OHE January 28, 1998

Date: Wed, 28 Jan 1998 09:57:36 -1000 (HST)
From: "Dayle K. Turner" (turner@hawaii.edu>
Subject: Olympus to Konahuanui (long version)

For me, hiking the Koolau summit has been both an exhilarating and tortuous experience. The exhilaration comes in the form of views of rarely seen vistas, of being closer to nature than most, of the comradery of close friends, and of post-hike memories of the experience. The torture manifests itself in--among other things--lung busting ascents of handholdless slopes with a heavy pack, cramped muscles brought on by exertion the body cannot tolerate, relentless assaults of the scorching sun, and mental anguish from the realization a misstep could mean injury or death. Since I keep returning to hike the summit again and again, either I'm a masochist (I'm not) or I'm addicted to the exhilaration like a chain-smoker is to cigarettes.

My most recent experience with the above-described phenomena was on Sunday, 1/25/98, when I joined a group of 12 others to make our way across the crest between Mount Olympus and Konahuanui, the highest point in the Koolau range. What follows is a recap of the hike.

Several of us meet at Manoa Road at 7:30 a.m., including Grant Oka, his daughter Georgina (her 13th birthday!), Ken Suzuki, and Pat Rorie. Gene Robinson, a super hiker who I've hit the hills with many times, is a no show but could be meeting us at Waahila. We pile into Grant's car and head for St. Louis Heights at 7:45. Ken's, Pat's, and my vehicle are left at Manoa Road for post-hike transport.

We arrive at Waahila at 8:00 where we're briefed by Mabel Kekina, the HTMC trail maintenance boss (the club has a scheduled trail clearing of the Olympus route this day). About 30 folks are gathered there, including a handful who aren't trail clearing regulars. Confirmed for the crossing are myself, Grant, Ken, Pat, Debbie Uchida, and Nathan Yuen. Jason Sunada will be coming up Kolowalu and going across with us. Others have not voiced their commitment yet or will be joining Mabel to work on the Olympus trail. Naomi Nasu and Chris Atkinson arrived at 7 and had set off already. Also there are Ralph Valentino, Carole Moon, Thomas Yoza, the famous woman hiker (my idol), her husband, Jarrod Kinoshita, Will Kawano, Jay Feldman, John Hall, Bill Gorst, Deetsie Chave, Lita Komura, among others. The trailhead elevation is ~1,100 feet.

While everyone is standing around chit-chatting, I head off at 8:15, muttering to myself that daylight is a-burning. Nathan is right behind me. I'm anxious to shove off because a delayed launch could later mean hiking in darkness, not a favorite activity of mine. The day is beautiful with temps in the low 70s and clear skies. I'm lugging 1.5 gallons of water in anticipation of a long, hot trek.

I reach the Kolowalu junction in 30 minutes, Nathan having stopped to rest a few minutes back. I hear others coming up the trail, notably Pat and Ralph who call out from behind. Upslope, I see a figure standing on an intermediate peak--probably Chris or Naomi. I whoop but hear no reply. I scan the Kolowalu ridge to my left for Jason. No sign of him.

The summit is clear, the air still cool. At 9:30, I catch up to Chris and Naomi who have been doing some clearing and ascending at a leisurely pace. I report that a big gang is coming up behind me and more than enough hands are available to clear the trail. Just push through, I say. I look back and see Pat, Ralph, and Mike Algiers a couple humps downslope. They are doing some clearing as they hike; otherwise they'd have caught me for sure.

Elevation 2,400 (+1,300 feet from trailhead)--arrive at Wing's contour trail just below the Olympus summit at 9:45. In anticipation of abuse via foliage, I take from my pack a pair of cotton sweatpants and put it on. Chris and Naomi arrive soon thereafter, and Naomi asks what time we'll complete the hike. I estimate 4:30 which turns out to be right on the mark. Arriving next is Nigel, a reputed club speed hiker. He says he won't be joining us for the crossover because of time constraints. Pat, Ralph, Nathan and Mike arrive at just before 10. Ralph and Mike confirm they'll be doing the whole shebang. Good deal, I tell myself.

