Date: Wed, 22 Jul 1998 12:26:57 -1000 From: Patrick Rorie (firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: The Call of the KST
"The Ko'olau Summit Trail is a graded footpath that winds along the crest of the Ko'olau Range from the end of Pupukea Rd. to the end of the Kipapa Ridge Trail."* Usually, most of the northern and central Ko'olau Mountain Range is socked in with clouds, minimizing visibility along the Ko'olau Summit Trail (KST); therefore, whenever a beautiful day comes along (lots of blue sky and sunshine, intermittent white puffy clouds high overhead and gentle cooling trade winds) I find it hard to resist the call of the KST. Such was the case this past Sunday, July 19, 1998.
After topping out and taking a break with Dayle Turner, Dave Webb and a handful of other HTMC'ers at the Laie summit (elev. 2,240 ft) I removed my bolo knife from its sheath and started tramping along the Summit Trail at noon. Earlier in the day four backpackers passed us going in the opposite direction at the open stretch of the Laie Trail where a steep cliff borders the footpath on the right and a sharp drop-off exists on the left. Dayle and I spoke briefly with one of them, a young attractive female, and she said they had camped on top of the Kawailoa helipad the previous evening. As a result, there was a swath through the uluhe as I contoured "below a series of low hills on the summit ridge"**. Dry stream beds were visible in the upper windward gulches below. With perfect hiking weather, I decided to take a leisurely pace and enjoy the trek as much as possible.
Just a quick side note - "The Summit Trail is a contour or side hill trail. That means it was built into the side of the summit ridge, not along its top. Sometimes the trail is on the windward (left) side and sometimes on the leeward (right) side."**
Prior to completing the half mile segment to the Kawailoa Ridge Trail junction, a collapsed wooden platform located on the windward side of the helipad came into view. I paused to take a photo of the structure and to study the area before crossing a marsh via metal landing mats. Upon fording a sluggish stream in the marshy area, I contoured in the leeward direction a short distance along the base of a flat-topped mound, used occasionally as a helipad. Instead of contouring all the way around I took a short cut and gained the apex of the pu'u at 12:36 p.m. I noticed a pile of guava sticks stacked neatly next to the wooden platform and the impression in the grass where the backpackers had set up their tent.
From there I proceeded to the top of the helipad (elev. 2,360 ft) to enjoy one of the best view spots to leeward found anywhere on Oahu. The entire Waianae Range was visible and cloudless from Makakilo to Ka'ena Point. Mount Ka'ala was dead ahead with other prominent peaks (Kaua, Kalena) easily recognized. The south and north shores could also be seen. Directly below were "the headwaters of Kawainui and Kamananui Streams, separated by the Kawailoa Ridge Trail"** and all around, "the convoluted topography of the northern Ko'olau Range"**.
Moving anew, I took a narrow footpath which eventually joined the KST. Rather than immediately turning right onto the Summit Trail at the junction (marked by blue ribbons) and heading for points south, I backtracked along the KST below the helipad through some dead Australian tea trees until I reached the place where I had completed the crossing of the marsh earlier. The purpose was to take advantage of the clear summit ridge and gain a better knowledge of the region. A few minutes later, I returned to the junction and tied some "hot" pink ribbons to a couple of trees up slope.
Pressing on at 12:50 p.m., I began traveling through the lush (and muddy) native rain forest of Oahu, a botonist's delight filled with healthy lapalapa trees (dark green rounded leaves), lots of tall loulu palm groves and many Ohi'a. Fresh pua'a hoof prints in the ooze became more common so I commenced loud chatter to alert them of my presence. "Feral pigs make up most of the traffic on the Summit Trail. They usually detect you first and move off the trail. Pigs are not aggressive unless cornered so give them plenty of room to retreat if you do encounter them on the trail."**
At 1:30 p.m. I observed a white, five gallon container several yards to the left of the footpath and a sign with the words "Poison - Do Not Touch - U.H. Zoology" written on it at the bottom of a tree directly on the trail border. Also, blue ribbon with yellow tags attached to woody plants along the route appeared periodically. During a leeward stretch, the uppermost Kawainui waterfall came into view, a long lovely vertical cascade. At 2 p.m. I arrived at the stacked remains of the Kahuku Cabin. A green portable lavatory was among the debris.
Descended briefly through a narrow defile (literally, a narrow passage or gorge) which had a short, rusty metal pole protruding from its left wall. An excellent vista of spectacular Kaipapa'u Gulch followed, along with a wonderful windward section of the Summit Trail, a steep cliff forming the right perimeter of the footpath. Dropped down into and climbed out of a deep gut (canal or strait) in the trail while on the windward tract.
The trail then crossed over to the leeward side of the summit ridge and eventually went underneath a boulder partially hidden by vegetation. Two more huge rocks were encountered soon after, one of which was directly in the middle of the trail. Its location made for a nice place to rest and featured an outstanding viewspot of the Waianae Range/Ka'ena Point/Dillingham Air Field in the distance and the leeward Ko'olau valleys below. Carefully negotiated a landslide which wiped out the original footpath, climbed steadily and had to grit my teeth while plowing through thick flora consisting mainly of clidemia. The long leeward segment continued, interupted only by two pleasant ravines, the first providing a superb windward overlook of the Laie Coast including Laniloa (Laie Pt) and the islands of Kihewamoku, Mokuauia (Goat Island), Pulemoku, Kukuihoolua, and Mokualai.
