OHE December 19, 1998 (Pu'u o Kona)

Date: Sat, 19 Dec 1998 12:03:15 -1000
From: "Kirby D. Young" (kirbyd@teleport.com>
Subject: Kuliouou/Puu o Kona - Nov. 30 1998

While visiting my Mom in Honolulu for a couple of weeks I did some hikes on Oahu and the Big Island. Because I live on the Mainland, I don't usually have the opportunity for it. While I had hoped to do a hike or two with OHE folks, an operation and hospital stay by my Mom kept me restricted to some half-day hikes on my own. I tried to do hikes I had not done before, or at least where part of the hike would be new in some way. Here's a first installment:

Kuliouou Ridge - Pu'u o Kona - Nov. 30
Trip #2 in Stuart Ball's fine hiking book had been calling out to me. I'd been to the summit of Kuliouou Ridge a long, long time ago, but had taken an old route beginning in Kaalakei Valley, as the Kuliouou Trail per se had not been built yet. I also had not attempted the more prominently positioned Pu'u o Kona summit, which is a short, "expert" walk along the Koolau crest from Kuliouou "1".

I had high hopes. While the tradewinds were blowing at a rather remarkable 25-45 mph, all the Koolau summits were "out", i.e. not covered with clouds. As it turned out, the weather had a hankering for a change....

I arrived at the trailhead about 12:30 pm with very sunny conditions and gentle breezes prevailing at road's end in Kuliouou Valley. I coated my Mainland skin with a liberal dose of sunblock. To document the adventure for Mom, once an avid Oahu hiker, I carried a small camcorder. I knew she would be very interested in the summit traverse from Kuliouou to o Kona.

A minute of walking led me to a mailbox with hiker registration sheets. It showed 8 people already in Kuliouou (a Monday), with 8 having hiked the day before, and 16 registered Saturday Nov 28.

After about 200 yds of gradual climbing through very dry-looking woods, I came to the Ridge Trail jct. angling back upslope to the right. A Valley Trail continued on straight ahead. Taking the sharp turn I very gradually ascended the right side of the valley to Kuliouou Ridge in 12 switchbacks (S. Ball counted 'em) to its crest.

Level stretches of the trail between switchbacks sometimes traversed below outcrops of ancient Ko'olau lava flows. A mix of pahoehoe and a'a flows were in the early traverses. Above, as I moved through soft-needled Ironwood groves, what lavas I could see had a pahoehoe morphology in the trail cuts.

Breezes were absent for much of my climb to the ridge crest. I was hot and getting hotter. I mused about several of my past erstwhile hiking companions giving me an earful of complaints about such heat. I grudgingly realized I wasn't feeling all that great myself by switchback 11 and 12.

Reaching the crest of the ridge at a slight low point, I immediately was revived by very strong, cooling gusts of wind roaring through the Ironwood trees. Some big gulps of water certainly didn't hurt either. Two spheroidally-weathered pohaku kept me company as I rested there.

I eventually rose to my feet to begin the ridge-top ascent to the Koolau summit. The trail contoured gently 1/4 mile to a picnic shelter and a lumpy, bare dirt clearing. To the left was a slight notch in the ridge, with rubbly cliffs of 6-8 ft height facing each other across about a 30-ft gap. It looked very artificial. I finally realized that the ugly hump of dirt probably had been excavated to form the notch. Why?

The trail beyond gave up contouring, and went straight up any rises in the ridge top. As I entered a grove of Norfolk Island Pines I suddenly noticed many of the larger trees were arranged in two parallel rows that extended down out of view to the right.

After a few more minutes of climbing, I emerged from the darker forest into open uluhe slopes. I stopped to enjoy the great view to the left and down 800' into the upper reaches of Kuliouou Valley. Across the valley I could see a groove in the vegetation that marked the route of an adhoc trail steeply connecting the depths of Kuliouou Valley with the top of Kuliouou middle ridge (Kuliouou 2?). Several OHE'ers have described ascending this route.

The top was not far now. As I lingered with my camcorder I was passed by two hikers in cycling gear. I should quit dawdling, I thought. Climbing the last steep incline was made easy by some engineered steps in the ridge. In the last yards, the windward view opened up, first to my right, then below my feet. What a great view! All the pali to "Kaupo Cliffs" lay before me. Directly below fell a vertical face, then steep incline, then more vertical cliffs to gentle basal slopes. The topo map indicates a shear drop of about 1200-1300' here. Rabbit Island was bathed in sunlight. It doesn't get much better than this! The only negative was somewhat hazy air, so the ocean horizon and neighbor islands were not visible. Was it windy? Yes, of course, but I was happy.

