OHE February 18, 1999 (Kealia/Makua Rim)

Date: Thu, 18 Feb 1999 21:25:48 -1000
From: Kirby D. Young (kirbyd@teleport.com>
Subject: Just another Makua Rim tale

It's Makua_Rim week on the Discovery Channel... No, not really, just another post about this scenic area of the Waianaes...

After glancing at a writeup by Dayle Turner describing a recent HTMC trail maintenance outing in the Mokuleia area of the Waianae Mts, I was spurred to use a free Monday, Feb. 8, for a hike in said area. My only hike previously here was the Kuaokala Loop many years ago, so I expected to see a lot of new territory and stay dry at the same time.

Glancing over old OHE posts regarding Kealia and Makua Rim trails, I decided to do a Makua Rim traverse using the Kealia Trail as access. A laudable goal seemed to be attaining the junction point of Ohikilolo Ridge and Makua Rim, where a view down into both Makua and Makaha Valleys would be possible (besides Patrick's very recent writeup, this is mentioned as an extra-day hike in Stuart Ball's Backpacker's Guide* for the Makua Rim trip). After my hike I read Dayle's post more carefully and discovered that to walk the Makua Rim from the Mokuleia camp overlook to Ohikilolo Ridge apparently is now "forbidden" by DLNR. Ah, yes the slippery slope of changing access rules...

Getting an admittedly late start, I began my walk towards what were once sea cliffs behind Dillingham Airfield at about 10:55 AM. My vehicle was the only car parked at the Kealia trailhead and, as it turned out, I would see no other hikers or 4-wheelers in my walking tour of the Waianaes today.

I climbed the spectacular first 1000 feet in about 45 minutes via about 20 switchbacks found in the first 1.5 miles of the Kealia Trail. I love a trail that zigzags its way up a cliff. Great North Shore views expanded as I climbed higher. Along the way I saw the layered remnants of many old a'a lava flows that had erupted from the now-extinct Waianae volcano. Most of these flows had small, cylindrical rock cores extracted from them along the trail, maybe 3-6 borings per flow. These are the tell-tale marks of people studying the ancient magnetism preserved in such rocks. Why would they do this? Well, besides being a spot-check of the Earth's magnetic field at some moment in the past, this "paleomagnetism" sometimes can help in determining the approximate age of such lava flows by using paleomagnetic reversal patterns (times in Earth's past when compass needles would have pointed south!).

From the top of the cliffs to the Waianae crest, the Kealia route follows a firebreak road that rises in gradual fits over 1.5-2 miles. Recent bulldozing had cleared the road of any obstructions and a number of water runoff channels were bladed to one side or the other to keep rain from eroding the road badly in the future.

It was sunny with only light breezes, so I got fairly hot puffing up the road at the fastest reasonable pace I could muster. At one point, the road curves right and contours up and around a prominent pu'u. I mistakenly followed it, huffing hard up a particularly steep section. My huffs turned to groans when I encountered a similarly steep down section to a saddle just beyond. I think Stuart Ball's book says to bypass this up-and-down via an eroded road around the left side of the pu'u.

Past the pu'u I noticed an oddly massive outcrop on a ridge a short ways to the left. It didn't resemble the usual layer-cake stacking of thin lava flows found on Oahu. In fact, it had kind of a Sierra Nevadan granite look to it. Checking "Geology of Hawaii"+ later, this book mentions that the youngest flows of the Waianae volcano sometimes filled in valleys that had already begun eroding into its flanks. That's my guess as to the origin of this odd outcrop. Another example of this filling of "paleovalleys" by later lava flows is the massive basalt mined from a quarry just to the right of the Kealia Trail as one looks towards the cliffs from the trailhead parking area.

Ok, folks, remain calm. No more geology.

After 1.5 hours I arrived at the crest of an Ironwood-forested pu'u that commanded a view into the very green Makua Valley (the Kuaokala Loop continues along the crest to the right). Quiet reined in its depths for the remainder of my walk along its rim (i.e. no military exercises). I turned left, descended through the Ironwoods, and rejoined the firebreak road that had veered left short of the summit pu'u. I then proceeded on this road for maybe 1.5 mi as it wound its way through the forest. Great views into Makua Valley were available from this road at a couple of low points in the crest.

Nearing a prominent pu'u bearing the old Nike missile station (boy, I guess shoe sales really _are_ competitive... ), I turned right onto a much more rugged track, passed over an open hump with great views, then climbed steeply along baby switchbacks to the Nike pu'u's summit (the facility itself was 100 yds or so towards Mokuleia). Here I picked up the Makua Rim Trail marked, not by a swoosh, but rather by a yellow-signed "no bicycles" icon.

