OHE June 1999 (KST--Day 1)



Date: Sun, 6 Jun 1999 20:57:09 -1000
From: Greg Kingsley (gkingsle@hawaii.edu>
Subject: Koolau Summit Trail, Day 1

"Destination: Wilderness"
Day 1: Laie Trail to Kawailoa Ridge Junction
Monday, May 31, 1999

With an exciting adventure into the Koolau wilderness planned, I blew the dust off my well-stocked orange pack (yes, most of you HTM-trail clearers will remember this one!) and waited for my ride to collect me. Pumped with anticipation, I ignored the choking feel of trepedation as I wondered what the next four days would bring. The idea was to split the traverse along the Koolau Summit Trail (KST) into four legs: proceed to the Kawailoa Ridge junction on the first day, stop at the Castle junction on the second, spend a last night at Poamoho Cabin at the end of the third, then bank down Schofield-Waikane Trail on the last day. This differed from the usual three-day route as outlined in Stuart Ball's "The Backpackers Guide to Hawai'i" for we included an extra stop at the Castle Trail. Nevertheless, neither of our two-person party had been on any segment of this trip. I had actually been on the KST on two opposite sections on two separate occasions: a northern KST clearing from Pupukea (starting off Kaunala-Extended) ending short of the Malaekahana Ridge junction and the Waikane Trail clearing which included a short southern KST traverse to Puu Kaaumakua. However, I had not touched anything in between.

Under an hour later, I was dropped off at the Laie Ballpark in the vicinity of Brigham Young University and the Polynesian Cultural Center. My hiking companion arrived shortly thereafter via her ride from downtown Honolulu. I attached a pink ribbon to the back of her dark green pack and we were soon off along a dirt road toward the mountains. I recognized the area because of the Malaekahana trail clearing I was on earlier in the year. This time, I was going to take the same trail that Dayle Turner, Pat Rorie, and Ralph Valentino (amongst others) hiked that day to bypass the lower sections of Malaekahana and begin their trail clearing from top-down. Except, instead of turning right (north) toward Malaekahana, we were to venture south toward Wahiawa.

Conditions were awesome that morning, as we passed the gate with the large "Laie Falls" sign posted in front. A gentle breeze to our back and a scalding sun tucked far behind the grayish blanket of clouds, we made excellent progress despite the unfamiliar weight of four days on our legs. Occasional gulps of water from her bottle, long glances of the Malaekahana Beach, and once an unusual grunting/sawing sound down off the trail were the only reasons to slow our uphill road progress. Eventually, the road turned from a wide 4WD walk through swaying pine needles and vastly-open sections to narrower trail into uluhe, then guava.

We exchanged greetings with three sweaty mountain bikers securing their bipedal vehicles to a burly pine. I inquired of the today's trail status further up and was told to expect muddy conditions. We later discovered that these three were students late for class at BYU (on a holiday?). Further into the guava forest, I stole a moment to attach mole-skin to the backs of my heels as chafing wasn't eagerly embraced so soon into the trip. As I operated, a couple, then a bunch of little boys with an older gent (lugging gear for the kids) filtered by. Soon after, two vivacious ladies from Utah befriended us as I toyed with my wet feet and an eager four-way conversation ensued. My feet fully prepped, we were underway with the pair of Australian expatriates who, in town for some R&R, belonged to an Aussie reggae/pop band. In about ten minutes, we reached the junction with the trail heading right and off the ridge to "Laie Falls": a section of Kahawainui Gulch.

As the two continued onto their destination, my friend and I eyed each other and decided to take this diversion for a quick lunch and peep of the natural attraction. Gathering some essentials into my daypack, we nestled our supply-laden rigs into an embankment off to one side, then trotted down the steep and slippery path. Five minutes later, we emerged into what seemed to be a small town meeting at the base of a wide, 15-foot waterfall. The couple, the Australian sisters, the throng of kids, and a group of elderly folks were gathered at the watery arena. Unfortunately, it turned out that one of the retirees' hearing aids had accidentally plopped into the cool but murky pool and they spent some time searching for it in vain. Still in good spirits, the older group decided to gracefully retreat back down the trail and made their exit. One of the Aussie sisters, six-months pregnant, took to the water to dig for the poor soul's hearing aid, only to scream now and then of a crawling, snapping thing lurking under the rocks. I don't know what we laughed at more - her repeated screams or the neat "Down-Under" nicknames she used!

I pulled out my small alcohol stove, MSR filter, and my friend's MSR pot. We had tested this stuff in dry-runs before today, but now was the real field test! The MSR Miniworks Filter, as recommended by fellow hiker Judy Roy, worked like a charm. So did the little Sterno-sized burner, fueled with Denatured Alcohol (denatured, not isopropyl - very important). Even in the gentle drizzle, the alcohol-burner continued to provide enough heat to warm up freshly-filtered water for her corn chowder and my miso soup. Ahhh, this was the life - hot lunch, gushing waterfall, lingering cool air, misty skies, and happy conversation!

