OHE July 5, 1999 (Olympus-Castle)

Date: Mon, 5 Jul 1999 23:32:02 -1000
From: Greg Kingsley (gkingsle@hawaii.edu>
Subject: Olympus-Castle Trail, 05JUL99

Unspoken amongst hiking circles and contemplations for decades, my introduction to the Olympus-Castle trail was a mere sighting stumbled across during a previous jaunt upon Waahila Ridge. Slumbering in the far reaches of Manoa and Palolo Valleys is this trail, one which snakes its way along the rippled leeward wall of the Koolau Range from Kaau Crater toward Nuuanu Valley. This contour trail, painstakingly graded in the early 1900s under the direction of a certain Mr. Castle, connected three valleys just off the leeward edge of the mountain's crest.

After making a rather interesting entrance (involving Blossom and I, a motorcycle, and a sloping parking lot - don't ask!), the five of us proceeded into the woods behind Waahila State Recreation Park, (elev. 1,080 feet) onto the minor rollercoaster action of the Waahila Ridge Trail. In attendance of this trail search and clearing expedition were Wing Ng (who kindly provided cutting implements), Mark Short, and Randy Jackson (an ex-Hawaii resident visiting from Washington). Hiking first through shady ironwoods, then the familiar motley-colored guava, we ignored the well-trodden turnoff down Kolowalu Trail (elev. 1,640 feet) and continued on the less-traveled ridge trail with a deliberate pace. Sweat-soaked and rain-drizzled, we regrouped for a short break upon a wide grassy clearing about halfway between the start of the "extended" Waahila Ridge Trail and its terminus: Mt. Olympus (elev. 2,486 feet). Views of Honolulu were slightly misted by an overcast sky but crisp enough to pick out places visited during the Independence Day celebration/fireworks display.

Leaving a trio of panting student hikers in our wake, we set forth up the ridge, which had become more direct with its elevation gain versus the rollercoaster ups and downs of the earlier half. The group collected three-quarters way along the final ascent of the Mt. Olympus twins, just beyond the junction with Olympus-Castle. A hovering haze had effectively erased the obvious grade from our vision and we skipped it by about thirty feet. Realizing the oversight, we backtracked down the clay slope and landed ourselves upon the correct path.

Perpendicular to the Waahila Ridge, it proceeded west (Konahuanui-bound) for a spell, then wrapped around the round figure of Mt. Olympus. A graded, two to three-foot-wide walkway, perched on each side with sloping uluhe ferns, clidemia, and various native foliage, we maintained a contour at about 2,280-feet until we reached a landslide governing our trail access. From this point, the route disappeared into a convolution of steep banks of uluhe-splattered rock, thickets of clidemia and other foliage overgrowth, and bewilderment. We connected with the crest and Randy and Mark went beyond the first saddle: a dip in the narrow crest between Mt. Olympus and a small hump. As the two searched for the continuation, Blossom tagged along with me as we backtracked to the landslide to investigate the possibility of descending switchbacks - an item Castle used on his trail in Punaluu/Kaluanui Valleys. No luck for us, as we yelled to each other across the gully at over 2,000-feet in elevation.

Wing stayed behind, after a short interlude with an uluhe-disguised six-foot drop, while the remaining two pairs returned to the crest trail and descended. Mark and Randy called back that they had found an unmistakably contouring trail and began to clear southward back toward Waahila Ridge. Blossom and I followed suit by descending the crest route, veering left onto the leeward side, and dropping onto the flat trail. This was it! Just like the previous length of trail, which disappeared into the landslide, this wide footpath was only a few feet away from the crest trail. The boundless sea of uluhe, which disappeared into the clouds and into the valley below at the same time, had swallowed up this abandoned trail. We had been walking along the crest, often within three or four feet of Olympus-Castle without ever coming in sight of it.

Machetes drawn, we hacked this section until 2 PM, opening a wide, gradually ascending "freeway" eastbound from the vicinity of a large saddle between Waahila Ridge and a middle ridge in Manoa Valley. Sweat and hunger summoned, we broke for lunch at a spot where the routes of both crest and graded trails closed within a few feet of each other. Luckily, views of Waikiki, downtown, and Diamond Head were copious, though the windward vista was often socked out by the white mist. Throughout the day, clear views of mighty Konahuanui, Lanikai/Kailua, and Maunawili Valley drifted in and out with the tide of clouds.

Back to the trail clearing, our efforts were soon miffed as we approached the gully in which we had originally lost the Olympus-Castle on our inbound trek. As the significantly graded trail escaped us into the clutches of uluhe and the unknown, we headed up the spur and regained the crest trail. After a brief transition upon it, we re-routed to the right and back onto the graded trail. From the junction with Waahila, we dashed down the ridge, rejoined the "civilized" portion of the official Waahila Trail, and returned to the parking lot for an after-clearing debriefing and some conversation.

The result of the hike? Olympus-Castle found, clear in two quarter-mile sections, but missing a large chunk between the two. The next adventure will either include work from the large saddle in back of Manoa and beyond or from the Waahila Ridge eastward toward Kaau Crater.

With twilight setting in, we merrily parted ways, taking home with us a little fatigue and a heavy dose of pride. Of course, while the good hike, good work, and good company made the day, hot bowl of ramen topped by lychee shaved ice made the night!

Happy Hiking!


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