OHE December 8, 1997

Date: Mon, 8 Dec 1997 12:57:11 -1000
From: Nathan Yuen (nyuen@lava.net>
Subject: Mount Ka'ala Summit

Went on a really fun hike yesterday with Dayle Turner and the trail-clearing crew of the Hawaiian Trail and Mountain Club to clear a couple of trails in the Waianae Mountains. After reaching the trailhead past the locked gate in Waianae Valley, the crew split into two groups--one to clear the Waianae-Ka'ala trail, which leads to the summit of Mount Ka'ala (the highest point on O'ahu) and the other to clear the Waianae-Kai trail, which skirts the back of Waianae Valley in the shadows of Mount Ka'ala. Given all that I had heard about the bog at the summit and the treacherous rock climb near the top, I had little choice but to join the group that would strike for the Mount Ka'ala summit.

Wielding machetes, clippers, saws, and other trail-clearing implements, we hiked uphill for a short distance and crossed a small stream at the bottom of a charming little valley shaded by kukui nut trees. After ascending through a series of short switchbacks, we soon found ourselves hiking straight up the side of Kamaile'unu ridge. Passing under the branches of stout koa trees with uluhe ferns crawling on the ground and maile vines intertwined amongst the shrubby vegetation, I was extremely fortunate to be hiking with Wil who pointed out many of the endemic and introduced plants which grew along the trail. Climbing ever higher and higher up the relentless ridge, we finally reached the top where three utility poles are located.

Exposed to the elements at the top of the ridge some 2700 feet high, the wind and rain prodded us to continue moving to keep warm. As a result we proceeded through a section of the trail at a slight incline which was full of ohia ahihi, whose young tender leaves are a beautiful orange-red color, 'uku'uki grass with their brown and white flower stalks, and naupaka kuahiwi with their odd white half-flowers. Abruptly becoming steep again, the trail confronted us with a series of large boulders along a narrow section of the ridge, the last one of which was quite challenging and required the use of a cable. Climbing on all fours and pulling ourselves up over the rocks, we pulled ourselves over the boulders and continued our ascent up the steep ridge. We then encountered a steep muddy section of the trail where several cables had been left to assist the climb. After negotiating this muddy section and rounding a corner in the ridge, we pulled ourselves up and over the final stretch and reached the summit of Ka'ala!

Although the summit was completely socked-in by clouds with no views at all, we were nonetheless thrilled to be at the highest point on O'ahu, some 4000 feet above sea level. I had heard so much about the unique bog at the summit which is home to many rare and endangered plants endemic to Hawaii some of which are naturally stunted due to nutrient deprivation. As we trudged through the marshy bog over a boardwalk which gave under the weight of each step, an eerie haze hovered over the entire bog. So misty was the air that the low-lying portions of many plants in close proximity to each other were covered in a greenish-brownish hairy moss that melded them into a single mossy mass. Many lapalapa trees with their small round light-green leaves fulttered in the wind along with the other native plants in the bog such as kanawao, poli, lobelia, and ama'u. As a approached the FAA Radar installation on the Wahiawa side of the summit, the wind and rain began to fall more heavily. As a result, we sought shelter behind a building and rested while we ate our lunches. Because of the wind and the cold, we were eager to be on the move and left as soon as we had all completed our lunches.

As we descended down the steep muddy section of the trail, I slipped quite a few times, clearing a wide swath of the trail with my butt--I swear my butt must've been one of the more effective trail-clearing implements of the day. I single-handedly scoured several large pig wallows. ;-) Anyway... as I scoured the muddy wallow holding on to the cables for dear life much to the amusement of Pat Rorie, ;-) I could not help but recall the stories of Kamapua'a, the pig demigod. According to legend, Kamapua'a lived on Mount Ka'ala for a while so he could look down upon Waianae Valley. At night, Kamapua'a would descend into the valley and steal taro from the kalo patches until he was caught and taken to an imu to be cooked. But during the attempt to cook Kamapua'a, his captors were overcome by his supernatural powers and Kamapua'a devoured them instead.

Anyway, after climbing back down the treacherous large boulders, we reached the three poles section of the trail once again. Rather than return the same way we had come, we decided to descend a different way via the Waianae Kai trail. After telling Naomi that I wanted to see a Hawaiian treesnail, she stopped at several points along the trail to look for the rare and endangered creature amongst the alani, a relative of the mokihana which also produces a green berry-like fruit, and the maile, which grow profusely along certain sections. Much to my disappointment, we did not see any Hawaiian treesnails.

Descending our way back down the ridge to the valley floor, I was thankful that I had reached the top of Ka'ala, experienced the misty bog in all it's wetness, and seen so many native plants. I also greatly enjoyed meeting many nice and knowledgeable people for the first time who made the hiking adventure so enjoyable. I will definitely have return to Ka'ala one day to see the magnificent views from the summit and to see for the very first time a live Hawaiian treesnail in its natural habitat.

P.S. By the way, that's a pupu kuahiwi or kahuli (Hawaiian treeesnail) which graces my sig below.

        o    o     __ __
         \  /    '       `      Mai hehi ia'u (Don't Tread on Me!)
          |/   /     __    \
        (`  \ '    '    \   '     Nathan Yuen, Ewa Beach, Hawaii
          \  \|   |   @_/   |
           \   \   \       /--/     nyuen@lava.net, nyuen@aloha.net
            ` ___ ___ ___ __ '

Date: Mon, 8 Dec 1997 14:19:09 -1000
From: "Dayle K. Turner" 
Subject: Re: Mount Ka'ala Summit

On Mon, 8 Dec 1997, Nathan Yuen wrote:

> steep again, the trail confronted us with a series of large boulders along
> a narrow section of the ridge, the last one of which was quite challenging
> and required the use of a cable.   Climbing on all fours and pulling
> ourselves up over the rocks, we pulled ourselves over the boulders and
> continued our ascent up the steep ridge.

This spot is certainly one of the more memorable ones on the trail. When describing Waianae-Kaala to someone who's never done it before, "the rock" is certainly one point sure to be highlighted. It's basically a couple of boulders laying atop one another--total about 15-20 feet high. A rope ladder with 10-inch sections of PVC pipe for rungs hangs from it as does a an intertwined steel cable and tan telephone cable. To work up the rockface, one must carefully place a boot on first a 6-inch wide foothold and then a 3-inch wide one (people with big feet [size 12] like me are a disadvantage). All the while one is grasping onto the intertwined cable "for dear life," as Wing would say. One is working to the right on the boulder at this point; all the while a big drop looms behind, perhaps in the order of a couple thousand feet. The goal is to reach a crack on the right, regroup, and work left and up on the rock, again with cable firmly in grasp.

The good thing is that the rock is solid basalt, not prone to cracking and crumbling. The bad thing is that it's that shiny kind that can be slippery even when dry. And it often rains on the slopes of Kaala, as was the case yesterday when we went up. But "we're hikers from hell" as Carole Moon likes to say, so onward we proceeded.

Undoubtedly in the back of everyone's mind after negotiating "the rock" successfully is the fact that the buggah has to be descended on the return leg. Hey, but that's part of the challenge and fun, right?

Nice write-up, Nathan. Maybe we'll hear from Paka-lolo next.


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