overstory of bamboo efficiently blocked out most of the light of day. Strangely, it seemed as if it was dusk even though in actuality the day was a sunny, almost cloudless one.

Following some old ribbons and old bamboo cuttings, we mucked methodically up the muddy slope until arriving at the crest of the middle ridge about the 600 to 800 foot level. A metal pipe in the ground marked this point, and Wing put up some ribbons for future reference.

After a short rest, we unstowed cutting tools for the battle ahead, Brandon and Wing brandishing loppers and I a machete. Guava and fiddlewood were the most common nuisance flora we attacked, with Brandon and his super-sized loppers doing especially noteworthy work. We proceeded in clearing mode for maybe an hour and a half and then put away our tools when we tired and when the fiddlewood and guava gave way to uluhe.

Of note on the way up was a knotted rope extending over the steep slope to the right. Several hundred feet below was Waiakeakua Stream. We wondered who put the rope there and what the route down to the stream was like (if there really is a route) since vegetation and steepness of slope hampered our line of sight. Around this area, I also spotted a large splotch of fresh pig spoor and the disturbance of the turf underfoot indicated na pua'a are alive and well in the valley.

The ridge narrowed for a short stretch, requiring some jungle-gym maneuvers, but for the most part it remained broad enough for safe though not easy climbing. The uluhe never was higher than waist level and most of the time it was shin level. The footing was generally good, with less than desirable traction on some of the steeper segments. When we had views upridge, we could see the segment of the Olympus-Castle trail reopened by Wing and friends on 7/5/99 [1].

Around 12:15, Brandon and I stopped for lunch at a flat-topped pu'u marked 1935 on the (Honolulu) topo map. Wing was trailing somewhere downridge, our whoops and his subsequent reply verifying this. What remained was a steep climb of a trackless, massive, nasty nob to gain the Ko'olau summit crest at 2320. Knowing suffering was probable, I lay down to rest in the shade of an ohia to contemplate the forthcoming ordeal.

Brandon and I resumed hiking at 12:45. After crossing a short saddle section, we began scrambling and clawing up the steep nob, covered mostly by uluhe, with clutches of ohia and other natives here and there. As we climbed, Wing appeared at the 1935 pu'u, and he, too, crossed the saddle and began to ascend behind us. I would not see Wing again until 7 p.m.

From our lunchspot, Brandon and I needed 1.5 hours to complete the quarter-mile climb to the summit. The ascent of the nob was brutal, given the absence of a trail, the steepness of slope, the heat (and humidity) of the day, the looseness of ground underfoot, and our general fatigue from the previous climbing we'd done. Rest breaks were frequent, including one at a trench on the slope that may be where we crossed the old Olympus-Castle trail.

At 2:15, the summit at 2320 was acquired, and Brandon and I plopped down at an overlook of the windward side, glad to be at rest after the energy-sapping ascent of the nob. A quarter mile to the southeast along the summit crest were the vaunted ironwood section and sedan rock, dubbed as such in the annals of Oahu hiking by Wing and Mike Uslan during their Aunty-of-All-Hikes back in November '97 [2].

With cloud-free conditions, magnificent was the view of massive Maunawili Valley, the sweep of the windward coast to Makapu'u, and the fluted hogback cliffs extending vertically from the summit crest. What's more, the steady puff of the trade winds blowing over the mountaintop brought welcome relief for two overheated hikers.

We whooped out for Wing several times and heard no reply, but we figured he was making steady, slow progress as is his wont. We'd see him eventually, I reasoned, so we arose to begin the crossover to Olympus.

The crest trail was a bit overgrown but still discernible. I told Brandon I was surprised the path wasn't more open, especially with the very visible Olympus-Castle providing an easier traverse from Olympus to the sedan rock. From the look of things, few folks are doing the segment between Konahuanui and Olympus.

I was also surprised that the ropes and cables have been removed from the ironwood section, from the rockface on the ewa side of the pyramid pu'u, and from the sedan rock. While we were able to negotiate all three safely without aids yesterday, cables/ropes would have added some peace of mind.

There's a small pu'u on the Koko Head side of the sedan rock, and we rested there briefly while scanning the ridgeline for Wing back toward the day's crest-out point. He was nowhere in view. Had he turned around and headed down the middle ridge?

The reopened segments of Olympus-Castle were interesting to hike, and I reflected on the efforts of the workmen who toiled long ago to build it as well as the labor of a more recent group of workers to resurrect the route from seeming oblivion. One drawback of the trail is its lack of wind since it faces to lee. While I didn't miss the rollercoaster nature of the crest trail, I did miss the windward views and cooling trade winds.

We arrived at the junction with the Olympus/Wa'ahila trail at 4:00. More whoops for Wing, this time with a couple of faint replies. While I couldn't pinpoint where he was, at least he was still within earshot.

Brandon and I discussed options to return to Manoa, and he suggested hiking Wa'ahila Ridge to the state park instead of going down Kolowalu to Manoa. Since he had a cell phone, Brandon said he'd call his wife to pick us up at the park.

Moving at a less-than-breakneck pace, we arrived at Wa'ahila State Park at 5:50 and a few minutes later, Joan arrived, with a Diet Coke for me and Gatorade for Brandon. After fifteen minutes of resting and talking story, we boarded the Stone's red Honda for the return ride to Waaola Place where my vehicle was parked.

Wing's car was still at Waaola when we arrived at 6:30. Thanking Brandon and Joan for their help, I bid them a good night and told them I'd hang out and wait for Wing to make sure he got out okay. I then made a pitstop at a nearby convenient mart (super-sized drink, bean burrito, hot dog) and then headed over to Alani Drive where I reckoned Wing would emerge after descending the Kolowalu Trail.

Like I surmised, Wing indeed emerged on Alani with but a hint of daylight still left. I drove him over to Waaola while listening to his account of the climb, the summit crossover, and a nervous moment when an on-the-trail test revealed his flashlight wasn't working. Wing also reported he'd injured his finger while climbing the steep nob, and he was considering going to the emergency room to have it checked.

To sum up, the route we hiked today, even with dry conditions, was tough and will be even more of a challenge if slickened by rain. Go for it if you want a big-time workout. Turn left at the top and continue to Konahuanui for an even bigger one.

--DKT [3]

[1] See Wing's write-up at 
[2] See Uslan's write-up at 
[3] I hiked the Aiea Loop Trail today as a short, pleasant loosen-up
    outing after yesterday's grinder.

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