OHE February 20, 1998

Date: Fri, 20 Feb 1998 23:18:25 -1000
From: "Dayle K. Turner" (turner@hawaii.edu>
Subject: Kuliouou/Kaalakei/Mauna o Ahi

My buddy Chris Thomas emailed me this morning, asking about the Haihaione trail. I've only hiked that route once and when I did I noticed some additional options to explore; accordingly, I figured why not head out to Hawaii Kai side to check it out.

One end of the Haihaione trail begins at the terminal point of Haihaione Street. However, instead of starting there, I drove up Kuliouou Valley and commenced hiking at the head of the Kuliouou Ahi trail on Kala'au Place. My tentative plan was to go up the Ahi switchbacks and look for a trail that dropped down to Kaalakei Valley which sits between Kuliouou and Haihaione. From Kaalakei, I'd ascend to Mauna o Ahi ridge, pick up the Haihaione trail atop it, and continue to the Koolau summit. At the summit, I'd turn left and continue to the top of Ahi, which I'd descend back to my vehicle.

For the most part, I followed that plan, with some minor variations. I arrived at the Ahi trailhead at 11:45 and after readying my stuff, I was off. A few strides from my vehicle, I recalled HTMC vet Bill Gorst telling me about a side trail club members used to ascend to Kuilouou ridge. This alternate route never crosses the freeway Ahi trail, according to Bill, and it starts on the right not far from the end of Kala'au Place. Hey, why not look for that route and ascend it rather than Ahi, I told myself.

Except for telling me this side trail was near the start of Ahi on the right, Bill was vague regarding its whereabouts. At the end of Kala'au Place on the right is a single-lane road that leads to a water tank. Thinking I'd find the start of the side trail there, up that buggah I went.

As I hiked up the road, I could find no trail on the right. A couple minutes later I was at the water tank--no trail visible on either side of it. Since I didn't want to backtrack, I figured I'd bushwhack across the slope until I crossed a trail heading up. So out came my trusty machete and a-swinging I went, mostly at koa haole and a thorny shrub I don't know the name of.

After a few minutes of pounding my way across the mountainside, bingo, I encountered a clear trail heading upslope. Ahh, this must be the one Bill was talking about. Up I went to see if it was so. The trail up was a welcome relief from the pedestrian Ahi switchbacks. While ascending I passed a pleasant grove of ironwoods, a small cave on the left, and traversed a brief rocky section that looked like a dried-up stream. As the top neared, the trail leveled out and swung right across a gentle ravine. To my surprise, I spotted no ribbons at all during the entire ascent.

At the crest of the ridge (the climb took about 30 minutes), I reached a junction where a trail headed makai and mauka. I went makai for a couple minutes then stopped when I thought I wouldn't find a route that dropped down to Kaalakei Valley. After backtracking to the point I had topped out, I headed mauka for a few minutes until arriving at a ribboned junction. At that point, the ridgetop trail veered left and then continued upslope while another trail headed to the right on a contoured descent to the back of Kaalakei Valley.

To the right I went, dropping gently on a clear and sometimes wide trail that probably was a jeep road at some point in the past (a topo map review seems to bear this out). Pink and yellow ribbons marked this trail, and someone had come up with a chainsaw to cut fallen trees. Nice job!

After 10 minutes or so, the trail ended its gentle mauka descent and swung briefly makai. Now deep in the upper reaches of Kaalakei Valley, I arrived at a junction where a faint trail continued mauka while a wider ribboned trail headed makai. I followed the mauka trail for 50 yards and when I spotted no ribbons, I turned back. I then backtracked and continued makai on the wide trail until reaching another junction. A trail to the right headed down the valley, probably to an exit point on Kawaihae Street. Meanwhile, the trail to the left led to a clearing that has been used as a campsite. This site, complete with rock lined fire pit, sits just makai of a streambed that has a huge old metal culvert pipe sitting in it.

From the clearing, the trail headed mauka across the streambed then swung makai paralleling the stream and then leaving it behind to climb gently to the crest of Mauna o Ahi ridge. The trail topped out at a junction just makai of a powerline pole. From that point, one could head right (makai) to reach another junction where a trail on the left leads down to the back of Haihaione Valley and to the end of Haihaione Street (I've gone down this route before). Instead of heading right, I went left (mauka), bound for the Koolau summit.

The trail traveled mostly under a canopy of trees, predominantly ironwoods. There are, however, a couple of open areas with views left toward Kuliouou ridge and right down into upper Haihaione Valley. About halfway to the summit, I encountered a haole kid, about 15. He was justing sitting alongside the trail, looking uncomfortable about my presence there. Not in the mood to chat, I acknowledged his presence with a howzit, and continued puffing upslope as the angle of ascent increased.

From the powerline junction, the climb to the summit took me 40 minutes, give or take. Once at the crest, I was welcomed with views of Waimanalo and the windward side as well as the infamous and oft-noted bouquet la cow kukae. Yummy! :-)

Heading left toward the summit of Ahi, I followed the summit trail as it hugged the windward edge of the crest more often than not. About 100 yards after topping out, I climbed up some concrete steps to pass three massive powerline towers. I paused for a couple minutes to eyeball the the profile of the massive ridge that drops to the windward side from Pu'u o Kona. From where I stood, this ridge looked not too bad (read: do-able). In fact, Wingo tells me that an oldtimer daredevil faction of the HTMC used this ridge (known as Pu'u o Kona windward) as a rite of passage for anyone wanting to gain membership. Hmmm....

After being mesmerized by thoughts of climbing that thing, I continued on along the crest, negotiating some gentle roller coaster action before finally arriving at the summit of Kuliouou Ahi. A 20-ish local Japanese couple was there and asked me where I had come from and what the trail was like. I talked story with them for a few minutes, glugged down some water, ate some graham crackers, and searched for the bottle and summit notepad I had left there a couple months back. Auwe, the bottle was gone!

After a 15 minute rest at the summit, I bid aloha to the couple and headed down the Ahi freeway trail. On the descent I passed a local guy and his dog (Ziggy wannabe) headed for the top. I also paused to look at the steep section across the valley that Grant Tokumi and friend had climbed up. Looks like a rugged scramble.

Downward on Ahi I continued. On a previous outing on Ahi, right by the picnic shelter, I spotted what appeared to be a trail heading down toward Kaalakei Valley. Since I had time today, I decided to explore this route. Sure enough, there was a trail there. Downslope it headed along a mostly open mountainside populated by ironwoods. After a 10-minute descent, I arrived at the gentle contour trail I had descended earlier to reach the back of Kaalakei. I followed the contour trail makai as it climbed back to the top of Kuliouou Ridge.

Once I regained the ridgetop of Kuliouou, I continued makai for a couple hundred yards and then headed right and down on the trail I had ascended initially from the water tank. About 20 minutes from the top, this trail bottoms out on Ahi, just mauka of the clearing with the lone Christmas berry tree that Ball describes in his book (page 6). No ribbons mark this junction, however, probably because they might lead folks astray.

For those looking for a different twist to ascend/descend Kuliouou ridge, I'd recommend this variation. A nice hike with some promising spots for camping.


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