OHE December 24, 1997

Date: Wed, 24 Dec 1997 06:42:33 -1000
From: "Dayle K. Turner" (turner@hawaii.edu>
Subject: Waialae Nui to Kuliouou Ahi

A couple weeks ago, Pat Rorie, Wing Ng, Art Neilson, Ziggy the wonder dog, and I hiked up Waialae Nui and turned left on the summit and continued to Mount Olympus. Yesterday (12/23), Wing, Nathan Yuen, and I went up Waialae Nui and turned right, bound for Kuliouou Ahi (aka East, Right, Switchbacks, Freeway trail).

We didn't have the favorable weather of a couple weekends ago, but we were committed to making a go of it and plodded on despite off-and-on rain showers and a cloud-enshrouded summit. We set off at 9, waved to some folks going up the Wiliwilinui trail at around 10, and arrived at the summit at 11.

After a 15 minute break, Nathan and I continued right (east) on the crest bound for stop one: Wiliwilinui. Wing was not far behind us. There was a steep descent initially but as Wing pointed out in his write-up, "plenty of vegetation to hang onto." We passed a series of powerline poles on the ridge before ascending to the summit clearing of Wiliwilinui and its white lounge chair. This .4 mile segment took 40 minutes.

Since it was noon, Nathan and I decided to eat lunch and rest. While doing so, a half dozen local teenagers and an older brother/uncle/friend arrived at the summit. When he saw our machetes, the older brother/uncle/friend inquired what we were using them for. After I explained where we had come from, where we were headed, and the utility of our cutting tools for the undertaking, one of the teens said, "If I were younger, you guys would be my idols, but I'm older now and I know better" (read: we're now just foolish idiots in his eyes). :-) The clouds also broke for short spells, and the local teens ooooh-ed and awww-ed at the appearance of the windward side below us.

At about 12:15, Wing and I established contact via cell phone. Wing said he was quite near Wiliwilinui, and he was correct, for about ten minutes later he emerged from the clouds on the crest, much to the amazement of the local teens. I told Wing we had eaten lunch and suggested he do the same before continuing on. Meanwhile, Nathan and I pushed on, bound for the summit of Wailupe Middle Ridge. It was 12:30.

The half-mile stretch to Wailupe Middle was relatively clear, thanks to the work of HTMC member Gerald Leao and others (the HTMC will be incorporating Wailupe Middle and this section of the crest into its hike schedule). As a result of the nice condition of the trail, Nathan and I moved through this section with no major difficulty, completing it in 25 minutes. Wing was behind us and he and I continued to keep periodic cell phone contact.

The next .4 mile segment to Hawaii Loa was the worst we encountered during the outing. Wing called most of this an "untrail" and he is right. Where were Paka-lolo and the Pua'a Chaser to ramrod? Alas, they were off earning a living (or writing hike stories on the job), so Nathan and I were left to hack through the vegetation gauntlet. At least now there is a semi-swath that we pounded open. And thank heaven for clidemia, which afforded us sturdy, reliable handholds for some slippery descents and ascents. After a couple of false alarms, we arrived at the summit of Hawaii Loa 80 minutes after we left Wailupe Middle. Tired and muddy, I whipped my machete point-down into the center of the dirt clearing that marks the top of Hawaii Loa and exclaimed, "Damn, finally."

I assured Nathan the next segment to Kulepeamoa was a relative cupcake compared to what we had just negotiated (I remember completing Kulepeamoa to Hawaii Loa in 15 minutes while on a HTMC hike). Turns out my memory was correct for we needed just 20 minutes to complete the .3 mile stretch, certainly one of the easier ones of the day.

From Kulepeamoa, the crest drops for a lengthy stretch. Also, less than a hundred yards downslope, the ridge divides. Ordinarily, this circumstance would be no problem because one could easily see the right route. But we were facing a white-out, I had not packed a topo map and had never hiked the section before. But I had to make the call. The left ridge it would be, I told Nathan. "And if we reach a vertical dropoff, we'll know I made the wrong choice" I added. :-)

As it turns out, the decision was on the mark, and downward we continued, no sheer pali encountered. Near the bottom of this long descent, we used the cable that Pat Rorie and Kurt Heilbron had re-tied while hiking this section in early September. A few minutes after descending the cable section, Wing and I made contact again via cell phone. I told him where we were and he said he had not yet reached Hawaii Loa but had to be close. Wing also said because of time constraints he would likely go down Hawaii Loa instead of pushing on on the crest. A wise decision by the HTMC vet, I thought.

So it was 3:20 and it was just Nathan and I left to try to reach Kuliouou Ahi, hopefully without having to bust out the mini mag lights. A lush ravine was below us to the right. After pushing across a thickly-vegetated dike, we began climbing, using another cable for assistance. Silhouettes of hills appeared in the cloudy white ahead. The summit of Kuliouou west? Could it be? Nope, false alarm.

After dropping down again, we started climbing once more and soon the image of another massive hill was visible through the clouds. "If that isn't Kuliouou west I'll eat my machete," I told Nathan. Well, I didn't have to dine on metal, for the hill indeed was the high point of the west ridge of Kuliouou Valley. I recognized this hill by the unusually long stalks of 'ie'ie growing along the upper part of its slope. We arrived at 3:55, needing 60 minutes to get there from Kulepeamoa.

I gave Nathan the option to go down Kuliouou west or continue on along the crest past Pu'u o Kona, Wing's hill, and then to Kuliouou Ahi summit. When I pointed out that both descent options would involve approximately the same amount of time, Nathan told me, "Let's go for it," in reference to the latter.

So we did, making good time along the crest on a really nice trail (the HTMC hikes this section, undoubtedly contributing to the ease of the traverse). After a steady descent, we began the climb to Pu'u o Kona, passing some weird-looking Christmas berry and guava trees and several landslides that had eaten sizable chunks of the mountainside. We reached o Kona in under 30 minutes, descended Wing's hill with no mishap (and no rope), and reached the summit of Kuliouou Ahi at 4:50 p.m. The total 2.9 mile summit traverse had taken us just over 5.5 hours, about an hour and a half more than I had predicted.

We rested for a few minutes, made a notation on the notepad in the bottle I had placed there on my last visit (and noticed a 12/21 notation by Art Neilson's friend Mike Adams), and headed down the state-maintained freeway trail. We reached Nathan's car on Kala'au Place at a couple minutes past 6 p.m. just as darkness fell. We noticed that Wing's car was still there (my vehicle was at the Waialae Nui trailhead). I asked Nathan to drop me off at my vehicle and I'd double back to look for Wing.

After being dropped off and bidding aloha to Nathan, I drove back to Niu Valley to see if I could track down Wing. During our last cell phone conversation, Wing told me he planned to hike out via the Kulepeamoa trailhead on Anolani Street in upper Niu. No Wing there.

I drove back to Kuliouou Valley and at 7:10 found Wing making the final strides to his vehicle on Kala'au Place. We chatted briefly and then each headed off into the night, ending a long day in the Koolaus.

Wing tells me after taking care of some uncompleted sections yesterday, he now has hiked the crest from Konahuanui to Makapuu. Nice job, Wingo! And congratulations also to Nathan, for an outstanding accomplishment.

What's next for me? A low-key recovery hike on the Aiea Loop today and a tasty home-cooked feast on Christmas Day. I think I earned the right to cruise for a couple days. :-)

Aloha, safe hiking, and Mele Kalikimaka to all!


Return to OHE top | Return to Oahu Hike Tales | Email Dayle