At just past 10, we shove off to begin the crossover. Downslope, we can see a string of hikers moving up the Olympus trail but can't ascertain for sure who most are. I lead briefly but turn over the ramrod to Pat after the first hump. The crest trail and Olympus trail parallel each other for a brief stretch and during this part Pat and I see Gene Robinson coming up Olympus and yelling to us. Another solid hiker will be joining the ranks!

A constant all day is the windward pali to the right--the big slide, the last step, the grand slam, the enchilada el grande. Exhilaration and mental torture ensue. It's there. I'm there. We're there. What am I doing here? Am I insane?

With the group initially is Pat, Ralph, Naomi, Chris, Nathan, Mike, Lita, and I. Grant, Ken, and Debbie catch up in about 15 minutes. Gene and Jason join the summit brigade not long afterward. Gene says trailing us on the crest is like following Hannibal's army, so well-blazed is the swath. Plenty of talking and joking typifies the first hour. Do we jabber like this to take our minds off the fear? Maybe, maybe not.

The trail is in good shape. Jason says it's the best he's seen it, definitely much better than the time he hiked the route in August '97. The fact that a couple groups (that we know of) have pushed through in the past several months certainly helped widen the trail.

We reach the low saddle section (elev. 2,000) at around 10:50. This has been visible most of the way from Olympus. Pat yells "true horror" several times as we approach. Nathan snaps a picture of Pat on the rock dike right before the sedan-sized boulder. Pat is the first to go up the sedan-sized boulder via a skimpy cable. I ask him to tie the cable I have removed from my pack. He isn't confident in his knot-tying skill; neither am I so after I climb up I ask Ralph to tie a solid knot to a firmly rooted tree. He does so.

I suggest that Nathan snap a shot of folks climbing the cable rock. He says he wants to get up the dangerous boulder first--can't blame him for that. Grant later tells me he took some nice shots of folks climbing this section.

After a short descent, next up is a narrow section covered with ironwoods. Negotiating this segment entails weaving through the tangle and swinging to leeward while hanging onto branches with no appreciable ledge underfoot. Arms and branches hold up, thankfully.

After the low saddle/true horror section, what follows is a climb of 1,100 feet over the course of about a mile. We proceed along a series of humps, some quite steep. Fatigue starts to affect me, maybe a consequence of attacking the trail up Olympus too quickly. Pat and Gene remain at the front with Naomi close behind. I drift to the back as my quad muscles begin to cramp. Meanwhile, Ken points out some flowering lobelia and Grant shows me a pesky cousin of the miconia and clidemia.

We stop for lunch at 11:45 at the top of a distinct bowl shaped depression (elev. 2,300). Someone says Mabel is probably watching us from Olympus and will scold us for breaking too early (the designated HTMC trail clearing lunchtime is noon). We later find out she indeed had been watching us with binoculars and had noted our early lunch. Taking a cue from Jason, I remove my boots to give my aching feet some relief. Although I have lunch (a gardenburger and a PBJ sandwich), extra food is offered (and accepted) from Lita (half a sandwich) and Gene (half an orange). One will never starve with this group. Armed with mini binoculars, we spot a couple of folks on Olympus and also a possible contour section on its windward facing slope. At 12:10 Pat, eager to get going, says, "Let's saddle up!" I reply, "Who made you god?" Everyone laughs. "God" wins out and we plod on.

At 12:15 we've resumed hiking. Only 800 more vertical feet, give or take, are left to gain Konahuanui. I remain at the back, hoping my legs won't totally crap out. We climb some steep slopes, some which would be very difficult to ascend if wet and muddy. I make a mental note to go back to put some cables on these in the future. The talking and joking diminishes as we anticipate rugged climbs ahead.

I spot some folks 1,000 feet below on the Maunawili Demonstration Trail but am too tired to yell or wave. In fact, I'm too tired to talk to anyone. Every iota of energy is needed to climb. Talking is a waste of energy. Ditto for thinking. Keep moving, I tell myself, and make damn sure not to go spastic and take the big slide.