The bulk of the waterfall-ogling population had exited, leaving us with the Aussie sisters - one huddling in the trees while the other continued to poke and probe under the rocks. They, too, eventually decided to make their departure. We re-filled their two small water bottles as they asked to keep in contact with us via e-mail. E-mail addresses in the middle of the forest reserve - what a wonderful world! I told 'em that it wouldn't be anytime soon to get a reply from us, but promised we'd catch their band sometime when they play in town! And with that, we parted ways, not to see another person for 124 hours.

Pictures taken, our lunch gear packed, we scampered back up to the main trail and reorganized our monsters before strapping ourselves to them. Into the guava we plunged and it was immediately apparent that this section of trail wasn't hiked to the extent of the preceding portion to the waterfall junction. Moderate tilting, ducking, and the occasional climb-over became the order of the afternoon as the guava forest narrowed onto us. The path, however, was clearly discernable though it progressively turned into sloppy, squirmy footsteps. At that point, I distinctly remembered reading a passage in Stuart Ball's book regarding this section as a preview of what was to come on the KST. If so, the Laie Trail is a remarkable understatement.

At a point before the steep drop-off to the left and cliff to the right, we heard the murmuring of a small waterfall, somewhere nearby. Fresh into the hike, our curiosity had to be satisfied! Once again, our packs hit the bushes and we dove off the right side into the bounding mounds of uluhe. Immediately after, we discovered a full head-on thrash through the woods was not the best of ideas because of the overly-dense guava thicket. I went first, negotiating a path down a very steep section of loose roots and soil. We finally found the trickling suspect, hidden in a rash of fallen trees and rocks. It was a cute seven-foot waterfall dumping into a small, four-foot diameter oblong pool. It was the pool's depth which fascinated me since large rocks tossed would plunge and yet not hit bottom. I dumped a long seven or eight-foot stick into the watery depth only to have it swallowed up without a trace! It seems that a landslide created a deep pocket of water, the canopy above filtering light into glare-less rays gentle enough to glisten off the pool. Pretty, but there was definitely a foreboding sense being there.

Climbing back up about 100-feet to the main trail, we re-armed ourselves with the gear and continued to the top. We began to ascend into the mist - our feet sinking deeper into each step as we closed in on the KST. Leaving sight of Laie town in the distance, we moseyed through the mud-frosting and into the hills perched high in the Koolaus.

Perhaps we were engrossed with our first taste of the sloshy conditions, but the transition onto the KST was rather unremarkable. In fact, I didn't fully realize it until a hundred paces after we made the left turn! We spent little time rejoicing, however, for we still had a section of trail to go before reaching the campsite. We did treat ourselves to a nice gulping of water and deep breaths of the crisp, sparkling air.

The transition became easier in terms of ascension, but the mud had become deeper and tedious. I wasn't swearing yet, so it was a good sign. We contoured in, out, and around humps for some time until the Kawailoa Ridge came into clear view off to the right. Visually spotting the heli-pad in the distance was equivalent to a nice pat on the back and we trudged forth with a renewed vigor.

Finally, we contoured into the large bowl-like landscape and made our way past the thick, slimy gray swamp-pit reeking of putrid pig waste which, according to the book, was to be our source of water. "Sluggish stream" - another understatement of the day. It didn't matter, though - home is where you hang your hat and this was definitely it for the next 14 hours!

Extensively inspecting the area for a suitable plot to set up the tent, from the first stream crossing to the little valleys to the lower heli-pad remnants on the leeward side to the Kawailoa Ridge itself, we finally settled on the moist flat top - former home to the heli-pad. Initially, I feared the wind would turn my 2-3 person tent into nylon shrapnel within an hour. I decided to construct a windbreak on the windward side of the tent. The first attempt, fruitless at best, was a couple of old planks from the destroyed heli-pad, angled upright to create enough turbulence to cancel the brunt of the wind. Okay, it sounded good as an idea with four semesters of classroom aerodynamics! My second try was a bit more effective as I jury-rigged my blue tarp with one guava stick, one long length of nylon rope, and two old planks to weigh down one end of the tarp. Add a couple of knots learned during Boy Scout days and presto!

We cleaned up, changed into our campsite clothes, and jumped into the tent as the winds howled and flapped all about. Twilight, fronted the rolling foggy face of the clouds sinking from above, soon fell. We rolled out our matching fleece sleeping bags we had picked up a few days prior (which weigh only a pound or so each). Once again, the alcohol stove worked wonders - even in these tough tradewinds! It netted a tamale pie for me, lentl soup for her, and a batch of cocoa to warm the night.

A productive day at the "office", we retired into our sleeping bags and listened to the power of the Pacific's winds batter the tarp and tent. The unusual environment and thoughts about the next day's trek kept us bright-eyed for a while, but after some getting used to, our nerves and worries calmed down enough to summon the sandman.

On the next episode of Real World - Honolulu:
Day 2: Kawailoa-to-Castle - "Did I Mention the Mud?"

Happy Hiking!

Greg


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