OHE January 16, 2000 (Kahuku)

Date: Sun, 16 Jan 2000 23:03:14 -1000
From: Dayle K. Turner (turner@hawaii.edu)
Subject: Kahuku Trail

Today (1/16/2000) Jim Pushaw, Kris Corliss, Larry Oswald, Mike Algiers, Mike's friend Helene, and I descended the Kahuku Trail, a route that has had very limited hiker traffic in recent years. Trespassing issues prevent viable access to the mountains in the area mauka of Kam Hwy between Kahuku High School and the Cackle Fresh egg farm. And as a result of today's outing, we have a clearer understanding why so few hikers use Kahuku to access the Koolau Summit.

Our plan for the outing went as follows: we'd start at the Boy Scout Camp at the end of Pupukea Road, then continue for 2.5 miles on a military dirt road, then hike on the Koolau Summit Trail for two miles. We'd then make our way down Kahuku, using topo maps and visual reckoning, and hopefully make it all the way. We then hoped to make our way via a maze of jeep roads over to the Laie ball park, the normal start/end point when hiking the Laie and Malaekahana trails. Providing the impetus for this plan was Kris, who suggested the outing to me at last week's Nihoa hike.

We met at 8 a.m. at the end of Pupukea Road. Earlier, Mike and Larry staged their trucks for posthike transport at the ball park where we normally begin the Laie and Malaekahana hikes. From there, Kris ferried them back to Pupukea. While doing the ferrying, Kris reported seeing Tom Yoza in his orange 4x4. We never did see Tom thereafter, so we're not sure what happened to him.

We were fortunate today we were able to cut out two miles of walking on the military dirt road since we tagged along with other hiker friends who would be scouting out/working on the Kaunala Trail. These friends had obtained the keys to the gate at the end of Pupukea Road, and with access to the jeep road beyond the gate, they were able to drive the two miles that we would otherwise have to hike. Mahalo to Bill Gorst, Kost Pankiwskyj, Ken Suzuki, and Mabel Kekina for providing truck transport. Other friends who were on hand were Kim and Judy Roy, Carole K. Moon, June Miyasato, Jay Feldman, John Hall, Dick and Brenda Cowan, Jason Sunada, Nathan Yuen, Grant and Georgina Oka, Gina Goodman, Dusty Klein, among others.

After the two-mile ride, a locked gate which we had no key for blocked further vehicular progress and from there our group of six hiked along the road until we arrived at the start of the Koolau Summit Trail. The first short segment of the KST was once a jeep road stemming off the main jeep road. However, it is now severely overgrown and rutted and anything except a tank or bulldozer would be hard pressed to go beyond 50 feet on it now.

The KST sees few hikers nowadays and the first two miles of the route, though periodically maintained by the Trail and Mountain Club, is currently brushy (i.e. overgrown) and muddy (as always). Jim and I jumped to the front of our group, arriving at the Pupukea summit pu'u (hill 1,860 on the map) about fifty minutes after leaving the main road. Meanwhile, the other four members of our party spent time working on the KST and arrived at the pu'u close to an hour later. Larry lugged and used a gas-powered hedge trimmer while the others used hand tools. Hats off to these folks. Instead of waiting for the others to arrive, Jim and I pushed ahead and started our way down the Kahuku Trail (its terminus is about 100 meters east of the hill 1,860 benchmark). Two old ribbons marked the termimus and we put up a new double-pink to more clearly mark the spot.

Jim and I took our time on the way down, hacking at uluhe and strawberry guava as we descended. Though we saw no old cuts nor any ribbons, the trail swath/rut was evident, and we had no trouble finding our way, that is until we passed a very obscure junction where we were supposed to veer left but went straight instead. I should have figured out sooner we were off course when the swath and rut we had been following petered out into nothing. But I figured that a landslide, a lack of human traffic, or just the passage of time could have obliterated what was once a clear trail.

I knew it was time to backtrack when I began descending quite steeply into a ravine when the map indicated we were supposed to do no such thing. Jim was trailing me at the time and had been devoting considerable energy hammering open a wide swath through the uluhe. But he was thankfully diplomatic when he heard the news we were off course, and back upridge we headed, looking for clues to help us find the right ridge to head down.

Directly northwest of the spur we were on was a ridge that extended all the way to the foothills we knew we had to get to. A helpful clue that this ridge was the correct one was a hilltop covered with a substantial amount of ti plants. I reasoned the ti was likely planted by someone since its presence on ridges is relatively infrequent. And where someone had planted ti likely that's where a trail would be.

Backtracking up the ridge, we found the very obscure place where we should have headed left on the way down. This place is now marked and the trail down the wrong spur has been blocked off to prevent the unwary from going astray. When descending, the thing to remember is that about a quarter mile down, there is a spot where you have to leave the ridge you've been following and veer left (almost due north) to pick up the correct ridge. After that, the trail is relatively straightforward.

By the time Jim and I backtracked and found the correct route, our four friends had caught up to us. A half hour prior to that, I had made contact with Mike via walkie-talkie and he told us he and the others were on their way. Several of our friends working on Kaunala also had walkie-talkies but we were unable to contact them, probably because of the distance and intervening ridges and gulches. Together, our group of six headed down, stopping at 12:30 to eat lunch on the makai side of the ti leaf pu'u which had good views down toward the ocean, of Hina Gulch to our left, of lower Malaekahana Ridge to our right, and of the low foothills dead ahead.