The wind has dropped to next to nothing by now, increasing my discomfort level. I spot a section of the old Castle contour trail a hundred feet below on lee slope and alert Grant and Ken to it. They are surprised and amazed to see this old route. This sighting may have occurred before lunch. My mind has fogged a bit. Fatigue, no doubt.

Clouds begin to roll in near the summit of Konahuanui, still several humps ahead. I point ahead to Ken what I think is the lapalapa grove that marks the summit of Konahuanui 1. Wow, we're not that far, I think. As we make our final climb, to the left I spot a lone hiker descending the ridgeback from Konahuanui. He's only a hundred yards from us. I yell out "Konahua-nuuuui!" and wave. He hears me and waves back.

The first wave of the summit army arrives at Konahuanui (3,105 feet) at around 1:30. The total elevation gain from Waahila has been 2,000 feet. Factor in the ups and downs and the net climb could be closer to 3,000 feet. No wonder my legs are cramping. The final one to top out, I stumble in at 1:40, my legs still cinching up on me. I take a well-deserved break and some long glugs from my canteen. I keep a liter for the descent phase, reckoning (incorrectly) that'll be enough. Ralph and Lita check out the actual summit clearing while the rest of us break in the shade of the lapalapa. Off comes my sweat pants and into my pack. Feels better. We depart the top at just past 2, Pat again saying "Let's saddle up!" to egg me on. Everyone is re-energized despite having logged six tough hours with at least a couple more ahead of us. Views to windward are obscured by clouds but we have visual clarity to leeward.

My legs shakey from 20 minutes of inactivity, I flop after descending less than 50 yards. No biggie. My feet are sore and after 30 minutes the quad cramps resume. On the way down I chat with Jason, a summit veteran and one of only a handful to ever conquer the dangerous Piliwale ridge. We talk about boots and his hiking regimen. I enjoyed talking with him since he's normally quite quiet.

While resting about halfway down from the summit, Ken, Grant, Debbie, and I spot what appears to be an old contour trail on the slopes below Konahuanui. Many ropes affixed by Ralph on a prior trail clearing help make the descent easier and safer. While resting just past the steepest of the rope sections, Grant gives me a liter of water since I've bottomed out my canteen. Much gratitude to him, especially when I later find out that he bonked out before reaching the cars because he ran out of H20 himself.

I reach Nuuanu lookout (elevation 1,600) at 3:15, about 10 minutes after the first arrivers. While resting there, we are amused at Paka-lolo's (a nickname for Pat) tattered socks and makeshift shoestrings. Spirits are high because we know freeway trails are ahead of us now. We depart at 3:30 at a rapid pace. We turn left at the junction of Pauoa Flats and Aihualama and in five minutes we're descending the switchbacks, still at a breakneck speed. Spot a good dozen folks on the way, including a couple of very nice looking haole wahines. Cramps hit again and I drink some water and slow my pace. I hike with Jason for awhile. He says he wants to take a shortcut trail down a ridge through the bamboo but somehow we walk by it.

A ton of folks are at Manoa Falls. Jason, Ken, and Debbie stop there. Debbie, a veteran hiker, says she's never been to Manoa Falls. I have, so I continue on, passing more folks headed for the falls.

I reach the cars on Manoa Road at 4:30, ending yet another torture/exhilaration session in the Koolaus. I'm greeted by Paka-lolo and the rest of the gang who'd been waiting for 10-15 minutes. At 4:45, all 13 are out and we pile into the cars and drive up to Waahila Park. Jason had started from the Kolowalu trail and Pat drops him off there.

Almost like conquering heroes (albeit stiff and limping ones), we arrive at Waahila at 5 and waiting for us there are Mabel, Carole, Thomas, Carey, and June. We gulp down soft drinks and devour an array of snack and dessert items, rehashing the day's events as we do. We party till 6.

After bidding farewell to da gang and dropping off Ralph at his home in Nuuanu, I'm homeward bound to Kaneohe, where I shower, devour a huge meal, and then plop into bed to put behind me the torture I'd endured and to dream about a future ramble in my beloved mountains.


See some pics taken during the hike.
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