Date: Wed, 9 Jun 1999 18:57:56 -1000 From: Greg Kingsley (firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Koolau Summit Trail, Day 2
"Did I Mention the Mud?"
Day 2: Kawailoa Ridge Junction to Castle Trail Junction
Tuesday, June 1, 1999
It must've been the thick overcast, or the overnight battery of wind against the tent keeping us wide-eyed, or the cold shivers anytime our sleeping bags were allowed to creep down, or the slight cramps from the previous day's trudge with 30 - 40 pound packs. We defied the arrival of a new day and churned in our fleece sleeping gear. Finally, enough light had filtered into the swaying tent to pry open our eyes. I dreaded the transition from our humble abode of warmth and relative comfort to the clutches of the mountaintop environment. And then, it was only a pair of outstretched arms to tinker and toil with the cookware.
With hot oatmeal and add-water-and-get-something-resembling-eggs dishes in our bellies, we finally emerged from the 2-3 person Stansport Astral tent. I circled our "house" for a visual inspection, seeing how well it withstood the mighty Pacific's air currents. Its unscathed condition may have been a sole credit to the tarp/guava/rope windbreak I built the previous afternoon. Like the inflated spinnaker stretched by a downwind leg, the tarp was absorbing the brunt of the wind, leaving the tent to only flutter in the eddy currents. Simply put, I was happy with the results!
Gallivanting about the soggy grass, reflections of distant Kaua, Kalena, Kaala, and Kaena in my eyes, I nearly plunged my foot into a deep catchment of rain water. I was delighted as I rushed back to the tent to grab my MSR filter with news that we didn't need to draw water from the stream sliming through the lower mud flats. Plopping down next to the 3-foot long stash, I began pumping away, eventually nabbing four liters to top off our reservoirs. There must've been another 10L available!
It occurred to me that I was collecting fresh water from a pothole 2,300-feet high on top of a mountain on an island in the middle of the Pacific. No, I don't think the pumping was making me delirious or anything - just an interesting passing thought as I sat and watched the clouds whiz by. Just then, a helicopter headed straight for us, rotated about our little campsite, then zoomed off as fast as they came. I wondered if they were just checking to make sure we weren't in distress, since there was plenty of level land left on this plateau for them to safely set down.
Lethargy rampant amongst the colonists, my friend and I spent way too much time enjoying the fresh air, warm sun, and great view of the Waianaes. With the gear stowed and strapped to our backs once again, we set off to regain the Koolau Summit Trail at or just before noon. I had grabbed that sturdy stick of guava (which had held up the tarp) for a walking stick. Our luck not running in streaks, hiking conditions were mediocre as the sun turned the moist trail-side vegetation into a mild sauna. Not all was at a loss, though, since the same attributes were responsible for lifting the clouds high above us. As a result, the views were far and expansive, though we were sweat-browed and at a canine pant now and then.
Enter into the equation: the mud. Mud, mud everywhere not a spot to step. The mud progressively deepened as we trekked farther away from Kawailoa Ridge. Perturbed, after fifteen minutes of the slow, dainty (dry) footsteps near the mud outskirts, we turned our trudging style into a slobbering monster-truck drive right down the center. Our pride cursed and our egos ruined, the muck enveloped our ankles then our shins! Luckily, my cleats picked up only a slight layer of the slop (whereas my other hiking boots would've been scooping it up by the pound). And then there were the other senses: sight, smell, sound (thankfully, not taste). I had no idea mud could possess such a motley array of colors! Oranges, reds, grays, greens, even some oily spots with a metallic luster to them, probably the result of some microbe colony. The flatulent burps of every footstep kept spirits up, especially when some real whoppers spelt comic relief. But the smell - something we learned to be synonymous with the KST - only a pig could love. A mixture of bacteria, rotting vegetation, stale water, and, of course, a decent helping of pig waste filled the air with its putrid scent. Perhaps this made us ignore lunch on this day?
Most of this day's journey proceeded through the secluded terrain atop the Koolau Range, surrounded by hills and brush. Often, one would have no idea that the trail's altitude was between 2,200 and 2,800 feet. We followed the grade as closely as possible, though on numerous occasions it turned from a recognizable swath to a wide pit of mud and back. This was undoubtedly the result of extensive pig rootings. A plethora of orange and blue ribbons tagged shrubs and bushes of various native species. Perhaps intentionally, these numbered markers heavily lined the corridor of plant-life contouring around the low hills. There was some confusion as to which pair was Puu Kainapuaa - two humps which came early in this leg. However, I knew we had to be in the vicinity of them just by looking at the hundreds of pig tracks crisscrossing the goop. Pu'u Ka'inapua'a is translated as "pig procession hill" - and rightly so!
Embattled by the mud, the effort soon had turned against additional foes: uluhe and clidemia. These two plants have a tendency of reaching over trails, linking their stems and fronds together. In time, the intertwined foliage dies, dries up, and remains locked together like tangled barbed wire. New arms of vegetation grow over, adding to the matted thicket hovering over the muddy walkway. Thrusting through the mud, our legs were repeatedly captured and tortured by each spur, corner, and protrusion. Being susceptible to heat exhaustion, I make it a point to wear shorts - even if I expect a scourge of shin-scouring plants (even Blackberry). As if in revenge for all the trail clearings I had participated on, I was now the prey in uluhe and clidemia territory.
