OHE KST Days 3 & 4 (6/99)

Date: Sat, 12 Jun 1999 23:32:24 -1000
From: Greg Kingsley (gkingsle@hawaii.edu>
Subject: Koolau Summit Trail, Days 3 & 4

"KST III: The Search for Water (or Night Out in the Castle)"
Days 3 & 4: Castle Trail to Upper Kaluanui Valley
Wednesday, June 2, 1999 - Thursday, June 3, 1999

I broke my Number One Rule, today, and though events turned out relatively interesting, and amusing in hindsight, we could've taken a dip into dire straits. The plan was simple enough: stash water collection items, laundry, and lunches into our day packs, follow a constructed trail, and end up near a beautiful stream for a day's spell. But, every adventure needs a bout of Murphy's Law.

Rousing to the glow about the tent, we casually assembled breakfast. My fellow adventurer was kind enough to fix me a cup of instant coffee as I tinkered with the blue tarp once more. When completed, I had set up a second wall from rain-fly to ground on the tent's rear end to avert that annoying rain-slap we were experiencing in after dusk. Overnight examination of the winds revealed a strange pattern. Gusts of about 15 MPH took turns from each of the cardinal points every minute or so - the erratic majority approached from the South and West. This was indeed unusual as winds tend to blow consistently from Northeast. I figured our base camp was in the eddy currents caused by the immediate area's relatively convoluted topography.

I topped off the campsite maintenance work for the morning with two ribbons affixed to the suspension ropes bracing the tent poles. Because our tent consumed a wide spot smack dab in the center of the grassy clearing, I didn't want to accidentally trip some hapless hiker passing through. And with that, we zipped up the tent, donned our day packs, and headed down the Castle Trail behind the tent.

The Castle Trail, according to Stuart Ball's "Hikers Guide to O'ahu" is "the finest hike on the island", and I would be convinced with what little I would see on this day. Starting in Punaluu Valley, it switchbacks up the side of the mountain, drops into the enchanting Kaluanui Valley, crosses its stream, ascends up and through a notch, and continues westward toward the KST. We were approaching from the KST and planned to take its Waiahilahila Ridge segment to Kaluanui Stream. The ridge is unofficially named for the route which leads one to the notch entrance to Kaluanui on the northern side: the Waiahilahila, or "Nipple", Trail. The route is near Puu Waiahilahila - a 1,264-foot peak toward the base of the mountains. Curiously, the actual Kaluanui Ridge is located in Hawaii Kai - a good 15 - 20 miles away. The Sacred Falls, located along lower Kaluanui Stream, is called Kaliuwaa in Hawaiian and is so noted on the USGS maps. According to Robert Smith's "Hawaii's Best Hiking Trails", another name for Sacred Falls is Kaluanua ("the big pit"). Was the valley name and stream misspelled or mistranslated?

Like the day of the hike up Laie Trail, temperature and visibility were wonderful. Bathed in cool air, we crossed the mountaintop jungle, vision unhindered in the absence of the foggy crown common on the head of her Koolau majesty. A mud-splotched footpath could be made out beneath the layers of native flora. As we gently pushed through, I remarked that I had not seen such a wondrous bounty of plants endemic to Hawaii since my last stroll through the bog atop Mauna Kaala. Yet, our ginger placement of outstretched branches wasn't helping my rain poncho which, after only five minutes of hike, had pierced arms and torn shoulders.

We spent some time adding "feel-good" ribbons to the potentially confusing junctions with spurious pig swaths branching off here and there. After about 30 minutes of traversing the overgrowth, we reached the "first junction" where a second path contours 90-degrees to the right. My friend inspected it by a few steps to just before the first pink ribbon. However, looking down the original path, we spotted a lengthy section of ridgeline marked by many pink ribbons. The pink ribbons on this straight path vastly outnumbered the one ribbon to the right, and we believed we needed to descend a lot more (to elev. 2,400-feet) before taking the right-turn into Kaluanui Valley. Thus, downward we continued.

The sparse, native jungle opened up into shin-burying shrubs, affording absolutely excellent views of the mountainous terrain towering above Hauula. The white-sand beaches hidden by several miles of gulch and valley, the Pacific deep blue hues were just visible through the moisture-laden haze hovering motionless between the ridges. Frequently ducking into the low brush whenever a helicopter arose, we hoped not to be discovered. Some of the Castle Trail and Punaluu Valley were private property while the Kaluanui Valley and Maakua Gulch were officially closed and monitored because of the deadly rockslide at Sacred Falls (Kaliuwaa). I wondered if the relatively heavy chopper traffic was tourist or geophysical-survey related since it was isolated above that tragic section of lower Kaluanui Valley.

