OHE December 19, 1997

Date: Fri, 19 Dec 1997 02:22:47 -1000
From: peter caldwell (pekelo@lava.net>
Subject: Return to Pu'u Ka'aumakua

A gentle misty rain greeted us as we headed up the Schofield-Waikane trail. A curtain of clouds had fallen across the Ko'olau summits as well which was not part of the plan for this Sunday's hike. Paka-lolo, Don Fox, and I had hopes of completing the route down the ridge from Pu'u Ka'aumakua which we had started from below four weeks earlier. Counting on clear weather this time, we wanted also to retrace our June route along the summit trail toward Kipapa. We would be looking for the section of trail we had missed during that "ultimate day hike" which found us at the trailhead at 11 PM. Dayle had offered to pick us up if we made it out to Waikane, an offer that was definitely too good to refuse.

After making it up the Schofield training area road without disturbing the troops, we were surprised to see that the lower section of the trail had been cleared to true freeway dimensions. Uluhe was sheared off overhead as though someone had wielded a giant machete or weed whacker. It was pretty amazing but of course it didn't last, and conditions soon returned to normal. At our first break, we were treated to some glimpses of the crest. Aha! - just some passing mauka showers! Wrong! Back came the ua, but the wind was not strong, and we made steady progress up to the junction with the KST.

Still a basic white-out, I decided to try my lucky Hawaiian chant. I received some skeptical hoots from Paka & Don but hey, it had worked before on other occasions so why not? We suited up for some anticipated colder winds and showers. Patrick completed a complete wardrobe change donning his Ko'olau crest long dress pants (well-ventilated!). We were off towards Kipapa when sure enough, I spotted a patch of blue ocean visible through a hole in the cloudbank.Yes!! Once again we were thrilled to see the cloud curtain begin to break up. The great bulk of Ohulehule, the head of Kahana Valley, and the northern flank of Pu'u Ka'aumakua came into view. The impact of these spectacular windward views where mnutes before there was nothing but a grey-white windy void is always an incredible high no matter how many times you see it.

On the way to the rusted stake marking the junction with the Waikane trail, we traversed the gusty windward sections of the KST which follow the crest itself or are cut into the face of the pali. Dropping behind a small pinnacle to leeward, we were immediately plowing through uluhe, clidemia and heavy vegetation. In a ravine to the west, we could hear water in the stream with healthy stands of loulu palms growing on the steep hillside across from us.

As we passed the junction, Pat and Don noticed a distinct large pua'a track in the hard mud embankment marking the first step up to the KST. It looked like the pig had rammed his foot into the hard-packed mud for traction, and it was very distinct. Other than na pua'a, more than likely there had been no travelers on this section toward Kipapa since we there last June. As the trail passed through a gap to the leeward side, we were once again wading through uluhe, thimbleberry, and clidemia with no trace of our earlier passage. Where was the orange-clad human bulldozer when we needed him!

Don estimated that it had been around twenty minutes to the point where we had found the trail on our earlier trip.. We had lost it in a gap choked with uluhe and eventually ended up following the crest itself. It had been a critical point in the hike because we had been all thinking that an unexpected nite out was a fair likelihood. We had started to wander down a wider section when suddenly for the only time that day we had some brief openings in the clouds and were able to orient ourselves based on some brief glimpses of Waikane Valley. We had stumbled on the trail shortly afterwards and were home free except for a long hike out by the Schofield trail in the dark.

This time the weather was kinder, and we were even blessed with some brief sunny periods. It was then pretty easy to recognize what had happened as the trail contoured a considerable distance to leeward where it then dropped well below the small peak on the crest we had climbed. We all wanted to make our way along that missing link of the KST we had technically not done. Still we had some more challenges ahead so we decided to turn back and find our way to the top of Pu'u Ka'aumakua above us.

Backtracking to a grassy ravine not too far below the crest, we pushed up toward the summit on a moderate slope. Nearing the ridgetop, the weather continued to hold, and we were anticipating a knockout view. Minutes later we were whooping it up on a summit which turned out to be grassy and open with not one but three US Geological Survey benchmarks dated 1927. It was easily one of of the best Ko'olau vantage points I had ever enjoyed. Out came the camera as Patrick and Don shouted to hurry up before some clouds arrived. The windward view was magnificent stretching from north of Kahana all along the Ko'olau pali to Waimanalo. We were looking down on all the storied summits of Manamana, Ohulehule, and Kanehoolani. Don remarked that we could see ocean on at least three sides with Pearl Harbor and beyond, Haleiwa and all of Kaneohe Bay. Makapu'u was visible far in the distance, and even West Moloka'i with the lower slopes of Kamakou and the pali past Mo'omomi Beach on to Ilio Point. To top it off, the Schofield-KST junction was catching some sun and the windward KST trail stood out in striking relief.