One highlight occurred during a short sit-down break for a power bar, a splash of water, and a map review while overlooking the gorgeous water-drenched valleys home to Kawainui and Kawaiiki Streams. As we munched and gazed, a large dragonfly zipped around the corner from which we had just come and perched on a nearby branch. Different from the many smaller red cousins I was seeing throughout the day, this one was an enormous blue giant that could've been mistaken for a small bird with four clear wings. What a beauty! And a curiosity, too, as it kept flying to and fro in front of us, despite our movements as we pointed and talked. I began to wonder if I accidentally sat on his/her mate or home, but assumed that it was being as curious as an Elepaio bird.
Our travels squished ahead on what seemed to be an endless jaunt to the abandoned Kahuku Cabin. I was beginning to kid myself with delusions of being close to Schofield-Waikane (the exit trail), when we finally contoured around a shallow gully in which stood the insignificant remains of the aforementioned cabin and outhouse. Almost immediately, through a portal in the earth, we emerged onto the windward side of the KST, scoring glimpses, including a wonderful trek of open section carved into the cliff, of Kaipapau Gulch. In the distance were all the other gulches peppering the lower section of coastal ridges, including Papali, Maakua, Waipilopilo, and Koloa, amongst others. The crisp, cloud-chilled air was so welcomed!
It, of course, didn't last forever as the KST returned us to the leeward side. The temperature in this area, however, was much an improvement for our day and made the steady climb relatively enjoyable and pain-free. The mud was constantly making an appearance in our lives, though! Further along, the zig-zagging between leeward and windward was getting redundant as all we could think of was finding that junction with the Castle Trail. I was beginning to worry about missing it and ending up with a less desirable camp spot. All indications were, so far, that the KST was either much too vegetated and muddy to afford a large enough space, or that a wide enough spot was on steep, mushy land. We kept a vigilant lookout for a stake we had never seen before, coming across an old, dilapidated wooden stake at one point.
Stuart Ball's "Backpackers Guide to Hawai'i" mentions the second day's progress to be "pathetically slow, 1/2 to 1 mile per hour". How correct he was. We started at or just before noon, needing four to five hours to cross about three miles worth of KST territory, before finding the junction.
Finally, success! We emerged from a thick patch of vegetation into a quaint, grassy clearing, vegetation and small land ramparts on two sides shielding any direct blunt-force winds. To the left was a tall, gray, PVC pipe with several strands of ribbon flowing in the wind. A well-defined grade led off the KST to the pole's East: the Castle Trail. We set our packs down, jumped about in jubilation, then began the task of setting up "shop". The trusty tent was up and staked in no time and our sleeping bags, needed clothing, and cookware on the ready. I braced the tent poles with my nylon rope to a nearby bush and shrub. Some soiled clothing and the blunt end of my knife were used to scrape off the accumulated gray mass from legs, arms, and face. This process lasted as long as we could manage the heavenly spray as our slowing pulses made us sensitive to the high-altitude breeze. The area reached far enough into the sky for the clouds to set in with its misty bottom.
With fresh camp clothes on, I jumped into the tent and relaxed with my friend who was already bundled warmly in her sleeping bag. We discussed our plans for this trip since we didn't get a chance to hike down Castle to visit upper Kaluanui Valley yet. I turned down my next idea of breaking camp and visiting Kaluanui in the morning, then retrieving our gear and heading for Poamoho by noon. Checking our supplies, we had enough remaining to last for more than three days. The verdict: all-day Kaluanui for Wednesday, a relaxing pace to Poamoho for Thursday, return on Friday.
Upon twilight, I screwed the burner onto the propane tank to boil the water for dinner. My little bottle of denatured alcohol was enough to cook three meals for two people during windy conditions and had run out this morning. The propane, being pressurized, provided more BTUs per minute and heated water in half the time. A gourmet meal for us: miso ramen (regular saimin with a packet of miso in each)! With dinner scarfed down, we headed off to sleep.
Despite the fact that I had subjected the tent to a double-application of rain repellent the previous week, we were getting wet and cold! The problem wasn't that rain was falling nor that the wind was blowing, but the combination of both in this particular area. The pattern of wind gusts was twisted and confused about the tent. The result was a constant slapping of air on at least two sides of the tent. As anyone knows, beat a tent while it's laden with moisture and the collected water will shake out. However, the spanks were coming from the irregular beats of air and thus the water was spraying into our little abode.
I made a mental note to jury-rig the tarp on the next day since I had used it for its original purpose: to shield our gear outside from the rain. In the meantime, I brought in the propane burner and ignited it within the tent to warm up some water for a soothing cup of cappuccino, trapping the excess heat in the tent, further warming our night. I made sure we had adequate ventilation, however, to prevent the accumulation of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, yet still retain the warmth. We also had four eyes and four hands monitoring this unorthodox procedure. Retiring the burner safely outside, I draped a space blanket over our lower halves to prevent the spray of water from catching our legs. I noted the tent corners were slightly depressed, allowing any collection of water to pool off the walls and drain through the stake attachments.
It worked and we were sound asleep until the morning's rays illuminated the clouds about us.
On the next episode of Real World - Honolulu:
Day 3: KST III: The Search for Water (or Night Out in the Castle)