OHE February 17, 1998

Date: Tue, 17 Feb 1998 06:58:09 -1000
From: "Dayle K. Turner" (turner@hawaii.edu>
Subject: Nihoa Gulch

I spent the President's Day holiday (2/16) with members of the HTMC trail clearing crew doing some work on a trail across from Camp Erdman out Mokuleia Way called Nihoa Gulch (the club will conduct a members-only hike of the route on 3/22). We had initially intended to take a leisurely hike up the Poamoho Trail but a bit of rain and socked-in conditions along the Koolau summit prompted us to change our plans. After discussing some options, Nihoa was our choice. Present and accounted for were Mabel Kekina, Carole Moon, June Miyasato, Grant Oka, Ken Suzuki, Naomi Nasu, Chris Atkinson, Arnold Fujioka, Pat Rorie, Bill Melemai, his son Willie, and I.

We arrived at the parking lot across Farrington Highway from Erdman and set off at 8:45 under gray skies that looked ready to deposit some rain on this normally dry side of Oahu. We spent about 15 minutes exploring Nihoa Gulch (the folks at Erdman call it "Crystal Canyon"), proceeding through a series of large boulders and eventually stopping at the base of a 20-foot waterfall that had a rope affixed to its left side.

After backtracking to a ribboned junction, we began climbing the ridge at the base of a massive rockface. Above us were a series of caves that looked like entrances to coal mines (the Erdman folks call these "Lost Menehune Mines"). A string of cables attached to metal pipes marked the route initially. After 20 minutes of ascending across the face of the mountain at about a 45 degree angle, we arrived at a wooden ladder that we climbed to an overlook about a third of the way up the 1,100-foot mountainside with views of Erdman and waves in the 4 to 6-foot range pounding the Mokuleia shoreline below. We even saw a whale breaching in the waters between Kaena Point and Erdman. Nice!

After a brief rest at the overlook, we continued climbing, sometimes straight up, other times along a diagonal contour in the direction of Kaena Point. Pink ribbons marked the way. We continued ascending like this until reaching the right (Kaena-side) edge of the mountainside where we climbed up to a windy overlook about a 100 yards short of the top. At this higher vantage point, we enjoyed spectacular views of the coast and of the rockface across Uluhulu Gulch toward Kaena where rock climbing enthusiasts practice their avocation.

We topped out at 11 and spent the next 30 minutes eating lunch, talking story and resting under a clutch of ironwoods (1,137-foot point on the topo map). Bill and I noted that this spot would be a nice place to camp and intend to return to do just that at some point.

Instead of returning the same way we had come up, everyone voted to attempt a route that would have us continue upridge due south in the direction of Makua Valley until we reached a jeep road. At that point, we'd follow the road east in the direction of Waialua until reaching the state-maintained Kealia Trail which we'd descend to the Dillingham Airfield.

From the lunchspot, we ascended gently upridge for about 20 minutes and arrived at a recently bulldozed road. The road continued south for a while until reaching a junction. With a much improved weather situation (warm and sunny), we headed left (roughly east) at the junction (I'm not sure where the road to the right led), following the road as it travelled in and out of several gulches. Between 12:30 and 1:00, we arrived at another junction marked by a sign that read "Keekee Road." We headed left and down there, dropping to the bottom of a gulch and climbing semi-steeply out of it to a lookout point at the head of a ridge. At that point, the more well-used road continued uphill in the direction of Kealia while a fainter, rutted road headed makai downhill.

Bill, Willie and I opted for the makai road while the others continued on the more well-used one. As it turned out, we all were reunited about 20 minutes later at a junction of the Kealia trail (map point D on page 214 of Stuart Ball's hiking book). We continued along Kealia, descending to a ravine populated by Kukui trees and then climbing out of it until we reached the Mokuleia firebreak road where we turned left (the road to the right leads to Makua Rim and further on to Peacock Flats). In all, we did about two hours of walking on a jeep road after leaving the lunchspot, probably covering 4 to 5 miles.

After 10 minutes of descending along the fire break road, we reached the top of Kealia's 14 switchbacks and their million dollar views of Oahu's north shore. The descent of the switchbacks went smoothly, with Ken, our resident plant expert, pointing out an interesting array of flora, including wiliwili, kookoolau, and some rare endemic species whose names I can't recall. About halfway down, I pointed out to Grant and Pat a carving on a rockface that read "CCC 1934" (CCC = Civilian Conservation Corps).

When we reached the Kealia trailhead at the Dillingham Airfield, a 15-minute walk back along Farrington Highway to Erdman still remained. Fortunately, Bill was successful in soliciting a ride in a big pickup truck from the airfield's head of maintenance, saving us some wear and tear on our legs. Mahalo to the kindhearted gentleman (and to Bill) for the ride. We arrived back at Erdman at 2:30, ending an interesting and fun day in the Waianae Mountains.


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