Drats! I had my orange-so-fellow-hikers-can-see-me shirt on, so I zipped up my dark green poncho as choppers got within eyeshot. Either not spotted or ignored, we continued down atop the ungraded, shrubby ridgeline, views expanding as we removed ourselves from the vicinity of a wide spur on the right. Isolated on the ridge, the picturesque views of the valleys far below on either side of our balancing act were impressive. The deep green glow of the lush, boundless verdure was pleasing to both eye and spirit. The roar of rushing water wafted from far below, clueing my attention to the white-water wrapping about the huge boulders littering the stream to our left (north). I was amazed that I could hear it from so far up. However, the silence of water's absence on the right (south) side began to worry me - Kaluanui's supposed to be gushing!

I addressed my silent doubts with frequent reviews of the USGS topographic map revealing what seemed to be the correct path. We continued the descent - sometimes over, sometimes around the steadfast shrubs. The footing sometimes resembled Pauao Ridge in Kahana with roots and plants dominating the narrow top, the exception being a major lack of vegetation height above the thigh. Dropping to approximately 2,400-feet and a saddle prior to the next 200-foot high peak, we seemed to be on course, just as I translated from the map. Constantly looking for a graded path to our starboard, it had become apparent that there was no way of getting down into the gulch without some serious four-point descent tactics - there was definitely no grade going into this gulch! I wasn't sure how much of the Castle Trail's grade had survived the decades, but it was obvious that we hadn't been following a graded section for about 30 minutes. At this point, we had begun to rise from the saddle. The supply of freshly-placed pink ribbons had petered out by the saddle's low-point, yet a packed-dirt footpath and fresh footprints was clearly discernable ascending this makai pu'u and possibly beyond. I would later discover these footprints to be those of Mark Short and son as they descended what I later found out to be Hauula Ridge.

We sat and studied the topo again. Constantly glimpsing the parallel ridge to the south, I noted that it, too, had a saddle section and notch at relatively the same altitude as the one we were beginning to ascend from. The clincher came when I could just barely make out a line stretching from that ridge's saddle section upward along a westward direction on the side facing us: a graded trail hidden in overgrowth! Now, cautious speculation waned to a more serious assumption that we had indeed taken a wrong turn and were descending the wrong ridge. The optimistic verisimilitude of our current route being correct subsided, though we were sure that the fresh footsteps, trampled dirt path, and barely-aged ribbons were agents of Castle. Later, we found out we had continued straight onto Hauula Ridge (or Hauula Extended) whereas the parallel ridge to the south - Waiahilahila Ridge - was the correct way to Kaluanui Valley.

Grumpily, we turned about and retraced our steps on upper Hauula Ridge. Looking over, I estimated it would be another thirty minutes to ascend and meet the junction with the Castle Trail once more. Much to our advantage, the winds were cool and a slight overcast had befriended us for virtually the entire late morning and early afternoon. However, though we were relatively sweat-free for the duration, including this ascent, I was gravely aware of our lack of water. I had estimated an hour or two to get to Kaluanui Stream upon our base camp departure. We had topped off and stored a 1.5L bottle back at the tent and were carrying only empty containers to fill stream-side.

Despite our situation, we purposely took a slower pace to conserve our bodily fluids and were treated to constant, unobstructed 360-degree ganders of the area. Absolutely clear conditions, with visibility lucid enough to distinguish the distant split between heaven and Earth, allowed Kaipapau Gulch (now to our right) and upper Maakua Gulch to present themselves in all of their pristine splendor! Eventually, the thick spur to the left connected with our ascent, stealing Maakua from our eyes.

Reaching the first junction, we veered left onto it and continued to contour around this spur-like bump between Hauula and Waiahilahila Ridge. Following the path for about ten minutes, it began a descent to a ribboned fork at which we took the right turn. I knew we had to remain as close to the ridge as possible, somehow working into the graded trail on its northern side. We moved quickly along a footpath which took us from exposed shrubs to a small and mild forest. Reassured by the fresh footsteps in this section (these, too, probably from Mark Short and son who had been here only a few days prior), we broke out into a small forest opening to an overlook of the Kaluanui Valley. Finally! We're now within sight of the valley!

And how spectacular it was! Today, two waterfalls several hundred feet high were rampantly pouring away about a mile from each other. I searched them out on the topo and wondered about their headwaters which must've been at about 2,500 - 2,600 feet in elevation. Unfortunately, with thirst beginning to build, we didn't spend long with this gorgeous living painting and headed back into the wooded area. All that water so close, yet so far. To further our disappointment, the footpaths we were on disappeared into the brush, no matter which direction we tried to thrust through. We had to get onto that grade, somehow!

Backtracking to the fork, we took the opposite leg which, before long, made a left turn on a northern tack. I was instantly disappointed - we're going back toward Hauula Ridge, this time into Maakua Gulch! My friend trotted ahead and called back that it kept it's northerly persuation before zig-zagging a little. Another assumption made: we were on the wrong trail...