By 1 p.m., we were on the move again. We continued our work to open up the trail, with Mike taking a turn with the hedge trimmer while the rest of us swung away with machetes and sickles. For an hour, we made our way through an uluhe zone, following an evident swath/rut. Thereafter was a short segment where the trail underfoot was drier and free of vegetation. Then we hit the strawberry guava zone, similar in duration to Laie and Malaekahana. At the uppermost part of the guava, we spotted an old blue ribbon [hurray!], the first marker we had spotted on the ridge other than a very old orange ribbon I'd seen a few hundred meters from the top. Continuing down through the guava, we saw more blue ribbons, then an occasional orange or red. Though somewhat obscure, the swath through the guava was fairly easy to follow although we missed the right way a couple times or three but quickly returned on course.

Below the guava were sections of ironwoods. Then the ridge became very broad and more eroded. Old ribbons kept us generally on course. We then had to do some searching when we reached a flat area with laua'e and guava. After poking around some, we headed left, scrambling under a fallen tree and then picked up the trail again until emerging on an ancient eroded jeep road.

At a huge balancing boulder, we should have headed left to follow the old jeep road (we weren't paying close attention to our maps at the time). Instead, we followed a faint trail straight down the ridge. In a grove of ironwoods, we passed a lean-to made of logs and a tattered tarp (Kris said the lean-to was a classic Boy Scout design and was likely made by a troop on a campout). Around then (about 3:30), Mabel called Jim via cellphone, asking where we were and our anticipated TOA at the Laie ball park. "An hour from now, at least" was my estimate when asked. Armed with that info, Mabel said she'd be waiting at the park for us, soft drinks and snacks at the ready [hurray!].

A few minutes below the lean-to, we spotted a structure (greenhouse?) in the ravine to our right. We then descended a spur to the junction where Malaekahana Stream converges with Hina Stream. The greenhouse structure was nearby and appeared abandoned. None of us wanted to check it out and chance a confrontation with its owner/occupant. On the far bank of the stream was a significant jeep road with fresh tire tracks on it [hurray!]. We followed the jeep road in a general makai direction. Kris, who'd studied her map carefully prior to the outing, said we'd have to head right when we reached a junction with another road.

Before reaching that junction, we encountered a locked gate that we easily bypassed on the left via a trail. A sign right before the gate warned against crossing the stream (Malaekahana) in flash flood conditions. The water flow was very low today, and after going around the gate, we strode across the stream which barely reached shoelace level.

Not long after the gate and stream, we reached a junction with a significant dirt road heading up to our right. This rightward heading road jived with one that did the same our our maps and would eventually lead us to our goal, so rightward we headed, hopeful we'd find our way through the maze of dirt roads to the Laie ball park where Mike's and Larry's trucks were.

This rightward road took us to a hilltop where we looked down to the right on a horse ranch. We also spotted a significant dirt road heading in a general makai direction. It was about 4 p.m. at the time and right around then Ken radioed via walkie-talkie, saying he was waiting at the ball park with Mabel. "Where are you folks?" Ken inquired.

"Trying to find our way though this maze of roads," I replied. When Ken acknowledged hearing what I said, I heard laughter in the background (from Carole Moon, who had accompanied Ken and found humor in our predicament).

Actually, there was humor in our predicament and it was good we all kept our sense of humor and kept plodding along until we found our way out. The way out, by the way, was dead through the middle of Gun Stock Ranch, the expansive tract mauka of Kam Hwy from Malaekahana State Park. When we reached the mauka boundary of the ranch property, we spotted a guy in a van, just emerging from a fenced meadow.

We braced ourselves for a verbal reprimand, preparing to claim we were lost hikers trying to find our way back to civilization, a claim which was in fact quite true. The guy turned out to be friendly and is one of many folks who rent out pasture space from the ranch for horses they own.

"How do we get to the highway?" asked Kris.

"Just keep following this road," said the guy, pointing to the one we'd been on for a while.

"Will the ranch people be mad at us for hiking through?" she continued.

"Nah, they're probably all sleeping."

So onward we hiked, passing other pasture renters who gave us not even a glance. On past the ranch corrals and houses. Not a word said nor an angry expression doled out. [Hurray!] I radioed Ken, asking him and Mabel to drive over to the entrance to Malaekahana Park because we'd be coming out nearby.

When we arrived at the highway, Ken and Mabel pulled up and ferried us back to the ball park where Mike's and Larry's trucks were. As promised, Mabel served up some tasty snacks and some cool drinks, quickly and thankfully consumed by our famished sixsome. [Hurray!]

We relaxed at the park for an hour, then everyone headed off on their way. Larry and Kris gave me a ride back to Pupukea but before that, we drove around to do some exploring of the dirt backroads, entering near the Saint Rochs (sp?) Church by Kahuku High School. At one point as we passed a banana farm, Larry's truck was surrounded by a pack of angry barking dogs, including a thick pitbull and a thicker rotweiller. The road became very muddy at that point, and we would have been in a bad way if his vehicle had gotten stuck (especially me, since I was sitting in the bed of the truck and exposed to the rampaging canines). But he managed the muck just fine.

In the end, we concluded that to hike the Kahuku Trail, we'll have to find a way to get to it via the route we had intended to come out today. We plan to look for that route later this year when we next hike the Malaekahana Trail, probably in May.

To see a map of the trail we hiked, with significant landmarks labeled, go to


Hike on!


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