After an enjoyable lunch break, we turned to the business at hand which was the descent of the northeast ridge. Dropping down a short distance, we could see our proposed route quite well. At first glance, it looked reasonable although there did appear to be some quite narrow sections lower down. There was no way we we would have attempted it if we had not already ascended the lower portion. From the turnaround before, we knew there were no major obstacles up as far as we could see at that point. It was just more tedious bushwhacking to a false summit on the ridge at around the 2200-foot level. Now we were looking down on the final 500 feet or so which we knew from the topo map and from profile views included some very narrow appearing stretches.

The last section before the false summit had a serious drop-off on the south with some exposed slabs of rock a hundred feet below the ridge leading on down into a precipitous canyon. In addition on the northern side, the vegetation seemed to hang out in space like a green cornice. On the other hand, there were some small trees and bushes on the narrow spine itself. Was there room for us too? Only one way to find out and that was to go down and get closer.

Off we went with Patrick bringing up the rear doing ribbon duty. The first section was not too bad as we were able to drop off the narrow ridge onto the northern side above a small basin. Surprisingly among all the native vegetation including some blooming trematolobelias were some ginger plants that had somehow seeded up this high. Don was leading for awhile and then we ended up going on opposite sides of a mossy ohia tree with me up front afterwards. At that point, we were picking our way along a ridge that was wide enough to feel safe although you almost had to feel your way down because of the dense uluhe and unfortunately more clidemia. Sliding down a clump of chest-high uluhe, I was beginning to think it was nice we wouldn't be going back up this way.

After around 45 minutes,, it was getting more narrow with less choices except to try and force yourself through some tight spots between branches all the while looking for some solid ground beneath your feet. The drop-off on the right was approaching the slab area and falling away for hundreds of feet. There was no question that a miscue would not be advisable to say the least. On the left, it appeared to be a little more reassuring but I could see lots of space through the gaps in the vegetation.

I negotiated past one more lapalapa tree with very little ridge underfoot. The next section looked even more problematical, but the false summit seemed tantalizingly close now. Behind me, Don was reading my mind as he encouraged me to not do anything too risky. We had felt all along that the ridge was doable, but now confronted with the difficulties ahead, I started to realize that we had pushed it probably as far as we could safely go.

Don and Patrick took a look too, and we agreed it was time to reverse course. So frustrating! So tempting to to go for it! Maybe coming up from below with a different perspective plus a 150-foot climbing rope would do it. It was past two now, and we would get to use our flashlights again for sure. Reluctantly we began the climb back up with Patrick having to remove his ribbons as we went. I thought about how incredibly hard it would be to turn back on a Himalayan peak when you were close to your goal - and we weren't even hypoxic!

We took a short break back at the summit and then worked our way back down to the KST and the Waikane trail. Deciding that we had plenty of daylight to get down to the Waikane saddle, we took off around 3:30 PM down the contour trail in good spirits. Paka-lolo pulled out his bolo knife and proceeded to harvest all the way down to the saddle. I was encouraged to find that this historic route was basically intact but just overgrown. A few unofficial trail-clearing sessions would go a long ways towards restoring the trail. It didn't look like it needed any rebuilding or clearing of major slides.

At one point, I found a fairly large rock in the trail and couldn't resist a chance to roll it over the edge. Don and I stood there listening to it crashing downwards followed by silence and then more distant sounds as it continued its plunge. It was a sobering reminder to pay attention where we were putting our feet! Further on down, we stumbled through sections choked with slippery ginger, the same somewhat uncommon species I had seen high on the ridge earlier. We passed the ribbon marking our near-vertical ascent up to the ridge four weeks earlier. What kind of lolos would do that anyway?

Reaching the saddle, we celebrated the day with some Power bars and drinks. Clouds out to sea were beginning to show tinges of color as we made some phone calls. No doubt Dayle thought he was safe until Patrick greeted him with the cheery message that we were around an hour and a half out. I yelled over that we'd expect some Big Gulps and fries at the trailhead. We headed down through the darkening forest on the ditch trail passing sites of our tree cutting the last time. It was better but more work needed to be done not so much with machetes and saws but heavy duty stuff with shovels to remove lots of slides of basaltic chunks covering the trail. Soon we were once again walking the Waikane road by flashlight. It was getting to be routine.

No moon this time but after awhile, we were nearing the trailhead a little after seven. Sure enough, we saw some headlights on the other side of the gate at the entrance to the road. Dayle opened the back of his jeep and there was our spread waiting for us. Good man that DKT! He said he had waited around fifteen minutes and got some questions from a resident across the road.

Q: Eh brah, what are you doing?
A: Waiting for three guys who are hiking out.
Q: Where are they coming from?
A: Started in Wahiawa.
Q: Wahiawa??? You kidding or what!
A: Nope.

I'm sure he told his friends and relatives the next day that there were some crazies out that Sunday. Sure was fun though!


Dr. Pete :-)-o

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