For the third time, we back-tracked. The sun had begun to peer through portals in the cloudy blanket causing beads of sweat to collect. On our way past the fork, my friend suggested that we grab some water for now, just in case. I agreed... but there wasn't anything except the mud-holes about the trail. Beggars can't be choosers, I reminded myself, and we found a relatively large and clean-smelling murky pit to work on. We panned out some of this pit-juice at the surface with her MSR pot, then tried pre-filtering it first with a scrunched shirt, then a folded handkerchief - of course, no results. Next up, my MSR Miniworks filter. After about 200mL, my filter clogged up, requiring my first field cleaning. After a remarkably quick disassembly and a healthy wipe and scrub, the filter was free of the thick coat of slimy goo and back to pumping. However, I had to do this every 200 - 250 mL! But what a remarkable little device - the water, once a beige slop having a consistency slightly reminiscent of water, was crystalline and heavenly to these two pairs of weary eyes. Marvelous! Amassing one liter of water after about fifteen minutes, I re-filtered the water through the MSR, dropped in two iodine tablets, and snatched up our gear.

Fifteen minutes later, we reached the first junction. Then, a little confusion ensued. Perhaps it was the delirium of thirst, but I had the impression there was another junction between this one and the KST junction. We discussed it for a few minutes, then concluded that this junction was the only significant one between us and the campsite. If I wasn't in lack of water, I'd have been steaming! We decided to see where that graded trail on its northern tack was going.

Alas, down we went again! And, success! The trail eventually zigged back toward Waiahilahila Ridge, emerging onto a distinctly graded, but overgrown, footpath along the northern side. I took a moment to experience the first gulps of freshly-filtered mud-water, then passed it onto my friend. Renewed with excitement I dashed down the trail, hoping to make the saddle in good time. My friend tagged behind, a little run down from the lunch-less jaunt about the ridges above Maakua Gulch.

We reached the same notch at the saddle section I had seen just a few hours before while across the gulch on Hauula Ridge. Initially, I saw what looked like an overgrown pig trail, but there, in the distance, was an obvious descending grade cut into the side of the mountain. Yet, we spotted two sets of triple-ribbons just makai of this junction and continued on it for a little while, scrambling up the pu'u, only to find out that these ribbons were to signal hikers coming up (mauka) the Nipple Trail of the turn-off. Upon return, I pushed away some vegetation at this mistakenly-assumed pig trail and there it was: the grade all the way into Kaluanui!

But it was too late. The sun, already eclipsed by the proud Koolau crest, was weakened by a descending layer of graying fluff. I pointed out the stream, completely visible from our vantage point, yearning to touch the gush of water - the same collection of water we had seen spewing from those two beautiful waterfalls. I fought temptation and directed us back to the base-camp, even though our objective was only twenty minutes away! We had just enough time to make it back, if we left now.

Back-tracking once more, we pushed back to the spur's arm-pit, where Waiahilahila Ridge fades into a thick mass and contours the trail toward Hauula Ridge. In this vicinity, we found a luscious pool of cool water nestled in a crevice of chilled rocks. Either this clear pool or a mud-pit farther up, we reluctantly stopped to collect our water. Filtration was quick and easy as we harvested 8.5 liters. Unfortunately, memories stained with visions of earlier mud-water, I took the time to double-filter the water. In hindsight, it wasn't necessary and the time saved wouldn't have mattered - the whole water collection took enough time to knock us off daylight's schedule.

Twilight had fallen and the deep mist was beginning to settle in. Packs ready, we pumped it back toward the KST. Keeping an eye on my friend, I wanted her to take the lead so that I wouldn't lose her in the darkening fog. She commented that in the darkness she could make out the pink ribbons I had affixed that morning. In my eyes, everything had become two-toned: ghostly gray and black. We crashed heavily through the growth, slips occasionally dumping hiker and gear into the brush. We spilled into the night, thrusting forward as best we could until the darkness gathered us into its clutches. As we closed in on the KST, we would eventually hit the last yet most vegetated section of our journey where a canopy of leaves, limbs, and vines would effectively shield out all light. In actuality, I didn't realize that we had made considerable progress and were already in that particular section. At this point, I told her to slow down - our quick pace was only going to get us hurt or lost. It was obvious we were going to spend the night out here.

The two of us sat down next to a large frond of uluhe ferns and calmly discussed our situation. The reality of it was in no doubt, yet, in hindsight, the two of us were remarkably relaxed and at terms. If anything, I was the one vocally expressing my angst between solutions. We reviewed the possibility that the moon, which was in full phase the weekend prior, may guide us back to base camp, but moonrise wouldn't be for some time. Preparing for our stay, we cleared a hollow into the dark brush, retrieved any protective clothing we carried, and pushed our water-laden packs as far back into the alcove as possible. We had food, heating fuel, plenty of water, and now meager protection from the elements.