After a few minutes I turned my attention to Pu'u o Kona. Ah yes. How did it look compared to years ago? I couldn't really remember years ago. I did remember a steep eroded slope ending in the 1200' drop and a rope/cable near that point. That looked the same.

The proper adhoc route along the Koolau crest to Puu o Kona was easy to follow. I dropped immediately down about 8 feet, and crossed a narrow, near-level stretch of about 15' (big vertical drop on the right), camcorder rolling, with winds pushing me _away_ from the pali. Just past that, a steep drop of 15 feet in the ridge was negotiated easily via ledges on the left, leeward side. I contoured left around a very narrow projection, then came to another semi-balancing act. (camcorder's still rolling). Beyond lay the ascent to Puu o Kona proper. A blue and white rope, extended by a white rope, dangled over rubbly rock. I chose to angle first right, then left on the steep, eroded dirt to reach the tie-off point for the rope. Because the dirt was rather dry with sporadic ledges, overall there was pretty good traction. On the traverse up to the right in this dirt were several iron pipes or bars jutting vertically out of the ground. Are they the remnants of some kind of ancient railing or contoured trail reinforcement leading to the top of Puu o Kona?

Past the rope section I was soon on the summit of Puu o Kona. Its broad level section is a major promontory in the Pali, allowing extesnive views. The grassy walk along this pastoral stretch was wonderful as I took in the scenes that now included a much greater portion of windward Oahu, stretching as far NW as hazy Ohulehule and neighboring jagged peaks. Oft-mentioned "Bear-Claw" ridge dropped off to my right, leveled, then dropped again. There was no evidence of foot traffic on it. It seemed that vegetation in the lower 2/3 might be the biggest obstacle on this ridge, aside from traverses over or around a couple of the "Claws" projecting in its level section.

I descended a bit past the end of Puu o Kona's summit to find a shelter out of the wind for lunch. I enjoyed absorbing views of Koolau summits such as Kuliouou 2, Kulepeamoa, and Lanipo (very steep windward profile... supposedly one of the Legends has descended this... hard to believe). Konahuanui (highest point in the Koolaus) had its summit covered by clouds (hmmm...).

I pondered continuing along the crest to Kuliouou 2, then down that ridge to make a "Kuliouou Bowl" loop, but time was a bit short (now 3:30pm) and I suddenly had this feeling... I jumped up from my sheltered lunchspot and climbed to the top of Puu o Kona. Over the ocean a very obvious line of rain and low clouds were advancing towards land. Yikes! I decided no round trip for me! Instead, I wanted to get back across the exposed Koolau crest between o Kona and my topping out point at Kuliouou 1 before the rains came.

I traveled carefully, but quickly. As I neared Kuliouou 1, a wall of clouds began scraping against the Pali towards Makapuu. The Kaupo Cliffs climbing route became quickly obliterated. Then Tomtom was gone. It seemed these clouds bottomed out at least 600' below me! As I took shelter behind a rockface at Kuliouou 1, the fog engulfed everything in seconds. Surprisingly, there never was much rain, and so I waited a bit, enjoying the blowing mists whipping by just feet from me.

I eventually started down, passing several students facing leeward at the top of Kuliouou 1. Maybe they never got to see the views. Down the ridge, past the shelter, to the top of the switchbacks. Down the switchbacks I went to the valley bottom, then out the Valley trail to my car at the end of Kala'au Place. I arrived there at 5:30 pm. The Koolau summit remained very socked in, and remained that way with plenty of wind and rain in the mountains in the following 4-5 days. A significant change in the mountain weather seemingly had come in mere minutes.

Addendum: On returning, my car was fine. At the end of my previous hike to Kuliouou Ridge from Kaalakei Valley, our car had disappeared. It turned out that kids (!!) had pushed it a half mile down their street because they thought it had been abandoned! We reclaimed it, thus assuring that its ultimate fate would not be adolescent hands, but rather a pedestal mounted above an auto junk dealer on Dillingham Blvd.


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