OHE August 9, 1999 (Kaluanui-KST backpack--day 1)

Date: Mon, 9 Aug 1999 09:39:10 -1000
From: Greg Kingsley 
Subject: Maakua to Waikane via KST, Day 1

Hi, all!

The following is a write-up for our second Koolau Summit Trail trip
which took place before and during the weekend prior to the HTMC's
backpacking trip. Errands, including preps for another backpacking trip
thereafter, kept me busy after we returned home.  Enjoy!

Happy Hiking!

---------- Forwarded message ----------

Day 1:  Hauula Town to Upper Kaluanui Valley
Thursday, July 20, 1999

An attachment problem? Six days on the Koolau Summit Trail (KST) in June obviously didn't scare us away and a Thursday in July recorded our return for another helping. The same valley, which eluded our previously-attempted side-trip visit off the KST, was Number One on our agenda: upper Kaluanui Valley. Of course, the same trail into it, which had suppressed the endeavor on that June adventure's fateful Day #3, then captured us for an unannounced, unsheltered, overnight stay till Day #4, was again the appetizer precluding the main course. The idea of going back was hard to swallow, but we weren't about to let the failed trek stifle our hopes of success.

But this time, it was a different, spicier approach...

Today, instead of descending 400 feet to the entrance of Kaluanui Valley (dubbed "the Notch"), it was a four-trail, 2,400-foot special: "Papali-Maakua Ridge Trail", "Papali-Extended Trail", "Waiahilahila Trail", then "Castle Trail". In the following days, we'd ascend the remainder of Castle Trail till it's terminal junction with the KST, then proceed to points south and exit through Waikane Valley.

Not so bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed, the two of us groggily arose at the crack of dawn expecting to wedge ourselves (and packs) onto a commuter-packed bus. Our bulging packs netted some curious, eyebrow-lifted glances among the bus-stop crowds, but no resistance from the drivers. Luckily, the hour-long ride into the country was sparsely peppered with sleepy passengers, most of whom were homeward-bound from night shifts and business of the like. It was a gorgeous way to mentally prepare, however, as the journey progressed from the shadows behind the Koolau peaks and ridges into a course about the yellow-flooded windward folds and floes. There was plenty of time to experience the KST and deep terrain throughout the next 96 hours and I didn't try to spot the peaks and valleys we'd once again capture within heart and mind. Instead, I spent the bus-ride absorbing and enjoying the views as we wrapped the coastline ripples of Oahu.

Delivered from civilization, we alighted near the white sands of Hauula Beach Park and lumbered a twenty-minute road-walk to the State's "Hauula Trail Complex". We exchanged pleasantries with a pair of early road-walkers exiting the area; they'd be the last persons we'd see for 82 hours. Passing the Hauula Loop trailhead on the right, we veered left off a well-paved road onto the "Papali-Maakua Ridge Trail" - a trail maintained by Na Ala Hele: the State DLNR's public trails service. After pausing for a pre-hike picture, we ducked under some hau tanglings through a semi-moist Maakua Streambed. Left, right, left, right, we ascended the gentle switchbacks feeling our supply-laden backpacks dispense a dose of warming acid into our calves and thighs. On the ascent, we passed a picnic shelter which, as we would later see from an overlook, was one of several scattered about the trail system.

At a well-defined junction, we turned right onto an uphill route, leaving the views of little Hauula town and its blue waters and pale beaches behind. Rain clouds played tag with us, dumping in the occasional shower as our footsteps popped gooey innards from fallen lilikoi fruit strewn about the way. Splattered seed-gunk and slime continued for about fifteen minutes as we followed the graded hillside trail and peered at views deep into a darkened Maakua Gulch. Returning to the mild, well-forested ridge top, the trail ascended to its high-point of 800 feet, then veered off to the left. Noting an immediate sharp ascent at this location which followed the more defined ridgeline, we dismissed it as "too steep for Papali-Extended" and followed the well-beatened path into Papali Gulch.

Crossing the babbling streamlet as the loop trail curved to return to Hauula, we began to ascend the eastern side of Papali Ridge, a middle hump separating Punaiki and Papali Gluches. All the while, I stared forth toward the large wall of mountain blocking view of Puu Waiahilahila. I knew the Kamapua'a/Waiahilahila/Nipple Trail started from the whereabouts of the aforementioned 1,264-foot peak and that our trudging would have to connect with the ridge it sits upon. However, we would find (through trial-and-error poking through the gulch's pig trails) that a short connection this way would be ill-advised, especially with packs affixed. I remembered, too, that others had reported that the ascent of Papali-Extended began at the highest point of Papali Loop. In this case, that "too steep for Papali-Extended" ridgeline continuation was indeed: Papali-Extended.

We backtracked the loop and stepped left onto the less obvious trail - the continuation of Maakua Ridge. A narrower footpath, Papali-Extended forced us into a steep ascent right away. We huffed and puffed the weight on our waists and shoulders as we climbed through a tall canopied forest onto the clearly defined ungraded ridge trail. Waist-high uluhe ferns abound and short ohia overhead, we were enamored by the views around. Developing before us was the confusion of ridgelines snaking deeply toward the Koolau spine adrift with a sinister overcast. Civilization obscured by the lower sections of Maakua Ridge, Papali Ridge, and Punaiki Ridge, views of a hazy ocean horizon were behind us. Our next destination: the merging of the three "ridge-lets" into a single, major ridge.

