Date: Tue, 29 Dec 1998 15:23:24 -1000 From: Patrick Rorie (email@example.com> Subject: The challenge and reward of Kipapa Ridge
With a floating administrative leave day on my hands, I patiently waited for the right opportunity to take it. Sunday's (Dec. 27th) weather was terrific - cool temps, light and variable winds, clear summits, lots of sunshine. I felt the pattern would persist so after I finished washing up on Monday morning (Dec. 28th), I looked out the window of my apartment and noticed the golden hue of the rising sun on the Ko'olau summit crest. "The mountains are completely clear!" I told myself.
Grabbed my pack and other hiking stuff, loaded the Pat-mobile and drove to an undisclosed location (detailed instructions were given to me last year by a friend explaining how to get to the Kipapa Ridge Trail with the agreement that I would never put them on the internet). Constructed in the 1930's by the Civil Conservation Corp (CCC), the Kipapa Ridge Trail is a graded contour footpath six miles in length above Koa Ridge Ranch in Central Oahu.
Continued on foot at 7:07 a.m. as the sun continued rising, a chill in the air. The morning dew on the tall vegetation I had to push thru ended up soaking my short pants and wicker shirt. Reached the junction with the Kipapa Ridge Trail not far from the trailhead in a grove of paperbarks at 8:22 a.m. With no time to lollygag, I kept hiking past more paperbarks, uluhe bordering both sides of the graded footpath. Soon I entered a lengthy, shady section of guava trees on the left side of the ridge (as one travels mauka). Emerged from the guava briefly on the ridge crest and paused to study the first of two lovely traveler palm groves which are shaped like large fans. Some had birds of paradise flowers sticking out of the top of them. A short distance further I stopped again to gaze up at the first tall Norfolk Island pine (a series of tall Norfolk Island pines dot the ridge almost all the way to the summit). Returned to the left side of the ridge thru more guava. Leaving the segment behind, I halted once more at the second of two traveler palm groves.
Recognized an abundance of healthy koa trees as the woodsy trail contoured along the right side of the ridge for a distance, crossed over to the left side then back to the right. More often than not an overgrowth of uluhe pushed me to the outer edge of the trail and much of the grade in this section has been washed out, reducing the graded contour to a narrow slope. Two new, huge blowdowns created obstacles as well.
Ascended to a koa tree and sat down to rest on its roots which protruded above the soil. Seven minutes later I continued my soujourn, tramping along the crest, the uluhe scratcing my knees and grabbing my ankles and feet. Switched to the left side of the ridge and periodically ducked under fallen trees/limbs. Spotted a pig hunter trail which dropped down into the valley and a rest area (the flattened grass and garbage hanging from tree limbs a telltale sign). Fifty yards later, another pig hunter side trail/rest area existed.
The Kipapa Ridge Trail all but disappeared beyond the final rest area choked with uluhe and progress became pathetically slow. Successfully negotiated a huge landslide, the footpath reduced to a rocky, narrow ledge. A recent blowdown originating above the slide and the subsequent debris ended up on or below the ledge providing more room to maneuver. Got on all fours and plowed thru a partially closed uluhe tunnel in route to a pig wallow. As I approached the pua'a haven I commenced loud chatter to warn the beasts of my presence. After entering the wallow, I observed a large number of hoof prints in the mud, two pig trails heading upslope and heard some of the pua'a scampering away into the valley grunting and snorting as they went. It gave me an eerie feeling of being badly outnumbered!
Next, I departed the wallow as the trail crossed over to the right side. A pair of tall Norfolk Island pines clearly visible on the ridge ahead made for an excellent photo opportunity with the massive Ko'olau summit ridge in the background. Lots of sunshine with a few large, white puffy clouds in the deep blue sky above made this stretch one of the most pleasant of the day.
Returned to the left side of the ridge where I eventually had my first encounter with Australian Tea and negotiated some minor slides. Enjoyed the superb vista into vast Kipapa Gulch, however. The gradual ascent led to a more open stretch with less uluhe but an increase of Australian Tea. Stopped to take a few photos when the intermittent falls and stream came into view. Could see the trail cut magnificently into the side of two Ko'olau summit pu'us as it snaked toward the Ko'olau summit. Spotted clumps of loulu palm trees above and on both sides of the intermittent stream (barely flowing).
Arrived at the water source just shy of noon and filled one of my bottles. Walked over the place where Gene Robinson and I set up our tents during the hike-of-all-hikes in late May of this year but could not find the trash he left behind. Gained elevation away from the stream and falls via four switchbacks, halted briefly to trace Kipapa Ridge dotted with tall Norfolk Island pines to see how far I'd come, then enjoyed "the excitement of getting there" as I ascended gradually above a gully - one of the best stretches of trail on the island, no doubt. Like a shark's dorsal fin emerging from the ocean's surface, Mount Ohulehule came into view. As I rounded the final bend toward the junction with the Ko'olau Summit Trail (KST), clear views into deep gulches, of the KST cut into the Ko'olau summit ridge, and of the Ko'olau summit ridge as it stretched north were mine. Paused at a location above the rusty metal stake which marks the KST/Kipapa Ridge Trail junction to gaze at the juniper grove across the gulch along the KST.
Reached the Ko'olau summit (elev. 2,785 ft) upon passing a lone, tall loulu tree at 12:30 p.m. Sat down on the flat grassy overlook to take in the awesome windward vistas. Pu'u Piei, the ridge containing Turnover, Mount Ohulehule with its southeast ridge, and Kanehoalani Ridge (aka "Death Wish Ridge") stood out prominently. Some of Kahana Valley, lower Ka'a'awa Valley, most of Waikane Valley and parts of Waiahole Valley were also visible with Chinaman's hat dead ahead. Looking south, the Ko'olau summit ridge as it turns sharply east and forms one of the walls of Waiahole Valley with the massive waterfall shoot along the wall below the crest caught my attention. Hazy (voggy) conditions toward Makapu'u and the Waianae Range obscured the views somewhat in those directions. There was almost no breeze (dead calm), a stark contrast to the normally blustery conditions at the summit.
Ate an apple and drank a 12 oz. Dr. Pepper then stood up and descended to a point where I could see the stacked remains of Uncle Tom's cabin below near the grove of junipers. Backtracked and reclined on the summit meadow.
Reluctantly departed the summit at 1:32 p.m. dreading the five hour return leg as dark, threatening clouds began massing above. On the way back clouds socked in the Ko'olau Range and I got drenched by showers. Arrived at the junction with the Kipapa Ridge access trail in a grove of paperbarks at 5:20 p.m.
Exhausted, battered, and suffering from a mild case of hypothermia, I approached the Pat-mobile in the dark at 6:36 p.m.
Notes: Ball writes "Kipapa Ridge is the longest hike in this book. It's worth it, though, because it passes through some of the wildest back country on O'ahu. The final climb to the Ko'olau summit is so spectacular you may even forget how tired and beat up you really feel. The entire trip is for experienced hikers only. Do the hike during the summer when the days are longer, and the weather is drier. Start early because you'll need every hour of daylight."*
The ideal scenario would be to do the hike during a stretch of clear, light and variable wind days which occur periodically during the winter months on Oahu. Ascend Kipapa Ridge on day one, enjoy the summit vistas the rest of the day, the star action at night and the sunrise the next morning. Take the KST on day two and come out either Schofield-Waikane, Poamoho, or Waikane.
Give credit to the pig hunters who keep the lower half of the trail open relatively speaking.
* Ball, Jr., Stuart M. Unpublished notes from THE HIKER'S GUIDE TO O'AHU. Honolulu: University Of Hawaii Press, 1993.