Finally, around 3 p.m., the Ko'olau Summit Trail shifted back to windward (hurray!!!) and offered terrific windward sights but was muddy and mostly overgrown (low level vegetation, not the high, in-your-face variety). A brief leeward stretch ensued then the footpath switched to windward, cliff walls forming the right boundary.
Unfortunately, another lengthy leeward section came about. I scored a propane bottle holder while working through the area but my right foot came completely out of its shoe due to the ankle deep mud. Gazed at the ridges coming up from the leeward side of the summit ridge and the upper valleys between them, suffered through an additional landslide/thicket of clidemia combo, and heard my voice echo in the back of a leeward gulch.
I spotted the red Kualoa chopper in the distance. As much as I hate the flying machine, seeing it told me that I wasn't very far from the Castle Trail.
A few minutes after 4 p.m. as I was steadily ascending on the windward side of the Ko'olau Mountain Range, the sky became overcast and mist began to move in. I breathed a sign of relief when the fog dissipated as fast as it had appeared. Nonetheless, the overcast conditions continued.
Got to the junction with the Castle Trail at 4:08 p.m. marked by a rusty metal stake and a long, dark colored PVC pipe.
Another side note - during the first half of 1996 I called Stuart Ball inquiring about the Castle Trail and he explained how to get to it via the Nipple/Kamapua'a/Waiahilahila Trail. My first attempt on May 4th of that year was exploratory and I ran out of time. A week later, however, I made it all the way to the KST/Castle Trail junction although socked in during the upper Castle leg. On this occasion (clear conditions), I was almost certain that I would arrive at the Kamapua'a/Castle junction with plenty of daylight remaining. Wrong!
At 4:12 p.m. I commenced pushing/cutting through thick flora along the Castle Trail heading toward Punalu'u Valley as it initially contoured beside a ridge. Occasionally, I inspected the ground for a trench which is sometimes characteristic of a graded footpath to ensure I was still on the trail. Spotted another long, dark colored PVC pipe sticking up out of the ground on the right.
Further on, I followed the trail as it curved to the right, around the front of the ridge and traced the perimeter of a small ravine. A steep black cliff with a few vines growing on it existed above the footpath. While exiting the gully, the trail straightened out and I arrived at a fork. To the right and down was a shallow ravine. I could clearly recognize the zigzagging pattern of a stream and guessed that it was the headwaters of Kaluanui Stream which feeds Sacred Falls.
Moving directly ahead, the footpath opened up briefly and I noticed an old orange ribbon tied to a tree which was reassuring. Contoured on the left side of another ridge. During this stretch I lost the trail completely. A landslide covered the trench and overgrowth dominated the area. I climbed to the ridge line and considered walking along it until the footpath appeared again. Precious time was being lost and I began to get anxious. "Remember what happened to Wade Johnson?" I asked myself. Dropped back down to the landslide and pushed beyond it looking for some sort of clue. I was incredibly grateful when another old orange ribbon came into view.
The trail curved right again and improved slightly due to windswept circumstances as it descended into a gully. Unfortunately, the footpath became choked with flora once inside the small ravine. I tied pink ribbon to trees to preserve the route.
Reached another junction and went right. The trail terminated a short distance later but I heard the sound of rushing water about a stones throw behind me. I turned and was surprised to see a beautiful, vertical thirty foot waterfall. One of the upper Sacred Falls, no doubt.
I returned to the junction, checked my indiglo and was appalled to discover that it was 5:19 p.m. "I've got to get going!" I told myself. Proceeded straight ahead and was glad to see another orange ribbon as the footpath curved left and descended slightly. After I completed the turn, the elevation loss continued via one switchback. Observed blue ribbons tied to plants just beyond the switchback. The trail then contoured above a gulch containing a dry stream bed. This section was in pretty good shape relatively speaking with the exception of one landslide. Arrived at the Castle/Kamapua'a junction at 5:42 p.m.
During a four minute rest, I decided to take Kamapua'a instead of continuing along Castle. Bent back my ears and girded my mind with the speed hiker mentality. Although I had to endure the initial rollercoast action, the trail was wide open. As a result, I made excellent time. On the way down, the Laie Coast came into view again as well as some of the upper falls on both sides of the ridge. Reached the top of the Nipple leg at 6:53 p.m.
Commenced the steep descent from the Nipple once I had caught my breath and hydrated. Emerged from the forest onto the road at 7:15 p.m. and started walking toward the Sacred Falls parking lot. Got to it as darkness set in at 7:32 p.m. Without delay, I crossed Kamehameha Hwy and sat down on a concrete bench at a bus stop hoping that they were still running. A short time later, DKT in his navy blue Jeep Cherokee pulled up and offered me a ride. How could I refuse?! We drove in his vehicle to Po'ohaili Street in Laie where he dropped me off at the location of my rent-a-wreck. A huge mahalo to him for waiting around after the HTMC Laie Hike and trailclearing fiesta had long since concluded.
Notes: Exploring the region above Sacred Falls is certainly on my "To Do" list. If they are willing, perhaps I can join Brandon Stone and Chris Walker when they go, now that the two of them have opened up the route from Papali to Kamapua'a.
This year the HTMC trail maintenance crew cleared part of the Castle Trail, stretching the Kamapua'a Hike to Kaluanui Stream. Hopefully, we can clear toward the summit next year, progressing atleast to the waterfall I saw on the way down the upper segment of Castle.
* Ball, Jr., Stuart M. THE HIKER'S GUIDE TO O'AHU. Honolulu: University Of Hawaii Press, 1993.
** Ball, Jr., Stuart M. THE BACKPACKERS GUIDE TO HAWAII. Honolulu: University Of Hawaii Press, 1996.