The three ridges comprised Lucifer's three-pronged fork as the larger outside ridges (Maakua and Punaiki) were spread apart enough for the middle (Papali) ridge to emerge into the convoluted apex. Cloudy skies doused us now and then with a generous quantity of rain as our footsteps became muddier with each one-foot climb. I wondered about the formation of the area's strange topography, imagining a toiling witches' brew of lava bubbling and twisting as if it were from some Macbethean cauldron. Within this square-mile area alone, seven different ridges and eight corresponding gulches were scattered about. Perhaps eons of devilish winds and rains clawed rips into the developing ripples of a'a. Or perhaps it was just chance.

What was definite were the overcast skies, cold winds, and intermittent showers. The treat was on the right for two towering waterfalls actively gushed within the Hauula Ridge folds on the west side of Maakua Gulch. I marvelled at the treacherous spurs rippling the precipitous face above the Gulch. The thought was specifically due to pictures I had seen which legendary Al Miller snapped above the narrow gulch below. The angles he shot them from clearly put him upon one of these near-vertical spurs. A talented rock-climber, he took some formidable, yet awe-inspiring, risks.

Maakua Ridge began to narrow significantly, it's ridgeline held together by muddy roots and mossy limbs. After a 1,400-foot-high peak, we descended a small, thin saddle with a converging Papali Ridge rising to the left. We paused for some rather interesting flora intermingled with the moist trunk moss.

The ridge continued to ascend another 600 feet as the neighboring Papali Ridge followed suit. The two ridgelines paralleled on a slightly-curved path to the left (east) like two race cars wrapping about a final bend. At most points, we were no more than three hundred yards from the other ridge.

Finally, the twin ridge convergence took place as land connected the two like the webbing between fingers. We left-turned to and followed ribbons up a mucky ascent, soaking up the droplets from leaves and limbs. Blossom had the unfortunate pleasure of nailing her shin straight into one of many hidden thick tree roots, causing us to proceed with additional caution. At the top of this brief 50-foot climb, we emerged onto a crossover filled with waist-high shrubs, occasional trees, and bushy path battered with flora and roots. Vistas, though misty and cloudy, were more pronounced and less obstructed by vegetation or land mass.

Now on a singular ridge with an obvious personality disorder (for the converging contour lines of the two former ridges resembled a dropped egg), we pressed forth a short distance toward the next merging, this time with the Punaiki Ridge. Otherwise known as Waiahilahila Ridge, we could see its jagged lines cruising forth from the coastline on the left. Our steep ascension had ceased, but huff-and-puff was replaced by "brrrs" and teeth-chattering as shady winds whipped into our drenched clothes.

Turning right at the junction, the triple-merge of ridges was now complete. We set forth on a southern tack on this Waiahilahila Ridge toward the dark Koolau summit. But first, a lunch break awaited us at the first hump along this ridge.

Parked atop this ridgeline bump (elev 2,040 feet), we took advantage of its woody shelter from the onslaught of wind to break open a Clif Bar for me and dry saimin for her. I opted for Clif Bars since they're natural, taste great, and actually have better daily nutritional values than name-brand Balance and Power Bars.

Again, we were off, first through a narrow stretch exposed to the brunt of wind, then along a muddy, rollercoaster ascent. Our destination was now the "notch" at Castle Trail. Helicopters buzzed in and out of lower Kaluanui Valley (site of the closed Sacred Falls). Rains had turned the oxide-rich clay into a mushy gunk sticking to the bottom of my cleats with every hands-over-feet climb. Thankfully, our cautious nature kept the pace slow and thus the effort low. The last thing we wanted was for a slipped step or a pack leaned too far to the left or right sending us tumbling into either gulch 500+ feet below.

2,040-feet and down. 2,160-feet and down Up and down three smaller peaks. 2,360-feet and down... Finally, we ascended a massive peak to the 2,480-foot elevation. This grand pu'u, as in an earlier trend, stands at another convergence of ridges: the Waiahilahila Ridge and the unnamed ridge forming Kaluanui Valley's gigantic western wall. By now, our spirits had been subjected to an exhaustive ordeal of cold rains, whipping winds, slick muds, heavy climbs, gloomy skies, afternoon worries, and rollercoaster ups and downs. But we held firm until glee overcame us upon running into the triple-ribboned junction of the Notch. Success!

Happy to see the lone pink ribbon which I had affixed many weeks prior, we turned left (east) through this notch and entered upper Kaluanui Valley at the 2,400-foot elevation. En bloc, we coasted down the graded trail as briskly as possible. The 400-foot descent was a lot longer than I imagined when we first visited the Notch. I nervously pondered the possibility that we might suffer the Castle curse once again and be forced to camp out somewhere along the trail.

It took us a good forty-five minutes to negotiate the rough overgrowth and several deep wash-outs gutting the path. The trail, the second large-scale, graded path privately-funded by William R. Castle back in the early 1910s, has suffered neglect through the test of time and the gradual reclamation by mother nature. However, eighty years later, it's still a fine way to enter the lap of upper Kaluanui Valley.

At last, we reached the final descent upon the lively stream. Minutes later, we forded it with a gradual upstream tack and arrived at a quaint, grassy clearing (elev. 2,000 feet). Amidst a sparse, guava forest about ten feet from the eastern bank of Kaluanui Stream, we erected our tent and tarp, then sloughed off our drenched clothing onto nearby guava limbs. As twilight fell, a propane lantern suspended from a nearby guava branch became a lonely beacon of the only human presence in this hidden valley.

With hot miso ramen and green beans taking the edge off our cold day, ensconsed in a warm sleeping bag with grateful sighs was an excellent way to top off the night.

Next: Days 2 and 3 - A Day in Kaluanui and Return to Poamoho

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