Dropping into a saddle I then bypassed a small bump along a contoured section. Somewhere along here I think I first encountered the infamous Makua/Ohikilolo barrier, i.e. The_Fence that I would suffer next to me along the rest of Makua Rim. Approaching a steep eroded buttress, I was pleased to find the trail contoured left, then climbed in baby switchbacks to avoid the exposure. Hey, this is a nice trail! I thought. Climbing gentling through increasingly lush forest past the switchbacks, I crossed a small plateau of sorts where Makua Valley's middle ridge comes in on the right. Past this culmination is a very open section with great views across Makua Valley to the cliffs of Ohikilolo Ridge and its summit pyramid.

The trail beyond this point hugged The_Fence all the way to the junction with Ohikilolo Ridge. As The_Fence followed up and down over every little bump, so did I. For the most part the gap between The_Fence and forest was not horribly overgrown. There are a number of steep ups and downs over the various crestal pu'u's, however, and I have to admit I used The_Fence wire to assist my ascents and descents where prudent.

Descending to a saddle, I passed a well-used trail leading left to the Mokuleia campsite. Climbing the succeeding pu'u led to a very nice crestal viewpoint of both Makua Valley and the North Shore. There was also a DLNR sign here that said very loudly "End of Trail".

Continuing on towards Ohikilolo Ridge involved some physically taxing "roller-coaster" ascents and descents, but a distinct passage for foot traffic next to The_Fence remained in most places. One serious pu'u stays fresh in my mind because of the pronounced climb I had to make to its summit while at the same time watching my height above a succeeding very low saddle grow and grow and grow...

From the top of "serious pu'u" (785? m, Ball's Backpacker's Guide map) I assessed my progress and time factor. It was 3:00 PM. Well, I'll keep going, I thought blindly. The_Fence took a sudden right turn to begin descending steeply into Makua Valley! Ugh. Following it carefully, I dropped about 200', bringing me level with the yet-to-be-attained saddle. The_Fence here then turned a sharp left and contoured along a steep cut to reach said saddle, where I realized the point of it all was to bypass an eroded, narrow, and steep stretch of the crestal ridge. Even The_Fence has limits, apparently.

Onward I plodded up and down, the great views of Makua Valley and approaching Ohikilolo Ridge easing my "roller-coaster" pain. The final 20 minutes thankfully consisted of varying ups only, with a final steep climb to the Makua/Makaha triple junction. Extensive pua'a ruttings existed in the forest just short of this final assault.

A wonderful finale it was, with Kaala close at hand, and distant Kaua and Palikea summits at the far end of the Waianaes visible through a low gap between Kaala and "No Name" Peak (Waianae Kai Trail). Kawiwi and the rest of Kamaileunu Ridge extended seaward, framing Makaha Valley on the left, with Ohikilolo Ridge bounding it on the right. The view of Makua Valley took in nearly its entire expanse in one narrow scene from its apex. These vistas were so great, I gave the North Shore direction a little less than its due, but that view was wonderful as well.

As a Dillingham glider drifted silently overhead I noticed the crestal trail continued in an overgrown state towards the Mt. Kaala road. The_Fence did not follow it but neither did it end. Instead, it made an abrupt turn, gouged out a notch in the ridge, and descended steeply onto Ohikilolo Ridge proper, which it followed makai for at least 1/4 mile. Beyond that I think it stops at some point on the narrowing ridge, leaving a gap in The_Fence (horrors!), which I suppose will remain until such time as pigs can fly...

To wrap up this long story, I began my journey back at 4 PM. Despite the ups and downs, my return time to the Nike facility was significantly faster as darkness weighed on my mind. Combined with some serious road tromping, I managed to arrive at the top of the Kealia pali just a little past sundown (6:25 PM), where I collapsed to enjoy an apple and the brightening lights of Mokuleia and the North Shore. Then, descending in gathering darkness, I managed to stumble to my car just a tad after 7 PM without pulling out my flashlight.

Overall, my rough guess is this out-and-back walk was about: 2 3/4 mi on Kealia
3 3/4 mi Kealia to the Mokuleia campsite overlook (Ball's Backpacker guide)
1 1/4 mi to the triple junction (more of a guess).

That makes for a round trip of 15 1/2 mi over widely varying terrain.

*Ball, Stuart M., Jr., 1996, The Backpackers Guide to Hawai'i, Univ. Hawaii Press.

+MacDonald, G. A., A. T. Abbott, and F. L. Peterson , 1983, Volcanoes in the Sea: The Geology of Hawaii, 2nd Edition, Univ. Hawaii Press.

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