Luckily, we had brought laundry to wash down at the stream and my friend was afforded a dry, hooded sweatshirt in addition to her regular clothes and rain poncho. Unfortunately, I had used most of my clothing to filter the infamous muddy water and to clean the MSR filtration element, so they were moist and rather putrid. The fact that we complained about how disgusting that slimy shirt smelt all night was a positive sign! My rain poncho, tattered and torn from the same plant now covering us, was the only comfort between the cold rock we slept upon and I, while a small towel became a communal blanket. And as much as I wanted to remove my mud-soaked shoes, I knew I'd lose too much body warmth. Through bouts of shivering, spirits remained high and we lacked any destitute feelings of dread or of being marooned. In fact, my only fear was that my outstretched legs might trip a wild boar while trotting down the trail. I believed having company was a major factor. It only felt as though we were misplaced for the night and come morning we'd return to our humble abode at the KST/Castle junction. Be sure, the evening was no walk in the park, either!

The trail-side locale was actually a lot more hospitable than at the KST junction. Thick brush to filter out wind and rain, our vegetated cave worked well - even when we heard the pelting of soft showers throughout the night. We'd have suffered if the rains decided to make an unrelenting appearance upon the windward Koolaus, but we were in luck! As we had hoped that a bright moonlight would pave our way back home, a curtain of white mist filled the area with a soft, pale glow. Not enough to navigate safely by, but sweet enough to relax our nerves. Deeper into the night, when teeth-chattering kept us awake, we cooked up a warm pot of Udon noodles, taking turns slurping at the soothing soup. Though we dozed off repeatedly, it was a long night.

At long last, the rising sun brightened the somber glow of the nocturnal mist and we arose to shake out our cold bones and jump-start our languid pulses. The dank rock had made us achy and grouchy as we stood and stretched. We ended up waiting about a half an hour for the fiery warmth to filter into the area a bit before plunging back into the frigid, dew-drenched vegetation. When we emerged into a slightly clearer area, I realized that we were a lot closer to the KST than I had believed. Chilling gusts to our backs, we continued up the Castle Trail until the flapping of our forlorn tent could be heard just around the bend. Thoughts I had during the night came back to me as we approached: did the pigs rummage through our goods? Did the tent hold up unscathed throughout the night?

It turned out that we had been less than thirty minutes from our base camp. What a beautiful sight, this fluttering green thing! A quick inspection revealed all was well with tent and gear. We quickly pried off our stale shoes and socks, cleaned up ourselves, jumped into warm clothes, and escaped the day into the tent. As previously decided, we'd take the day off to relax and unwind. Having consumed very little of our supplies the previous day, we made another extension to our adventure, bringing the total to six days in the wilderness. So, we spent this leisurely Thursday lounging around, enjoying the pretty landscape and rolling clouds, dozing softly to the wind's cooing, taking in the fresh air, and sopping up the neighborhood's ambiance. A hot saimin lunch in the pot, I felt on top of the world once more. Like a lazy mutt on a porch, I napped in my sleeping bag with my head stuck out the door, occasionally emerging to ponder on a nearby mound and gaze upon the scenery. With plans settled to pack up and head off to Poamoho on the next day, we spent the rest of the time sleeping until our supper of whole wheat pasta and lentil soup.

As the moonglow and mist returned to haunt the Koolau crest, I drifted back into slumber, trying to remember the last time I had such a peaceful, relaxing day.

In retrospect, I don't regret the night out on Castle one bit. However, a lot of things were going for us: light instead of heavy showers, Hawaii weather and not inclement mainland conditions, what clothing we had, a stash of food, water, and cooking supplies, knowledge of where we were, etc. Though mixed emotions govern thoughts of that night, one feeling may, at the risk of sounding masochistic, accurately describe the event: fulfilling! Perhaps it was gratifying to take a step closer to nature, to our primal roots - to sleep in the "wild" as distant ancestors Darwinists may suggest did. Perhaps it has given me a greater expectation of homo sapiens and a better appreciation of what "civility" and "progress" have to offer to, and take away from, humanity. Perhaps it has made me a philosophical freak drooling mumbo-jumbo. Whatever the case may be, it was great in hindsight, but something I wouldn't recommend! If you get the chance, however, be the proverbial couch potato while you're camping out there in the middle of nowhere: with blue sky and soft clouds above, perky flowers and wondrous wind about...

On the next episode of Real World - Honolulu:

Day 5: "We're Livin' It Up At the Hotel Poamoho, Such a Lovely Place"

Happy Hiking!


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