OHE February 7, 2000 (Kahana/Waiahole Ditch)

Date: Mon, 7 Feb 2000 10:39:42 -1000
From: JFEL873@aol.com (Jay Feldman)
Subject: Waiahole Ditch via Kahana Valley (02/02/00)

About 130 years ago it was reported that David Livingstone had died during his final unsuccessful search for the headwaters of the Nile. At about the same time Oahu sugar interests realized that a huge amount of water was available, for the taking, on the other side of the mountains from their parched leeward fields. The result of this insight was the Waiahole Ditch system, a series of ditches and tunnels collecting water from the Koolau aquifer and the many streams of Kahana, Waikane, and Waiahole valleys.

Last Wednesday, Lynn Agena, Jay Feldman, Ed Gillman, Bill Gorst, Rich Jacobson, Charlotte Yamane, and Thomas Yoza, unlike Dr. Livingstone, found the headwaters we were searching for in the back of Kahana Valley. We stumbled on the flowing waters of the Waiahole Ditch near what is known as the North Portal main tunnel at the 790-foot elevation. That is the start of the 25 mile water transfer (some might call it theft) system that meanders along a windward contour of about 800 feet altitude until it tunnels through the heart of Waikane Valley to emerge in central Oahu on the Waiawa plain; it reaches the end of its torturous journey at a large reservoir in Honouliuli.

The last time I had done this hike was with Dayle Turner in August of ^^98; it was my first introduction to the backside of Kahana. Dayle's hike description of that day mirrors our hike so well, that rather than write a new one, with his permission, I will let his original do the job: "...From the (Kahana Valley Park) water tank we followed the trail that leads to the four-way junction in a hala grove. At that point, we continued mauka, following a contour trail well above Kahana Stream. We crossed several streamlets, the first with a cable available for assistance. The trail wasn't well-cleared but was still discernible and occasionally marked...

Eventually, the trail reached a junction labeled as Point H in Stuart Ball's book (p. 156). From there, we continued mauka, crossing a tributary stream that feeds Kahana Stream, and then climbing a rutted, uluhe-covered ridge for a few minutes then contouring around its makai-facing end before continuing to contour mauka....

Ten minutes beyond the stream crossing, the trail climbed to the crest of the low ridge and continued mauka through a sea of uluhe and dying koa trees. Blue ribbons marked the route well and pigs have been ripping up the ground and tramping up and down the trail to keep it relatively open.... (Unfortunately, this time the trail needed considerable clearing and Thomas, Bill, Charlotte, and Lynn did almost all of it.)

Bill and Charlotte had hiked this area long ago and recalled that after climbing up the ridge for a spell, the trail veered sharply left and contoured on the left side before dropping down the ditch intake which marks the end (or start) of the Waiahole Ditch Trail. Charlotte even recalled that a gardenia plant marked the junction where the trail veered....

Sure enough, we reached a ribbon-marked junction, and sure enough a gardenia plant was there. The route was evident enough, and we put up more ribbons and did some hacking to make it more passable. At various points we also enjoyed the views of the Koolau summit area, including parts of the Koolau Summit Trail etched into the mountainside near the crest. Nice....

After contouring in and out of ginger-choked gulch, we found ourselves at a shallow, vegetation-jumbled gully with no evidence of a trail. Fanning out, we descended into the gully to try and pick up the trail again. About 50 feet down, I found myself standing astride the concrete Waiahole Ditch, now obscured by ginger. We pounded out a trail along the ditch, reaching an intake with a decent flow of clear, cool water. The ditch trail continued toward Waikane, and ... is in surprisingly good shape despite seeing very little hiker/hunter traffic."

Like Dayle's hike, we also decided that though the way was clear to travel on the ditch trail, we certainly did not have time to try an exit out Waikane Valley and so we too turned around and began our trip out. During our exit, I couldn't help but reflect that a considerable amount of time and effort had been put into the construction of these waterways and done so because of a new economic model introduced to the islands. Clearly the earlier Hawaiian notion of agriculture had been based on providing food for the subsistence and needs of the community, not for a world market and the generation of wealth.

From what I've read, the depletion of water in these three valleys has had a significant negative impact on stream marine life, taro farming, and the fish nurseries of Kaneohe Bay. Vast quantities of fresh pure water, so casually taken for granted, suddenly were diverted from their home stream beds and sent to feed sugar acreage. Just as today, with the exit of sugar and pineapple the water may be used for diversified agriculture and to sustain new developments for housing and recreation. Some of the water has been returned for windward use, but it is doubtful that the healthy pre-Livingstone flows will ever be seen again. Darn that overpopulation.

However, we were just on an afternoon hike, and the day was pretty close to perfect. Even though the air was filled with mosquitoes, they were only biting Thomas. I believe he had failed to partake in Lynn's most excellent two-tone brownies and therefore missed out on their natural anti-malarial properties. Fortunately, Thomas had thought of us and back at the cars brought out what was one of the largest ice chests filled with cold drinks I have ever seen. From there it was a quick jaunt out and home by 5pm.


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